Dreams Deferred

A One Piece fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

This is a story told in the first-person about a handful of original characters that will tie-in with Oda-sensei's characters. I tried to make it as canon as I could as of December 2011. If you are reading this after that, it could be that some of the events of this story will no longer make sense in the canon sense. Thus is fanfiction. - aks

Epilogue: Nico Robin

I said good-bye to my new friends at Baltigo with only a few weeks to spare and began the journey back to Sabaody. Everyone wished me well and I felt a certain sadness that I hadn't felt before; not a tremendous one by any stretch of the imagination, but sadness, still. It might have been because I might never see some of the people I'd worked so closely with for the last two years ever again. Their well-wishing tugged at my heartstrings and I thanked them. But nothing could suppress the excitement I felt with the prospect of seeing my nakama again. I missed them so very much. It had been a long time.

Thanks to the secrecy of the Kakumeigun and its movements I was forced to shuttle between several different modes of conveyance from Baltigo to my destination. The last leg of the journey was carried out by a clever branch of the army, one of a small fleet of pirate ships loaded with Revolutionaries who plundered for the cause. Their captain, an enthusiastic young man called Essex greeted me as I crossed the gang plank and made me feel very welcome. He begged my pardon that they were to complete a mission between here and there and wondered would I be alright with that. I stopped short of offering to help, but assured him that it would not trouble me in the least.

The put my bag in the cabin they had appointed for me and was introduced to the other officers. The first mate, Ghani Maho I had heard about back on Baltigo when someone I was working with 'warned' me that they had employed a former CP9 member. She was short and quiet but pleasant enough, something about her eyes reminded me of my own. I didn't hold anything against her for her former place of employ. I understood she had been with the Kakumeigun for about five years already, well before the events at Enies Lobby. Hiruma Esuke reminded me a bit of our Sanji in his tall, blond lankiness, but in all other ways, not. He was well spoken, calm and reserved and I imagined he played chess rather well. His bright, cheerful partner was Gretje Van der Zee, the youngest on board at twenty years. She bowed deeply when we were introduced. Her broad smile wrinkled the large scar on her cheek.

Their ship, the Liberdade sailed to the north/north-east toward Sabaody, but also toward their target. Gretje transformed into a giant eagle and her great wings carried her hundreds of feet into the air until she looked more like a seagull in the eye of a spyglass. She flew out over the expansive ocean and toward a dot on the horizon.

"She's taking my line with her," Hiruma explained, holding his right arm out as if he were holding an invisible drink. "Once above the target, she'll let it drop."

"But I don't see anything," I wondered.

"I can spin wires and strings so thin they are invisible to the naked eye," he said. "It has taken me a while to build up the ability to stretch them so far, but if I allot the right amount of my energy to the task it works very well." He smiled proudly.

"I see, that sounds very useful."

Captain Essex watched the ship through his spyglass. "Once Hiruma's connected we'll begin the approach."

In moments the string-user's chin tilted up and he announced he was 'on-line' with the target. He began to announce the actions and discussions of the crew of the ship on the horizon. The Liberdade came about and set course for the target. As we closed in, Hiruma announced that they had realized we were coming for them and were contemplating defensive action. It was at this point that I realized we were after a Kaigun gunship. I looked around and decided they were significantly under-armed for such a move.

"Generally, they underestimate us." Essex said with a wink. "We don't fly our Jolly Roger and we look weak, so they don't bust out the big guns right away. Maho, you ready?"

"Any time," she said and stood next to one of only two canons on deck. A sailor with a torch stood by and when Essex gave the signal, lit the fuse. Maho leaped gracefully onto the barrel and when the shot exploded from it, jumped onto the ball and rode it to the target. It flew past their sails and Maho jumped onto their deck. Instantly we saw explosions and shrapnel flying through the air.

Essex watched with a proud grin. "Hiruma is telling Maho what's going on through a wire in her ear and she's causing all that," he indicated to the busy scene. "She's tearing up the decks and disarming men, the usual." Not a single canon shot was fired as the Liberdade drew close. Gretje flew down to join the fight, picking strong Marines up in her talons and depositing them in the ocean with speed and precision. Hiruma made gestures with his hands and I could see that he was tripping, tying and binding soldiers while standing right beside me. Essex twirled the pole he wore on his back in his hand and used it to vault on board and fought the Marine captain, himself. At the same time, Maho extended a large gangplank that connected the two ships permanently and the pirates swarmed the Kaigun ship. In only a few minutes the fight was over. Hardly a drop of blood was spilled and the Marines were corralled on to the deck of the Liberdade into a large, wooden pen. A dozen pirates watched this and everyone but Maho filed back on board.

"That was very impressive!" I said to Essex as he rejoined me at the rail.

