Chapter 1: The Asylum
A/U: I really hope you like this story. It's been written in quite a rush, because at the moment I don't have time to review it all. I'm in desperate need of a beta reader, so if someone feels like helping out I'll love you forever.
This is written in the same style as my other One Piece story, Spacetime, which is a fanfiction about a time-travelling Luffy. Feel free to check it out. :-)
Luffy cursed through his crooked teeth as his thick buckskin boots trudged through peeling layers of cracked, crispy dry mud from a shriveled, pasty field. From above, the milky sunlight poured streams of golden rivulets along growing mossy shadows and the dehydrated, withered sandy tendrils of grasping crops. Throughout an entire expanse, from corner to corner, there was only the brittle blue sky, and the devastation of a grotesque, devilish drought. A snake whispered in its coiled green grasp from beneath a bronzing, desiccated shrub, but only the whistling, parched, hissing dirty wind replied, barely cooling the sweat on Luffy's brow.
An ordinarily sunny disposition would grace the young boy's every sandaled footstep, but now he could only purse his lips and struggle to choke the salty streams simmering in his blurred vision. He knew only one thing; he was going to die. Abandoned in this heat and loneliness, Luffy had been forced into the life of a hermit by the age of seventeen. Barely six months later, he regretted his decision with every dull ache of his pattering heart. His crops had died, his cattle finished. Every ounce of water from this lonely island was sucked dry, and every occupant fled to other lands. The entire landmass was placed into a permanent lockdown, and Luffy was now seen as 'contaminated'; a young boy infested with the wretched, vile disease.
From the distance, his mud hut had crumbled to the dust; a makeshift home after the old village was abandoned and detonated. Now, all the young boy could do was walk in his lonely, diseased death, and weep pitifully as he cradled every jagged, infected scar on his burning supple flesh. Everything hurt, everything screamed for the quiet peace of death, everything wanted to be free, but Luffy refused. The life of a simple country bumpkin was all he knew, and the pitiful wailing of his sobbing choked gasps was all he heard. Scrunching both narrowed, throbbing eyes shut he crouched to the floor, clutching his knees and rocking back and forth on both calloused, mutilated feet. All he could do now was hope, and pray, and wish with every single thread of his being to live. He had nothing to live for, yet his desire to survive burst from the seams of his crackling, sour skin, and the desire not be obliterated by the choking, gasping grains of dust that coursed through his fragile lungs.
"Please, God," he whimpered, his throat ragged, fleshy and raw. Each syllable came as a sore, wheezing cry for help. "Anyone. Just let me live."
And that was how he was found; a curious little ball of youth and desperation, muttering the crazed hisses for help through savaged, shriveled, and scabbed sore lips, tears drying at the unshaven stubble on his wrinkled, inflamed cheeks.
St. Matthew's Asylum was a cold, lonely place, full of bare white walls and the soft hum of icy, thrumming fans. Every hallway was almost indistinguishable from the other; only the plain black lettering on every plain white door differentiating each room from the other.
The occupants themselves seemed as defeated and blank as the room, their crooked backs and beaky noses shuffling along in an almost brain-dead orderly fashion, clipboards clasped in their thin, claw-like long yellow fingernails and white coats swirling along their hunched bony frames. It was as though a sadistic, unpleasant persona was a uniform requirement, and the doctors would do their best to uphold this requirement to the depths of it's potential.
Nurse Nico, although somewhat unaccustomed to the unusual characters shuffling along the blank white floor, fit in rather nicely to the peculiar situation. She was an extremely professional, dedicated learner in her field of work, and persistently controlled every patient to a perfectionist standard. She was somewhat passionate about her patients, strictly revolving her entire life around the welfare and safety of every single individual under her care. Recently transferred from her old occupation at the Northern Blue Psychologists Center and Academy, home of the greatest psychologists in all of North Blue, she was at ease with the notion of physically dealing with rowdy patients, and was the fourth women in the academy ever to pass her exams within sixteen weeks with a 100% perfect score.
As a young rising star, being admitted into the second best asylum within all of the Grand Line was quite an easy feat. The majority of the patients were rather dangerous, coming from tough backgrounds and utilizing a variety of extreme devil fruit abilities. As such, it was an obligation to carry seastone somewhere discreet beside her at all times. The method in which seastone was hidden varied from person to person, but she chose to liquefy the mixture into a smooth paste (a practice very recently invented by a crazed marines scientist, which took hours of melting and extracting) and paint each molten rock onto her long, manicured fingernails. It was a uniform requirement that was somewhat handy; she could take out men twice her height with a simple sharp jab.
