"I know you aren't hurt," Luffy stated as she stared at the birds, scattered across the hot sand, and scowled. The birds did not drop their act, and one let out a keening whine of pain. Luffy ignored this, choosing instead to plop herself down on a rock in the shade as she waited for her crew. "You know the saying! Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me! I'm not going to be fooled and you cannot fool me! I'm not giving you anything!"
This being said, the captain crossed her arms stubbornly, but did not take her eyes off of them. She didn't want to risk anything. Despite how clear it was that she was completely serious, the Warusagi did not give up. Time passed, and finally, a single bird moved. However, instead of walking away in dejection, the Warusagi - a small one, probably a baby- walked towards her. She frowned at it.
"Look, my crew and I need this food. We have a long way to go still, so I can't let you take it," Luffy explained, surprisingly gentle. The bird didn't give up, and instead plopped its head down into Luffy's lap. Luffy didn't react, still holding a grudge against them for stealing the food the first time around. This time was almost different, and after a moment, she felt her resolve waver. She could tell the animal was hungry, and the long-beaked creature was actually going to far as to beg. Besides - not having to feed the Dugongs insured that she had extra food as it is! She glanced behind her at the supplies (how she had ended up with all of them again, she wasn't sure.)"Okay, fine. You can have a bit. But only a little!"
The baby let out a little happy little chirp, which immediately grabbed the other Warusagi's attention. They rushed forward, only to come to a screeching halt when Luffy yelled at them.
"Oi! Everyone stop! You have to wait your turn or you aren't getting anything! I won't give you a crumb!"
The birds - if it was possible - managed to look ashamed, and each waited their turn as Luffy gave them each a decent sized portion. It was only when the last one was given some food and flew away that Luffy heard her voice.
"That was surprising charitable of you," Aiyume teased, causing Luffy to jump slightly, and her smile to slip into a scowl. "Sharing food, that is."
Luffy ignored the jibe, relaxing back after the rocks after a moment. "I wish you wouldn't do that."
"Do what? Point out how rare it is for you to stray from your usually insane gluttonous habits?" Aiyume asked, her tone sounding serious, but her face playful.
"No. Appear, out of thin air. Zoro finally gave up asking about you, and I don't need Ace on my tail if he sees you!" Luffy exclaimed, clearly frustrated. "If they get too suspicious, I'll have to- to-!"
"Explain? You know you will have to eventually," Aiyume interrupted calmly, but there was a sliver of ice in her tone. She dropped down next to Luffy, frowning. In the light, Luffy could see that her physical form had not changed in the slightest since Drum Island, despite the fact she had made multiple appearances lately. That probably didn't have anything to do with it anyway. "Plus, they are ages away. I'll be gone before they get back. It's just nice to not be cooped up, even for just a few minutes."
"Cooped up?" Luffy asked curiously, the last part getting her attention.
"Yes, Luffy, cooped up," Aiyume said, sounded irritated. "What did you think? That I've just been following you around, somehow invisible to all?"
The look on Luffy's face clearly said that that's exactly what she was thinking. "You haven't?"
Aiyume sighed, rolling her eyes. "No, I haven't."
It took a moment for Luffy to comprehend, before asking, "Where have you been than?"
The ghost like woman just stared at Luffy pointedly in reply. When Luffy just stared back, she grew annoyed. Sarcastically, she mocked, "Guess."
It took Luffy only a second, and her eyes widened dramatically. "Have you been inside of me!?"
The punch that sent her flying forward was surprisingly physical - and painful - despite the woman's transparent appearance.
"Of course not! I couldn't imagine a single person that would be able to stay in your mind and stay sane! My soul wouldn't fit in your body. There area already two souls battling it out, I'm not keen on joining. And besides, who'd wanna be in there, hearing all your thoughts? 'Food! Fight! Zoro, Zoro, food!'" Aiyume crudely mimicked, and Luffy wasn't sure why this sent her face up in flames. Not sure what to say in response, she changed the topic back to Aiyume.
"Then where have you been?"
"The anklet." Aiyume replied simply.
"The-the anklet?!" Luffy gasped out incredulously, tugging up the skin-protecting cloth to see the golden accessory that gleamed almost blindingly in the sun. "How?"
"Yes, the anklet. It's a host." Seeing Luffy's questioning look, she hurried to explain. "Like the genie and the lamp. Except for souls. And it's the one with the powers. It's the link between us, the reason that I - who's nothing more than a bodiless soul - can stand before you, looking like I once did. Also, the stones making up the anklet. They are the blood, the sacrifice, of your nakama. They are what causes your injuries to heal." The blood seemed to drain from her previously flushed face, her gaze dropping to the crimson stones, her face a mixture of pain and disbelief.