"That was nothin'!" he crowed. "Now Maho's got a bit of job. It takes a ton of energy. Watch this." He motioned to the men guarding the wooden box full of Marines. They raised wooden mallets and pounded on the box making an unholy racket. It must have been deafening inside.

"Why is that noise necessary?" I shouted.

"Keeps this a secret!" he said and waved to Maho.

She nodded to Essex and raised her arms as if to conduct an orchestra. The ship creaked and groaned and warped as she worked her Akuma-no-Mi ability on it. The masts shortened by a few feet, the sails changed shape. The marks of the Kaigun disappeared and the ship took on the appearance of a sloop. Even the color of the wood changed as she manipulated every detail of the ship. When she was done, a contingent of about twenty, along with Hiruma and Gretje, filed aboard the new sloop gunship with bags over their shoulders.

"Good work, you guys. See you soon!" Essex called to them and Maho gave them both hugs as she passed them on the gang plank. Once everyone was aboard, she morphed the plank back into the Liberdade and the new sloop raised Essex's Jolly Roger and sailed off to Baltigo. Thankfully, at this point the hammering on the box full of Marines stopped.

I folded my arms and breathed a sigh of relief. "What do you intend to do with them?"

Essex grinned. "We make a little boat for them and unload them at our next stop. It's just their ship we want, obviously," he whispered and waved for me to come with him to his cabin where we could talk more freely. Ghani Maho followed.

.x.

Essex's cabin was cozy with leather upholstered window seats and a small oak desk in the center of the room. Bookcases lined the walls and an impressive number of volumes filled the shelves. Essex sat at the desk and Maho and I seated ourselves on the port-side window seat with the sun at our backs. "So that's what we do!" Essex exclaimed and put his feet up on his desk. "I apologize again for the delay. I'm sure you're eager to get back to your crew."

I watched his eyes dart quickly to Maho who nodded to him.

"I am," I said carefully.

"Please," the captain said, taking his feet down and leaning forward in his chair with his elbows on the desk. "Tell me all about them!"

Maho chuckled. "He's a big fan."

So that was it. I smiled appreciatively. Many of the Revolutionaries had said similar things to me throughout my time with them. I thought, since they were being kind enough to transport me I could regale them with a story or two of our adventures. I talked until dinner time, telling them about our trip to Skypiea. After dinner we picked back up where I left off, but before I could get into the story Essex asked "what's your captain like?"

I paused and smiled. I'd never had to describe him before and wanted to make sure I did so accurately. "Luffy is energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic, reckless and his actions are generally uninhibited by anyone or anything. He can eat more than any human being has a right to. He's defeated at least three logia-type Akuma-no-Mi users since I've been sailing with him and has fought practically until the point of death several times. Self-preservation is the furthest thing from his mind when he faces a foe. He fights to protect his friends or even for the sake of people he's only just met. His moral compass is amazingly true. I'm proud to call myself his nakama."

Essex's bottom lip trembled slightly as he grinned at me and nodded appreciatively. "Just as I expected of him," he said quietly and stood up. "Nico-san, can you keep a secret?"

Here it comes, I thought. I was a bit surprised that they were going to inform me about whatever it was I knew they had been holding back. "I'm practically an expert at it," I said and folded my hands in my lap. "You have my word."

He sat down between me and his first mate. She put her hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze of support. He went on to tell me the story of his life. He was the long-lost third brother to Ace and Luffy. If it weren't for the scar on his head and the earnestness of the telling, I would have thought he'd made it up. I knew that I could confirm the story with Dragon who had rescued him as the boy, then called Sabo, so I decided that I could believe him.

As night fell and Essex finished his tale, Maho got up and lighted the lamps. She poured him a bourbon and seated herself again beside him. "Captain Essex, I will keep your secret, but why tell me this if you don't wish me to tell my captain that his brother still lives?"

Essex pursed his mouth and leaned forward. "Because I want to be able to explain it to him in person. I wanted to tell one of his nakama this so that I could gauge what his reaction might be, also, in case something should happen to me before I get to see him again. It's been two years now that I've had my memory back, but he's been in hiding."

"Well, you know he'll be at Sabaody very soon."

Essex rubbed his hands together nervously. "I know! But I don't think it's the right time. If your devotion to your captain is any judge of how devoted the rest of the Straw Hats are, I'm sure your reunion will be a busy time. I don't want to take away from that."

"And," Maho added. "Though the Kaigun moved its base, there've been reports of increased activity at Sabaody. Could be messy."

"That, too. " Essex nodded and leaned back, putting his elbows on the window sill. "We'll meet one day, I'm sure of it!"

I smiled. "I look forward to that day."

.x.

