-- written by Teresa Starr Ruark --
A little Problem
Sanji set the platter of sandwiches down in the center of the kitchen table, and looked over the display, making a mental checklist. The soup had its ladle and was on the opposite side of the table from Luffy's normal seat. Nami-san and Robin-chan's special drinks were set out for them, the three little ones would have milk, Marimo had his bottle of grog… and that pretty much covered everyone. Sanji was too cool to try to eat with the ruckus that the smaller boys would cause, and grabbed a sandwich off the top of the stack before pouring himself a glass of champagne and setting them both aside for himself. Then he went out on the deck to call for the lovely ladies and the rest of those idiots to come eat.
He went down the stairs and around to the back deck where he immediately started flaunting over the girls, whom he hadn't expected to be in their bikinis.
As soon as Sanji was around the corner, Chopper walked out of the little work studio/storage room underneath the galley and headed up for the kitchen, smiling happily to himself. He had made TEN Rumble Balls that morning! He was bringing them up to store them in the refrigerator. They didn't have to be kept there, but they lasted longer that way, and Chopper didn't know how long it would be before he needed them. It's always good to be prepared! The little reindeer thought to himself, overjoyed at his forethought and progress. Maybe Luffy and Usopp will be pleased with me for working so hard, he anticipated their praise anxiously.
As he was reaching to put his plate of Rumble Balls on the counter so that he could make room in the crowded refrigerator, he accidentally knocked over a glass of champagne that had been placed next to an extra sandwich. It fell to the floor and broke; it's contents splashing across the wood.
Chopper froze in panic. Sanji would shout at him for sure! That had probably been his drink…
He forced himself to calm down and skittered over to the table to put his rumble balls down so that he could go get a mop and clean up the mess, before Sanji noticed. Most of the table was crowded with lunch, but Chopper found a space next to the sandwiches to set his Rumble Balls before scampering to the closet for the mop. Upon opening the door and noticing a distinct lack of anything that looked like a mop… or a broom or a dustpan, for that matter, the little Xoan burst into tears and ran out of the room to find one.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs to Port, Luffy and Usopp tore past him into the galley. Zoro followed and a leisurely pace and Nami and Robin were a moment behind him, tailed by Sanji -who could barely walk and perform his noodle-dance at the same time.
Well, there was no getting around it now. Sanji would have noticed that his drink was missing eventually, anyway. The tonakai trudged toward the storage room again, tears running down his face. He hadn't seen any cleaning supplies in there earlier, but he hadn't actually been looking, either. If they weren't there, he could always try the armory. You never knew with this crew…
Zoro ambled into the kitchen behind the two smaller boys, who were already at the table and scarfing food faster than the eye could see. He hurried to his place across from Luffy and grabbed a sandwich to ensure he even got one. He noticed that one of the plates on the table was already empty and the soup was half gone. Of course, setting a plate directly in front of his captain's view was absolutely stupid, and that described the cook to a 'T'.
Luffy smiled at him when he sat, "Zoro, try some of this those things! They're really goo…" he trailed of, pointing to the plate nearest him to seemingly just notice that it was empty. His mouth froze mid-word for a moment before breaking into a sheepish grin. "Oops…"
Zoro rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. His would follow this captain to the end of the world, but honestly, sometimes… "Oi, you two. Can't you save any food for anyone else? Some people aren't even here, yet," he said as Nami and Robin walked through the door and took their seats.
The idiotic blond danced into the room behind the girls, pulling the bench out for both of them and causing Zoro -who was sitting at the opposite end- to spill his rum all down his shirt.
He exploded, "Dammit, Ero-cook! Look at this mess!"
Sanji gave him a careless glance and scolded, "Stop wasting food, Kuso-kenshin."
"You did it, asshole!" The swordsman was on his feet in a heartbeat and ready to storm across the room for his katana when he looked at the floor for the first time and noticed the spill. He looked at it pointedly and addressed Sanji, "You've gotten clumsy, dumbass. Are you above cleaning the floor now?"
The cook was incensed, "What did you say, you stupid crap-"
The scream froze everyone in action as they all turned to look at its source. Chopper had entered the galley during the argument, and now stood next to the table, holding a mop and a dustpan, his eyes bugging out of his head as he stared at something on the table.
"Chopper, what's the matter?" Usopp clutched his chest, "Don't scream like that, oi! You scared me half--"
"MY RUMBLE BALLS! What happened to them?" the reindeer cut him off in a panic, waving an empty plate through the air dramatically. "I had ten Rumble Balls on this plate. I only left the room for a minute! Where did they go?"
At first everyone just stared at the baby Xoan… before a feeling of deep dread swept over the whole crew as everybody's mind drew the same conclusion.
For the first time since the outburst had startled everyone into focusing on Chopper, Zoro's line of vision darted across the table… and was greeted with the sight of an empty space where his captain's smiling face should have been.