"The blood they shed saving you, it helped bring us here. It saved them in the end, and it heals you, however, it won't extend much further than that. The sacrifice will not save the person it was meant for. Almost a bit ironic, hm?"
Luffy opened her mouth to speak, but Aiyume had once again disappeared before her questions could be answered.
"Oi! Don't run off like that Luffy!" She could hear Zoro's irritated voice growing closer, and looked up in time to see the crew coming around the corner of the outcropping she sat in. She yanked her over cloth down, hiding the anklet from view as she smiled brightly.
"Neh, I was hungry and Vivi said we could eat-" She said quickly, ignoring her brothers concerned gaze.
"Luffy, are you okay?" He asked immediately. Her smile faltered and she hurried to think of an excuse.
"No I'm not okay!" She said, continuing on when she saw his alarmed expression, "I... uhh..." She looked up, trying to find a decent excuse, something that would draw the attention from her. "Those birds looked hungry! So I shared our food with them!"
As it would work out, it had the opposite effect on the crew, and their eyes found the supplies. The amounts had definitely dwindled since they had lost saw them...
"Liar! You ate it all, didn't you?" Usopp accused loudly, as Nami hit her over the back of her head. Luffy held her head and pouted as Sanji came to her defence.
"Never accuse Luffy-chan of such a thing!" He growled, defending the Captain. The two continued to bicker until Vivi broke in. The distraction the princess provided was enough to bring the argument to a stuttering halt.
"It wasn't Luffy," Vivi said calmly, and both the men went silent. "The warusagi birds are known for tricking travellers and making off with their supplies. What's surprising is that they didn't take everything!"
Luffy glanced up at Vivi, giving her a large grin. "Actually, they just asked, so I gave them a bit!"
The statement was met by angry and annoyed groans. Even Vivi looked irked by the captain's nonchalance. Did she not realize that the lot of them could die at anytime in this desert?
"Well at least you didn't give them everything," Vivi said, pushing away her anger. She couldn't let her temper get the best of her. Not now, at least. She crouched next to the supplies, checking through them and giving a small nod as she counted. "We still have plenty, thankfully. We can still stop and eat here, but we'll need to continue on our way until we find somewhere to camp for the night. Since we only have a few hours, we have to act quickly!"
The words had barely been processed by the crew when the ground began to rumble beneath their feet. The entire crew turned in time to see an enormous lizard emerge from the earth. Screams echoed around as the creature rose before them. It stood meters above them, deep, dangerous purple scales shimmering in the sun.
"W-what is that?" Nami wailed miserably. She scattered away, pulling Chopper and Usopp with her.
"I forgot to mention the Sandora Lizards! They're extremely dangerous and burrow beneath the ground! They surprise unsuspecting travellers and feed on them... The words had barely left her mouth, and Luffy had already thrown herself at the monster with laugh. "Wait, Luffy!"
But the monster didn't attack Luffy, and the crews' jaws dropped as Luffy casually scratched at the rough scales where the head met the neck. instead of attacking her, it dropped like an overgrown scaly dog,letting a growl rip through its body, and it's large tongue lolled from it's huge mouth.
"Ahh... That's a good boy - oops, I meant girl, sorry!" Luffy crooned to the beast. With a resounding 'thump' the creature rolled onto it's back and squirmed happily. The crew could do nothing by stare, shell shocked, as Luffy continued to pet the creature as though it were a small and tamed house pet. There was no doubt in Ace's mind at this point. She had been gifted with King's Haki. The only question that remained was how conscious she was that she had the gift. As far as he could see, it was limited to her interactions with animals, but he couldn't be sure at the time.
The crew didn't even have it in them to be surprised as a second monster joined the first on above the surface. It had snarled, roared, defended it's hunting partner, before falling victim to Luffy's charm himself.
"I forgot they travel in pairs..." Vivi said faintly, but no one was listening to her anymore. They were too focused on their captain, who was now covered in whatever liquid-y substance was on the Lizard's tongue. It had ran her large purple tongue from her shins over the top of her head, leaving her hair more messy than usual and dripping goop, in some form of affection.
"I guess we could have eaten them, but this is probably better," Luffy said with a grin, finally breaking away from the lizards who sat down like dejected puppies in her absence. She walked back to her recovering nakama. "They'll bring us to Yuba. It'll be far quicken than us walking, so we can stay here for the night."
"It'll be fine! You gotta trust me, Nami!" Luffy said, with a childish grin that screamed 'do not listen to me!' At the same time, if she argued any further, Luffy could simply pull out the 'captain's orders' card. "It's already getting late, look! And these guys have been hunting all day. We all could do with a break."