Six months later we encountered a strong pirate crew that thought to try to claim our bounties. Their ship dwarfed ours and though the odds were stacked against us, we decided to fight, rather than use the Sunny-gou's Coup-de-Burst to flee the scene. The battle raged and soon two other ships approached from behind the large one attacking us. Usopp shouted the warning and we scrambled to plan a defense against a fleet. As I worked to stave off boarders I saw a strange sight. A red-haired woman appeared from beneath the waves very close to the enemy ship's hull. She tied a rope to the rudder, glanced around, made eye-contact with me and gave me a wink before ducking back beneath the waves. A flash of tail fin licked the air before the mermaid disappeared. I shouted to Usopp who stood closest to me that something was going on and in moments many of the enemy crew stopped dead in their tracks as if bound by an invisible force. Their canons were pulled back into the gun ports. Their sails suddenly shredded into thousands of pieces of paper that fluttered away in the wind.

"What in the hell is going on?" Sanji shouted.

"I don't know!" Nami replied.

"I do!" I cried and pointed to the Liberdade and her companion ship, still closing in on us. "We've got back up!" I used my ability to reach Luffy and the others and tell them to cease and desist, that these ships were friendly. We marveled at the now disabled enemy ship, its crew jerking and twitching, held in place by wires and their feet trapped in the very wood of the decks and anxiously waited for an explanation. I grinned and let a soft giggle escape in anticipation of what would come next.

"Ahoy!" Maho shouted and waved to us. "Robin! Ahoy!"

Luffy leaped back onto the Sunny-gou and scratched his head underneath his straw hat. "Robin, you know these guys?"

"I do. They transported me to Sabaody. They're friends."

He grinned. "Cool! Ahoy!" he shouted in reply and waved back.

The mermaid with the red hair stood on the deck of the second ship with a figurehead that had the appearance of a bearded man blowing smoke around his face. Next to her stood a large, impressive black man. I made the connection. Maho had told me a bit about their friends on our weeks-long journey to Sabaody. This was the mermaid captain Rose Madda and her first mate, Bin. As the ships came together, Maho extended a gangplank between Madda's ship and the enemy ship and Bin strolled on board. He clapped his hands together then pointed them to the sky. The decking and outer walls of the ship turned to stone and shot up over the top of the ship, covering it in a dome-like structure. Once this was done, Maho connected another gangplank from the Liberdade to the Sunny-gou, Madda and Bin joined the crew of the Liberdade. Surprisingly, their captain was nowhere in sight. Ghani Maho asked for permission to come aboard and Luffy welcomed them.

"Hello, Robin. Good to see you again!" Maho said and bowed.

"And you as well, Maho-chan. Everyone, these are my friends, the Essex Pirates." Introductions were made and Luffy thanked Maho for bringing me to them, safely.

Nami put her hands on her hips. "So you have two female captains? That's so cool!"

I wondered where Essex was, but guessed at the reason for his absence. Maho blushed. "Captain Essex is nervous. I hope he'll be out soon."

Captain Rose Madda scoffed. "I'm sicka this. He's been whinin' about this for weeks! Ever since we met up on this side of the Red Line I haven't heard the end of it. 'I can't wait to meet him!' Now he's hidin' out, makin' us all look stupid. Bin!" she called up to her impressive first mate. "Go get him." Bin looked anxious. "It's ok. My orders, so the onus is on me. Please."

He nodded and stomped back across the fortified gang-plank, made sufficiently sturdy for his bulk, and in moments re-emerged from the captain's quarters with Essex in front of him. We could hear Essex trying to gently talk Bin out of his task but the hulk wouldn't hear of it. As they drew closer Essex stopped resisting and adjusted the lapels of his jacket to try to appear nonchalant. He crossed the gangplank and although all eyes were on him, my eyes were on my own captain. Where Luffy had been laughing at Madda's remarks a moment ago he was silent now and stood stock still, staring at the man approaching him.

"It's been a long time, Luffy," was all Essex could manage to say. He smiled wistfully and there was a terrible silence before Luffy reacted.

"Sa... Sabo?"

Essex nodded.

Luffy's fists clenched and trembled. "You're alive…?"

"I had lost my memory," he said softly and touched his scar. "I'm sorry I wasn't... that I couldn't be there..." Tears started to form in Essex's eyes.

"Shut up!" Luffy shouted and everyone gasped, but I watched him carefully. There was always more to Luffy's simplicity than he let on. "I don't need your excuses…" he muttered and his smile spread across his face. "I have my brother back!"

The party we threw aboard the Thousand Sunny-gou lasted well into the following morning. When it was at last time for the Essex and Bonefish pirates to depart, we were all fast friends. Knowing what I did about their true mission as secret Revolutionaries, I knew well that these long-separated brothers' paths would cross again one day.

END

Special thanks to Pleased as Ponchi, an author here on fanfiction dot net (look it up! ^_^) for allowing me to take inspiration from her story "Grave" – aks 12/21/2011