No one spoke as the first mate slowly crossed the room to behold the pile of clothing that now occupied their owner's place. Blue jeans dangled off the seat, a red vest lay crumpled on top of them, and an infamous mugiwara boshi completed the ensemble by resting neatly on the top of the pile.
Crouching down beside the seat, Zoro carefully lifted the hat up and looked beneath it. All of a sudden the precious treasure was dropped to the floor.
There sat Luffy -ALLFOUR INCHES of him- half buried under part of his top and struggling to get himself out from under it. He looked no younger than he had a moment ago, still having every feature of a seventeen year old boy. In fact, to say that the bench had grown huge and Luffy had stayed exactly the same would be believable, had it not been that everyone around him was still between five and six feet tall. Aside from the size thing, Luffy's appearance was completely unaltered. He could easily fit a ring around his waist at this size with no trouble at all. Luffy seemed to freeze when he saw Zoro, and then everybody else, looking at him in wonder. Then he let out a tiny shout and pointed at Zoro, eyes as wide as saucers. "AAAAHHHHH! YOU'VE GROWN HUGE!"
Zoro couldn't reply right away, but that was fine because Chopper jumped in. "Luffy, no! We didn't get bigger. You ate all of my Rumble Balls and shrank! Look at your hat!"
Luffy looked to where Chopper was pointing to his hat on the floor, and shouted again. "AAAAAHHH! Boshi!" With blurry, swimming eyes, the tiny boy turned imploringly to his doctor, "Chopper, help me. I think I've shrunk!"
Nami stood in a fluster and addressed Chopper, "Chotto matte yo, Will he be okay? I mean, he ate ten of them!"
Chopper put a timid his hoof to his chin, the cleaning supplies long forgotten on the floor at his feet. "The materials that I put in a Rumble ball are all natural, so they shouldn't hurt him too badly… this is probably as bad as it will get, as far as the shape-shifting goes. I think."
Relief swept through the everyone as they began to understand that their captain was not in mortal peril, as they had all at first feared, and would not O.D. in his present physical condition. Nami sighed at Luffy's carelessness, and Zoro felt himself relax some. Around him, the others kept talking about 'how did this happen', and 'what were so many Rumble Balls doing on the table in the first place', and 'how did you miss this Sanji-kun', and 'what's with the mop' (Usopp had a weird knack for observing small, irrelevant details).
Zoro didn't catch most of it. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He's okay… he's gonna be okay… In that first moment when there had been no Luffy, Zoro's heart had skipped a beat. He hadn't known what he was afraid of, but just knowing that something was wrong… that Luffy might so suddenly be hurt or sick or… Damn, with that many Rumble Balls, ANYTHING could have happened to him!
On the bench, Luffy had lost interest in trying to hear what the others were talking about, and was instead covering his ears to try to block out their LOUD voices. Everything was so noisy! It seemed that everything was bigger that him now, including sound. He wanted to shout and get their attention, but with none of them even looking at him he didn't want to add to the noise. They just kept talking all at once.
Frustrated at the lack notice his obvious discomfort was getting, Luffy turned back to the person closest to him, relieved that Zoro hadn't moved away yet and will still crouching beside him (and mercifully not shouting…). This relief was short lived, though, because he noticed right away that his first mate looked kind of sick. That was when Luffy realized that he was the only person in the room whom hadn't actually been worried about anything that had happened so far.
It had been a shock at first, but Luffy didn't dwell. -- He felt okay, and everyone knew Rumble Balls weren't permanent, so this was no big deal. As long as he was normal by dinner, everything would be okay, right? It was really neat, actually! -- Those had been his only thoughts so far, but now…
Seeing Zoro like this made Luffy finally feel worried for the first time. Not for himself, but for his crew. Zoro never acted afraid of anything, and it wasn't until he saw his swordsman's hands shaking, that Luffy began to feel that…maybe he'd done something very wrong. "Zoro?"
The first mate opened his eyes to be met with the tiny, nervous look on his captain's face as he clutched his ears as if in pain. He knew he was shaking, and forced himself to calm down. His relief briefly turned into irritation, and this worked to calm him. His captain got into more trouble than anyone he'd ever met in his life; it defied reason! But it had happened now again, so the best thing the swordsman could do about it was deal.
Besides, if anyone had any right to be scared, it was Luffy! No one had even bothered to ask how the tiny pirate was taking all of this. He's the one who's actually in trouble, but just because he can't make himself heard over them, they talk about him like he's not even here.
He looked at his captain, who had been anxiously watching the emotions play over Zoro's face this whole time, and asked very softly, "Are you okay, Luffy? Do you hurt anywhere?"
Everyone stopped talking to hear the answer. The room went quiet.
Luffy was didn't move straight away. He blinked and then slowly let his hands fall away from his ears before breaking into a smile, "No,I don't hurt... I'm okay. Don't worry about me." He hadn't expected that. He knew Zoro would be concerned, but he had expected to be yelled at, not spoken gently to. He's not mad at me… So he had to wonder what Zoro had looked so upset about a minute ago.