It was terrifying how casually their captain could admit that these creatures had been hunting. It only implied that they had stumbled across them on an empty stomach, the last thing anyone wanted in desert. Nami was the first to voice this worry.
"I am not sleeping anywhere near a hungry monster!"
"Yeah! It's dangerous!" Usopp agreed readily. In return, they were given a betrayed look from their captain.
"They won't hurt us!" She insisted with a pout. Her bottom lip jutted out as she looked at her crew pleadingly. Sanji moved closer to Nami.
"Maybe not you, Luffy-chan, but I'm not so sure about the rest of us," Sanji muttered. "I'm with Nami-swan with this one."
Only Zoro and Ace stood by her, Vivi caught in the middle. As Luffy looked at her desperately, one of the lizards let out a low grumble. Chopper immediately translated, " 'We were only looking for dessert, actually.' "
"That's not anymore reassuring!" Nami snapped at the beast, before squealing and crawling away when it blinked at her. It could eat her in a single bit, swallow her whole, and she thought it was a good idea to yell at it?
Surprisingly, it was Vivi who spoke up after this. She had been deep in thought through most of the conversation.
"I think we should trust Luffy," Vivi announced, earning her an excited yelp from Luffy. "It's nearly impossible to train a Sandora Lizard, most attempts ending in death. In the few rare successes, usually conducted from the Lizard's birth and over multiple years, they have been proven to be extremely loyal. Seeing this one tamed so simply... I'm positive they won't harm us. Plus, we need the extra time to rest and plan for our trip to Yuba."
The crew looked unsure and hesitant. Who wouldn't be after your captain just decided you'd be sleeping with two beasts on board? Finally, Nami gave in a nodded. "Fine. But only because Vivi said we could trust them. If any of us get eaten-,"
"They won't eat anyone, Luffy said offhandedly, before marching towards the supplies. "I'm so hungry, though! Food, food!"
It was only Zoro's hand, reaching out and catching the scruff of her clothes that saved their already depleting rations. Sanji stepped forward and began to paw through what was left of their supplies. He divided the rations appropriately amongst the crew as they settled down. Luffy instantly dug in wildly, while the others were much more polite.
There was less urgency now. They were sure to reach Yuba by noon tomorrow, with the help of the lizards, and had little to worry about. That, and no matter what Vivi did, the crew had fallen into it's usual ridiculous antics as the night fell. Even chopper joined in as it grew colder, and Ace watched his sister with a soft smile.
Luffy and Usopp, at first, seemed oblivious to the cold that was setting into the night and ran around with Chopper. As the chased each other, the purple lizards, whom Luffy had decided to name 'Sandy' and 'Dora', watched them with something akin to amusement. They seemed to find it entertaining when a blast of cold air hit Usopp's face, and he scattered away to join the others. Luffy followed, pouting at how her fun had come to an abrupt stop.
"H-how'd it g-get so cold?" Usopp shivered, pulling his clothing tighter around him desperately.
Vivi copied the movement, and moved closer to the group. Now that Luffy had joined them, Sandy and Dora had curled around them in a protective circle. Despite her words, she couldn't help but be fearful of them. All her life she had known them as feared creatures.
"It's because of the lack of clouds." When the crew turned to her questioningly, she let out a sigh and turned to explain. "Well, there's no cloud coverage. So there is nothing to keep the heat in at night or block the sun during the day."
"Ah..." Nami mumbled in agreement, having already figured it out. It didn't make it any less cold and a shiver ran through her. Luffy noticed. Without a second thought, she pulled off her robes and slung them over Nami's shoulders, "Luffy, w-what?"
Luffy grinned reassuringly at her navigator. "Can't have you getting sick on us again!"
"Well we can't have a sick Captain, either," Zoro quickly pointed out protectively. He was ready to pull of his own to giver her, but she just shook her head at him.
"I'm not really cold," she said, her face lighting up as she did so. "Besides, I have an Ace!"
As she spoke, she happily dropped herself into said pirate's lap, who welcomed her with open arms. Not a warmth, per say, but a feeling similar to it spread through her body with the familiar arms wrapped around her. It was something she was growing used to. There was no heat, no cold, no pain. Perhaps it had something to do with what Aiyume said about the anklet... She would have to ask... later. Right now she was perfectly content against Ace's chest.
"Tired, are we?" Ace asked, watching with fondness in his eyes as she yawned loudly. She glanced at him, her eyes dropping slightly as she nodded. He chuckled and ruffled her hair, consequently getting some left over Lizard goop on his hand. "Go to sleep, Luffy."
