By Duzzie

The End Of An Era: The Middle

And now it's time to part, dear friend, there's no escaping fate.


Seeing Luffy again sent shivers down his spine and set a spark off in Koby that he'd never felt before.

Something restless and invincible and amazing.

So before he could stop his lips from spouting out stupid thoughts, he'd began shouting that he'd catch Luffy, he'd defeat him, and then as realization wrapped her arms around him, he'd gotten on his knees, apologizing—even though something deep inside him didn't feel bad at all—and feeling ashamed—no not ashamed something else, something darker and deeper and more painful and exciting—of himself.

But sure enough, Luffy encouraged him, and with a smile, told him they—he—wouldn't go down easily.

---(Some nights he remembers thinking how terrifying the person to hunt that crew down would be. He remembers hesitating, if only for a second.

And maybe months or years or decades from then, Koby would look down at the new Pirate King; eyes hollow and blood dripping off of his chin to be soaked into the ground. Maybe he'd see the man that was born for this, the man that could unite the world and destroy it and defeat him and lose to him. Perhaps he'd hold that man in his arms and cry into his shoulder and tell him how sorry, sorry, sorry, he was, how much he wished he could take everything back and why didn't you kill me, you could have, you could have you two could have lived and why why why why? And if that happened, maybe he wouldn't notice the other set of eyes, broken and knowing and dead just a little bit more because that was his grandson and the next time that happened he'd be laughing in hell, deep, deep, far, far away.

And maybe, someday, Koby will regret. Maybe, in time, he will regret a lot of things.)---

As Koby and Helmeppo walked away, high-spirited and dreams held tightly in fisted hands, that deep consciousness inside him hurt and something told him to look back. For a moment less than a millionth of a second, the vast awareness inside him wanted to die and he thought he could almost see the swordsman in the distance; thought he could almost let himself be killed. But then the feeling left and he shook it off as a hand on his shoulder appeared. They got onto the ship and he didn't look back again, didn't break his smile. Koby wouldn't understand that pain for a long, long, long (no, too short, too short) time.

And later that night, long after the pirate's air-born escape, Koby found Garp sitting on deck, arms crossed and eyes empty, empty, empty; a vast darkness that lead to the depths of his soul where Koby knew something was hidden, and was never really sure whether he wanted to know the secret or not.

He approached the Admiral anyway and stood next to him, looking out at the sea.

"I wonder how many things Luffy-san will do next." And with that said, the other man closed his eyes and slowly stood up. A soft, quiet breath came out of his mouth and then he turned toward Koby.

Turned toward him and looked him straight in the eyes. It was the saddest and most frightening thing that Koby ever had to go through, though he didn't know it yet (as he seemed to not know many things yet), and a lifetime later, maybe he would come to regret this encounter, just a little (as he might come to regret the countless other things).

"…I believe the right question to ask would be how much time does that kid have left to do those many things." Being a bit stunned, a bit confused, Koby's ears were filled with the silent, deafening sound of the world cracking and fate chuckling and almost missed what he said next. "How long will it be before there is nothing left?"

"Sir? I'm sorry, I don't understand." Garp gave him a sharp look and with the light reflecting in his eyes, Koby almost made himself believe that he couldn't see the emptiness anymore.

"I put my grandsons through hell to make them strong. I wanted them to be marines so they could live, but you can't escape your Destiny, Koby. That's why I'm here, that's why you're here, and that's why Luffy is not." He walked away and off the deck, whispering an almost inaudible regret, and was gone.

They didn't talk for many, many weeks after that, as Koby came to ignore the pain that had finally nestled into his being; into the core of what he was. It would still not justify anything, and he would grow just a bit older each day carrying the weight of the knowledge that he knew not much of and wanted nothing to do with.

Eventually, and as fate gave a sigh of an apology to them, they all met again, and Koby was strong, strong, strong (but never nearly strong enough) and Luffy was Pirate King and things were utterly, insanely different. 'This isn't what I wanted,' Koby thought, even though it was.

But he still felt something restless and invincible and amazing in the pit of his stomach, something that Luffy never failed to incur in him.

"Ready?" Luffy would ask and Koby would almost not recognize his empty, empty eyes, a darkness that had nothing to lead to anymore.

And so they fought. They fought and fought as Koby lost himself over and over again (because Luffy couldn't lose himself anymore, he was already too far gone) and Koby thought he knew how it was going to end by the look in Luffy's eyes.

Koby understands the secret now.

He understood as soon as he withdrew his blade and heard it make a sickening squelch of release and he thought, somewhat distantly, as if thinking it from another's mind, of a legend he had heard once upon a time about a woman named Pandora and he thought, how horrible it would be to know your own death. He thought, how horrible life would be without hope. Without dreams.

And he regrets.

Sometimes he wakes up cold and crying, remembering a time before this one.