Behind the swordsman, Sanji lit a cigarette in irritation, "I keep telling you to eat slowly so that you can at least taste the food before you've inhaled it. Don't you even know what a Rumble Ball looks like?"
Usopp shrugged and shook his head hopeless smile, "You tell him and tell him, but he'll never listen."
Luffy laughed, "I thought they were part of dessert. Sanji's always making new things, and I've never tasted a Rumble Ball." Now that the atmosphere had become familiar again, he could smile. Besides, Zoro was here, and he wasn't mad, so everything was okay. His first mate had never let anything bad happen to him before, so if he was acting normal, that must mean that Luffy had nothing to worry about.
Nami let out a deep breath, flopped back into her seat and put her head in her hand, "Geez… Luffy, this is serious. You're really lucky, do you know how badly this could have been for you? If they had been something else…"
"Daijoubu daijoubu!" the boy laughed, sounding completely carefree, "Everything's so neat from down here! Omoshirei!"
Zoro rolled his eyes at his captain's obvious excitement, "You're the only one in the world who would think this is 'neat'. Anyway, don't get used to it. It wears off after three minutes, remember."
The miniature Luffy stood as Zoro walked out of view to pour himself a drink, and for the first time in his tiny state, Luffy felt vulnerable. He didn't want Zoro to be where Luffy couldn't see him. Inwardly he realized how stupid he was being, but he mini-Gomu Gomu no Rocketed himself onto the tabletop where he could see everyone. …And everyone could see him.
Nami immediately started to scold him for his blatant lack of modesty, "Chotto, Luffy! Do you even realize--"
"I'm not sure it will." Chopper interrupted, and all eyes again turned to him.
"Not sure what will?" Sanji asked, blowing smoke.
"What Zoro just said about the effect wearing off that fast. I'm not sure it will. One Rumble Ball lasts three minutes for me, but I have no idea how long ten of them will last on a human being. Plus, Luffy's a Paramecia. His body reacts to drugs differently then a normal human's, I notice it whenever I give him medicine."
Zoro set down his mug. He hadn't realized that… and now that he thought about it, one Rumble Ball always worked on Chopper right away. Luffy had eaten a whole plate of them and been normal for several minutes before anything had happened to him.
"Reacts different how?" Usopp prodded, unsurely.
Chopper looked nervous as he explained, "It depends on the chemical. I can't really explain it, but he's never needed as much medicine as what I would give to a normal person. Most of the ingredients in a Rumble Ball are the type that won't compile on themselves, rather they release over time."
He was met with blank stares all around the room. Except from Luffy, who (now that he was in the safety of Zoro's view) had rolled himself into a napkin like a set of silverware, and was busy giggling and rolling all about the tabletop like this.
"What I mean is, a Rumble Ball doesn't get stronger when you take a bunch of it, but it will last much longer than it should. The effects of a Rumble Ball won't fade until the body has processed every bit of the drug. For me, it only takes three minutes to process one, but humans are different. On top of that, Luffy's body is very susceptible to drugs. He never really needs them, so his body isn't used to taking them. This makes a drug far more affective on him than on someone who needs normal dose-sizes. That's why I can always give him very little medicine, and he'll still heal quickly. Also, he's normally 5'4", which means he's under the affects of these drugs while being close to 1/11th his normal size. On a normal-sized body they would probably last all day…"
Robin finally spoke, "Your saying that Sencho-san will be like this for a while?"
"Probably. Rumble Balls are completely foreign to him, so they should be super-effective. If he turns back to normal within the next few days, I would be very surprised."
Hearing this, Luffy unrolled himself from his napkin and jumped up, "Days?"
Zoro closed his eyes and sighed. This was fantastic. Not having to worry about this captain's immediate well-being was a huge weight off his shoulders, but now they had a four-inch-tall, energetic Luffy to take care of. The rubber-boy was hard enough to keep and eye on under ordinary circumstances. Decrease the size and volume of the troublemaker and then make EVERYTHING on the ship a danger of some sort… This would be worse than when Nami was sick. At least she slept through most of it. A lot of things are going to have to change around here…
Usopp was the one to put first things first, though, and pointed at the oblivious little streaker on the tabletop, who had just tripped over a spoon. "If he's going to stay like this, we'd better get him something to wear."
AN: I rather like this plot idea. I got the inspiration from a few cute images I saw in a doujinshi: Daikaizokudan vol.8 (that's one of many One Piece doujinshi anthologies available only In Japanese. You can find them here and there online. If you're interested, you can drop me a private email and I can tell you more about them. They're cheap and amazing!) In that story Luffy shrinks very tiny for a few hours, but it was very short and doesn't have much other than a few cute pictures of an itty-bitty Luffy. I wanted to play that up in this story.