No sooner were the words said, that her head dropped against his shoulder, fast asleep. He laughed again, running his fingers through her hair and wincing at the goop. At least somethings never changed... He was grateful he could have his little sister back in at least one way. Although he couldn't help by notice that as she wrapped her rubbery arms around him, that she had a slightly tighter grip than he was used to. It didn't seem that she would be letting go for a while now, even in subconsciousness.
As he stared at his sister, his eyes were filled with both worry and pride. Worry, because she seemed so extremely different than last time he saw her, but he couldn't place why. She almost seemed darker, more mature. It was easy to look past it when she laughed or grinned, or even said something stupid, but it was there. And painfully obvious for her brother. Still, the pride swelled within him. She had made it far, may have even mastered Haki in their small time apart.
When he finally turned his gaze away from his sister, he was met with the crews eyes on him. A few of the awed gazed turned away quickly, but Nami smiled at him, and the swordsman didn't bother look away from the siblings. Or maybe his eyes were only on Luffy.
"I'm sorry, she must be quite the handful at times," Ace said, and Luffy shifted in his arms, as if reacting to his voice.
"Oh, not really," Nami quickly replied, sounding slightly flustered. Ace's eyebrows rose, finding the statement difficult to believe. There was no way his sister was staying out of trouble. That just wasn't her thing.
"Not at all?" He asked in disbelief.
"Well, yeah," Usopp reluctantly joined the coversation. "She's always getting into trouble, and not listening. Sometimes it's hard to believe that she's the captain!"
"Oi! Don't say stuff like that about or lovely captain!" Sanji butted in, glaring at Usopp as he defended the Straw Hat Captain. Ace watched the exchange with amusement.
"W-well, it's true! Although she does fight really well and she's always there to help us," Usopp amended under Sanji's glare. "Even if we don't need it."
At this, Ace laughed, bringing the attention back to him. "Luffy has always been like that," he said fondly.
Luffy shifted again, either at the sound of their voices, or sensing she was being discussed. The movement resulted in her vest tugging up the slightest bit as she pressed her face into Ace's neck. Ace sighed and reached around the pull it down, when he caught sight of something. Something that was off, foreign and certainly should not be on her skin.
He ran his fingers across the mark, feeling the smooth scar tissue, and scowled. It wasn't any ordinary wound. His eyes trailed across to her exposed shoulder, where a matching scar tainted her skin. His eyes darkened.
The campsite was silent, save the captain's soft snores, and the roaring of the wind that Sandy and Dora's bodies protected them against. No one dared to utter a word as the protective brother attempted to make sense of the wounds. He ran his fingers over it again, and the girl tense in his arms. He retracted his hand quickly and she relaxed against him. His expression was full of confusion, questions, worry and above all, anger.
But he said nothing. He doubted the crew would know much about it. If she hadn't spoken to him, her brother, about it, he refused to believe she told her nakama. He tugged her shirt down to cover the mark on his waist, adjusted the sleeve, and pulled her closer to him. The look in his eyes clearly said this was far from over.
"Oi! You finished packing yet, marimo?" Sanji snapped, earning him a tired grumble in return. The sun was beginning to rise, and they needed to leave as soon as possible. They would have been fine, had Luffy's newly acquainted pets not gone running off in the night. Now they were ages behind schedule. Well, at least they could consider themselves lucky that the aforementioned 'pet' had not chosen them as a tasty midnight snack. "Well? Nami-swan has us on a tight schedule! What's taking so long?"
Zoro finished with his part of the supplies and threw Sanji a dark glare. "If you cared to notice, Luffy's disappeared, so somebody had to finish her part."
"Don't blame your laziness on Luffy-chan," Sanji began. "Besides, she was right here."
He turned, only to find she wasn't where she had been at all.
"Where'd Luffy-chan go?" Sanji cried, spinning to face Zoro, who only shrugged. "Don't you care?"
Zoro's usual glare darkened into a glower as though Sanji had just insulted him. Not care about the Captain? He did far more than anyone here. "She can take care of herself, curlybrow. She probably didn't go that far anyways."
No sooner had the words left his mouth than they heard the yelling. It sounded almost panicked.
"Sandy! Dora!" Luffy was practically wailing into the open desert, running around frantically. "Where'd you go?"
She dashed past the two men, who could do nothing more than blink at their captain. Then she was gone again, reminding the two of a protective mother hen. They really shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, she was protective of every, right? Perhaps it was the mothering tone that had taken them off guard.
She was back moments later, panting and looking up at them in a way that was undeniably adorable. "Where would Sandy and Dora go?" She asked desperately, as if they had the answers for her.
"Uhh..." Was all Sanji could muster, all his attention on her face - which he should be more careful about with a protective brother slinking about - than the question.
"I'm sure they just went hunting, Luffy," Zoro reassured the captain calmly. "It wouldn't be surprising if they got hungry and wandered off to find something."
Her eyes lit up, her grin blinding. "Yeah! You're right, we should wait for them!"
Zoro rolled his eyes. "We don't have time for that."
"Maybe they'll find us on the way," Sanji said, being much more gentle with the news than Zoro. Was the man heartless? "But for now, we have to get going."
She threw him such a bright smile, and for a moment his heart fluttered in hi chest uncontrollably. Oh so much he wasn't going to say! His captain was simply adorable! But no matter how much he wanted to gush, it would have to remain unspoken for as long as her protective brother lucked around.
"Yosh!" She nodded eagerly, ready to get going. She heaved a bag of supplies up, throwing it over her shoulder with ease. "Let's get going than!"
The two hurried to grab supplies as she rocked impatiently on her heels. "Nami! Usopp! Chopper! Vivi! We're going now!"
The mentioned people made their way to join them, but it was too slow for Luffy, who was both eager to find her 'pets' and kick crocodile's ass. "Hurry up!"
Nami let out a huff. "Says you. You and your pets are the reason we're in this whole mess."
But only moments later, they were ready to go, arms full of their supplies. With impatient whines from their captain, they took off for Yuba.
It was still morning, the sun only just rising and there was still a cool crispness in the air. It didn't remain as so for long, as the sun quickly rose and brought the full blown heat of the desert with it. It wasn't long until Zoro had to start pulling Chopper along behind them. Like all trips with the straw hats, it wasn't a quiet journey.
Luffy loudly whined about her pets, while Usopp complained about how Chopper got it easy. Chopper would snap back, more often than not switching forms. That in turn would result in Zoro yelling at him to "go small", and then return to bickering with Sanji. Quite frankly, Nami was growing more and more annoyed.
"Why does Chopper get to be pulled!"
"You try having this much fur in this temperature!"
"Would you all just shut up! Stop bickering, the lot of you! And by Gods, Luffy, would you just give. it. up."
The group fell silent, Luffy's face falling into one of despair. Nami opened her mouth to speak, and the ground began to rumble once again. Annoyed, she swung on her heel and prepared to scream at whatever was coming at them this time.
What she wasn't expecting was to see two large lizards bounding towards the crew. At first she was shocked speechless, and then confused. Why would they be charging-
Realizing dawned on her as she caught sight of the creature they were chasing. Hunting, really. They were running towards the crew at such a pace that they would surely be trampled... Before anyone could utter a sound, Luffy was plowing towards the beasts.
"Sandy-chan! Dora-chan! Stop!" She hollered, but the lizards continued to rush after the smaller creature. Luffy, hands on her hips before them, was not pleased. "I... said... stop!"
She sent a punch that hooked around and caught the closer one in the jaw. It tumbled with a cry, knocking the other over with it. The sandora's prey, which could not be identified as a camel, ran and cowered behind Luffy. She looked at her lizards with disappointment on her face. They slowly shifted, raising to their feet unsteadily, and looking almost... guilty?
"I told you to stop! And why'd you run off last night?" Luffy scolded the monsters. "Nami gave me a lot of trouble, y'know!"
Sanji and Zoro both looked at the navigator, suddenly understanding the reason behind Luffy's behaviour this morning. They turned back in time to see the slightly larger on hesitantly licking Luffy's head, in an act that may have sought forgiveness.
Luffy, being Luffy, gave way right away. She reached out and scratched the purple monsters neck in away that spoke of complete and utter forgiveness.
"Okay, okay, I forgive you. But no eating the camel, and you have to take us to Yuba," Luffy demanded childishly. While the lizards managed to look upset about not being able to eat the camel, they easily gave in. Luffy turned to the camel, smiling brightly. "Hey, you're safe now, so will you help us get to Yuba?"
The came looked at the large lizards distrustfully, but then made some nodded gesture and butted it's head lightly against Luffy's chest. Luffy laughed.
"'Fine, but I'll only let women onto my back!'" Chopper translated as the camel stepped away from Luffy. Sanji and Zoro's eyes narrowed on the creature, but Nami and Vivi silently rejoined in the fact they would not be riding the beasts.
"Why you-," Sanji began, glaring at the camel.
"Pervert," Usopp finished bitterly, knowing he was doomed to riding the purple beasts.
"Be nice to Eyelashes," Nami automatically crooner, reaching out to scratch the creature under his chin.
"Eyelashes?" Zoro questioned, giving her a criticizing look. And he thought Luffy's naming skills were bad. "You've already named it?"
"Well, of course, after all-,"
"Guys, I think we have other things to worry about right now," Usopp cut in, ignoring the looks he received from the two.
"Usopp's right - we have to get to Yuba as soon as possible," Vivi began, looking around for the sandora training captain. Surprisingly, the girl had already started taking things and placing them carefully on top of her lizards. She had already hoisted Chopper up onto one of them, and she practically forced Usopp onto the same one. "Are you riding Eyelashes, Luffy?"
She had already known the answer, as the girl was climbing up onto Dora's back, where Ace and Zoro joined her. Sanji scowled, having no choice but to join the two younger idiots on Sandy's back.
"Okay, so we head to Yuba from here. It's the only way to talk to them and stop the revolution," Nami said as they climbed onto the camel. "See you there!"
With that, she nudged Eyelashes and he took off ahead of them.
The sandora lizards moved faster than they could have every hoped to, but it was still nothing in comparison to the camel. If they wanted a gentle ride, that is. Luffy had urged them forward and they had bolted, but the movement had shaken everyone so much they decided to slow just a bit.
The ride was oddly silent for a while. Occasionally, Sanji and Zoro would bicker from across the lizards. Chopper himself was quite relaxed. They heat was harsh, but the lizards were surprisingly cool, keeping him cool. Usopp just sat, tinkering. It took them a while to realize the reason it was so quiet was because of Luffy's silence.
Ace was the first to notice. He had been watching his sister almost the entire time, but just now he caught sight of her shivering, her back to them. He moved toward swiftly, worried. Zoro followed suit.
"Luffy? Are you alright?" Ace asked gently, reaching out and resting his hand on her shoulder. They didn't except her to let out a bloodcurdling screech at the contact. Zoro took a step back without meaning to, and the other three looked over in worry. Ace didn't back away, but his look of concern deepened. "What's going on, Luffy?"
Luffy turned to look at him, her eyes wide in horror. Her voice came out a croaking, incomprehensible whisper.
"What?" Ace asked, his voice as tight as his grip.
"T-t-there's.. s-so... m-much... b-blood," she croaked after a moment, looking up at him in absolute terror. It caused his heart to clench in fear.
"What are you talking about, Luffy?"
"I told her it was a bad idea!" Usopp groaned, and Ace glanced up at him for only a second. "I mean, she was thirsty and so she helped herself to some cactus juice..."
"She's probably hallucinating..." Chopper said softly, when Luffy suddenly stood up. She shrugged off Ace's hand, turning to him with a dangerous look in her eyes.
"I can't stand this blood anymore! I won't let anyone else die!" She screamed it at no one in particular, before suddenly becoming fascinated with Ace's chest. "Ace, Ace. Don't leave me, Ace! Please, why'd you do that!"
Ace was becoming more and more concerned as she reached out, about to touch his bare chest, and seemed to think the better of it. There were tears in her eyes, but when he reached out, she simply took his hand and dropped to her knees.
"You didn't have to do that, Ace. Why'd you sacrifice yourself? I would have gladly died, I can't live without you. I need you, Ace. Don't leave me."
"I'm here, Luffy, I'm not leaving," He said softly, crouching before her and reaching out for her once more. She leant into the touch eagerly, but it didn't stop the tears.
"I would give it up, you know. I don't want to be king of the pirates if you aren't there. I just want my brother. Please..." The blood was almost too much for her. Ace crouch before her, bloodied as the day he had died. It was the day he died. The large hole in his chest wouldn't heal, no matter what she did.
Nothing Ace did would help. She truly believed him to be dead. He just watched his sister in shock, not sure what to do. Finally, Zoro stepped forwards and reached out for her arm. She winced at the touch, but allowed him to guide her hand towards Ace's chest. She winced as though she were causing someone intense pain, trying to pull her hand away. As soon as her hand came in contact with Ace's chest, though, she relaxed. Ace looked between the two of them wildly, unsure what to think.
She felt his heart, still beating faintly beneath her fingertips, and her breathing calmed. Her hand bunched into a small fist over Ace's chest, and she began to wail. She was still clearly stuck in her hallucination...
She let out a quiet cry, and then slumped against Ace's chest.
"Ah ha!" Chopper cheered, holding an empty syringe. Ace felt a tick of anger, but brushed it away. While yes, he drugged her, he had also calmed her down immensely. He gathered his sister in his arms, holding her close as she curled up, completely out of it.
"What the hell was that?" Zoro growled.
"Well, the cacti that she decided to drink from triggered hallucinations. I don't know why they were focused around Ace, but they were pretty extreme hallucinations."
"You don't say," Ace muttered sarcastically, before his face softened into an apologetic look. "Sorry, I'm just... I've never seen her like that before."
"It happens sometimes," Zoro said, dropping down next to the duo. "Her nightmares can make her violent at times, or keep her up. I think they cause her similar hallucinations."
Ace frowned, shifting the girl so she was in a more comfortable position. "And that's how you knew what to do?"
"Well, we've never seen her this bad before," Sanji said from the other lizard, watching the scene as he lit up a cigarette. "She wakes up, screaming about us dying. It's like she needs reassurance that we're alive."
Ace looked at his sister. What the hell had happened to her in the last few years?
"I spent all night digging this up for you."
The old man held out a container of water to the young girl. She glanced at it and smiled. She carefully took it, tying the pouch of water around her neck and cradling it gently. He had worked hard to get this for her. She wasn't going to waste a drop. "Thank you, ojii-san! I'll make sure the rain returns!"
It had taken them a while to catch up with the camel, who seemed set on being at least fifty paces ahead of them. It hadn't forgiven the lizards for almost eating them. After they had at least located the camel, it had only taken them a few hours to reach what had once been the Revolutionary Army's headquarters.
It was deserted. Completely and utterly empty, without the slightest sign of life. Until they had found Vivi's old friend, Toto. He had explained how the city had become barren, and how they had left for somewhere better. He had remained, continuing to dig and search for the water once more.
"Well... that puts a damper on our plans," Sanji said, sounding stressed as he climbed onto Sandy's back. They had eased up on their fear of the beasts, especially as the two of them had saved them from a giant scorpion attack. They had woken up to the large beasts chomping on the creature.
"We need to go back to Nanohana!" Vivi cried. If she could just talk to the rebels, explain everything... "I'm positive-,"
"Vivi," Luffy started, causing the princess to fall silent. Her voice was oddly serious... "Do you really believe that talking to them will do anything? Do you think it will save anyone?"
"Of course, I mean..."
"No matter what you do, Crocodile will make this attack happen. There will be a loss of life no matter what we do from this point on. This is not a childish fight. This is war." Her eyes hardened. The way she spoke - she had seen war, been ravaged by it. War had taken something from her. Something precious. When she looked up, it wasn't hard to see why she was the captain. It was a side of her that was hard to see, a side that surprised Ace more than her hallucinations. "You need to listen to me, Vivi. We don't know the situation - the war could have very well begun by this point. We're all risking our lives here, Vivi."
"L-Luffy," Vivi stuttered. Luffy being serious meant the situation was dire. She felt the fear come down on her like a wave.
"I want you to take Sandy with Sanji, Nami and Chopper. Go back to Nanohana," she ordered. "Ace, Zoro, Usopp and I will go to the Oasis, we'll find and stop Crocodile."
Luffy wasn't sure how to feel about facing Crocodile. She knew the damage and pain Crocodile was causing, and knew she had to stop it, but all the same... In her timeline, Crocodile had become an ally. Unwittingly, yes, and still more than a bit hungry for power and money, but an ally nonetheless.
She reminded herself that Crocodile wasn't an ally yet. Fighting him now didn't mean that he wouldn't fight alongside her later. She had to remember that.
"Luffy..." Nami began, her mouth falling open. It was scary, seeing a side of Luffy that was so mature. Of course, it wore off extremely quickly.
"Neh! Don't worry about me, Nami!" Luffy stated with a huge, shit-eating grin. She jumped from her spot on Dora, walking over to stand in front of Sandy, who she stroked affectionately. "Just go with them and try to stop the battle! And take care of Sandy, please. Both Dora and I would be really sad if anything happened to her. As for you, Sandy... Listen to Chopper, okay? And protect everyone, please."
Nami paused, before nodding and pulling on the reigns. "Okay, let's go."
Vivi looked at the captain, worry clear in her eyes. Would the girl really be able to handle Crocodile? Then again, she had Fire-Fist Ace at her side... "Thank you, Luffy."
Luffy laughed, helping a shaking Usopp off of Sandy's back. She gave Sandy one last little scratch before moving back to Dora. "Bye! I'll see you guys soon, okay?"
Luffy's eyes followed them as they left in the opposite direction. They didn't move for a good few minutes, and when Luffy finally did, she had returned completely to her childish behaviour.
"So... which way is it to the Oasis again?" She asked, blinking at them innocently.
"You don't even know the way!?" Zoro and Usopp exploded at the same time.
"It's that way," Ace said, pointing the way opposite from where the others had left. Usopp started muttering about how perfect Ace was, how he would be his saviour. Ace, however, focused his attention only on Luffy. He couldn't stop thinking about how much she had changed.
"Hey, Lu?" He called, and she turned around to look at him with bright eyes.
"Yeah, Ace?" She asked, bounding across Dora's back to plop in front of Ace like a loyal puppy. He smirked, pulling her forward into his lap. She, unlike the rest of them, did not remember the horror from her hallucinations earlier. She only remembered drinking cacti juice, and waking up in Ace's arms after being drugged. He looked down at her in concern, meeting her eyes with a small smile. He considered asking her about her scars.
"I have a surprise for you, once we get outta here," He said instead. She beamed brightly, already excited even though she had no idea what he was talking about. She fell into his lap with giggles, grinning up at him childishly. "So don't go getting to badly hurt. You wanna be in good shape for this surprise."
Luffy looked up at him curiously, but then shrugged it off. "Okay!" She said excitedly. "Besides, Crocodile doesn't stand a chance anyways!"
He believed her, but that didn't mean he didn't worry.
They reached the Rainbase with time to spare. Thanks to the Sandora lizards, their journey had been cut by at least two days. When the arrived, Luffy was happily dozing in the hot sun. Her head was still in Ace's lap, but her legs had somehow ended up in Zoro's lap. He had looked down, rolled his eyes, and continued guiding the Lizard towards the Oasis.
Ace had been watching the two of them for most of their trip. Zoro knew he was watching. He was well aware that Ace saw the way he looked at his sister. He was sure there was only so much time before he was confronted by the protective man.
The moment they reached the city, Zoro reached out and shook her shoulder gently. She woke with a start, instantly throwing her self into Zoro's lap. She looked around excitedly, yelling something about kicking Crocodile's ass in Zoro's ear, before spotting the city.
"Oi! Shut up!" Zoro complained, irritated. Was her screeching really necessary? She paused, looking back at Zoro with an abashed grin. "Get this thing to stop. If we march into Rainbase with it, we'll not only draw attention to ourselves, but scare everyone shitless."
Luffy pouted, climbing out of Zoro's lap and flinging herself in front of the large lizard. It stopped immediately, staring at it's master in curiosity.
"Zoro says you can't go past here," She said sadly. The lizards head dropped unhappily and she frowned. "We'll come get you when we're done, okay? Just lay low."
Ace was the first off of the lizard, watching as Zoro and Usopp jumped from it's back hesitantly. Luffy instantly bounded over to them, wrapping her rubbery arms around Zoro and clinging to him.
"I want food, Zoro! Food and water! I'm thirsty!" Zoro only groaned in response, trying to untangle her limbs from his. She held fast, her head on his as she took in the Oasis. "We should eat there!"
She pointed excitedly at a restaurant.
Zoro could feel Ace's eyes burning into them, almost literally. "Fine, just get off of me!"
Fury positively radiated from Ace's being as he hovered over Zoro. The two of them, Usopp, Smoker, and a very unconscious Luffy were completely drenched.
"Why the fuck did you save him?" He growled, not even giving the swordsman a chance to recover before his hand lit up in flames. Zoro let out a grunt, sitting up hastily. That seemed to be the wrong move, and the fire flared. "Luffy could have died!"
The sound of coughing filled the air. Beside Luffy, a concerned Bananawani crouched and watched her. It had been the one to save her, pulling her to safety above the water as the room flooded. There was no way she could let Smoker or Ace drown. To die like this, after everything? In this life, Smoker was of no harm to her. She couldn't sit back and watch him drown.
"Ace..." The voice was weak, probably from the amount of water she had swallowed. She was conscious now, blinking at them wearily. "I told him to save Smoker. Calm down."
Ace turned on his sister, the fire on his fist instantly extinguishing."Why would you-?"
"He has devil fruit powers too. I knew the Bananawani's would help me, but Smoker needed help."
It was just like his sister. Always eager to fight, but just as eager to play hero. To her, it wasn't playing anything though. It was just doing the right thing, plain and simple. "Fine." Ace stepped away from the swordsman, his fists dropping to his side. Zoro and Usopp climbed to their feet, still looking at the older brother wearily.
Luffy was giving her brother a disappointed look.
"We have much more important things to worry about right now. We have to find Dora and follow Crocodile." Luffy stood, ignoring Smoker as he told them he wouldn't go easy on them for saving him. Instead, she just lead her group of pirates away, not looking at the marine. "We need to hurry."