It was for her mild temperament and professional attitude that she was swiftly assigned even the worst cases as only a trainee doctor. She was especially talented at dealing with delirium, and found the frail minds of humans so incredibly fascinating with somewhat of a morbid curiosity.
And so, with gentle, even steps, she strode to the door of number E478. Giving a nonchalant nod at a shaken, grim-looking fellow nurse, she raised her hand to the barely noticeable identification den-den mushi, which was grumpily imbedded into a small indent in the wall beside the door. The den-den mushi beeped, and the door whispered as it slid open, revealing the cold, frightening cries of a man in clear distress.
Nico Robin held so much fascination towards this young man in particular. He was nestled in the corner, his straightjacket undisturbed and clean, and the bleeding damp walls murky and unclean from lack of proper hygiene by the staff. It was understandable; this unnamed man was so frightening in his stillness, as though he were simply a corpse. The only medium Nurse Nico could use to detect his state of living was the softly echoing, whimpering pleas for help, and the occasional frantic, pained scream.
He was always like this, just simply sitting and pleading. With his head bowed to his knees and his arms rested by his sides, she was uncertain as to whether he had ever moved within this room. Apparently, according to rumours, his transportation to the clinic had been a very eventful day. Half-crazed from hallucinations and dehydration, he was screaming of a disease, and shouting with a raw, gravelly throat to some deity.
Nico Robin sneered. She despised all mentions of gods and goddesses, preferring instead to rely on the evidence of Science and actual validated data. Of course, the existence of Devil Fruits remained somewhat of a mystery, but records proved that they were in actuality a very dangerous substance proven to mutate DNA samples and distort the entire human body. It was uncertain as to how they did so, but surely, with the swift evolution of Science and the rising Golden Age of pirates, plenty of unwilling subjects could be tested from within the law, which would surely rise to a conclusion on how to re-manufacture and experiment on devil fruits. It was a despicable thought, but without human test subjects knowledge wouldn't evolve.
Robin gracefully stepped inside with two long, spidery legs. The door slid shut behind her, alerting her that she was no longer in the safe, sanitized zone. There was no practical reason to feel fear at this particular moment, so she ignored the rising goose bumps on the back of her neck.
"Hello," Robin politely greeted. "How are you feeling?"
The crazed mumblings didn't cease, and continued in a long string of prayers and pleading cries. She dimly picked up a few sobbing words.
As far as she was aware, this man had been discovered when he was in his late teens or very early twenties, with an approximation of between 15-20 years. He'd occupied this room at the asylum for three years, making the possibility of him being 17-23 years old. Robin herself was twenty-five years and eight months.
He was discovered on an island that had previously been placed on a lockdown due to suspicions of a second plague outbreak. However, this theory was dismissed with evidence of mutated genes within the soil, fairly similar to that discovered within the DNA in humans. There was an excitable hypothesis that a devil fruit tree was beginning to grow within the abandoned area, which would reason the lack of moisture, despite there being plenty of surrounding water supplies, due to the roots of the tree draining a large quantity of H2O. Whilst scientists and government officials had been scanning the area, they'd discovered the feeble young man with somewhat startled revelations.
DNA tests and scans were carried out on the last survivor, and came out with incomprehensible results. It was truly amazing; his temperature and blood samples were unusually hot, to the point of being slightly surreal. There was no plausible way a human would survive at this temperature without overheating, dehydrating and dying. Somewhat baffled, the tests had been consistently redone time and time again, and yet Robin always reviewed the same results. It was truly an unusual case, especially since the young man had survived so long in such a barren area.
However, the only hint Robin could decipher was his unusual reaction to seastone. He would become somewhat drowsy, quiet and, in incredibly severe cases, his heart would fail. It was rather terrifying having to call paramedics and professional doctors into the dingy room, but Robin always maintained a professional outlook. It was the only way she could possibly stay sane in a place filled with so much madness; even the doctors all showed signs of psychological damage with their sadistic, almost evil personalities.
"Can you hear me?" Nurse Nico softly cooed. The boy showed no sign of response, save from a soft twitch in his bare, slender big toe.
However small it may appear, this was one of the few signs of movement ever shown. She held her clipboard poised parallel from her soft white shoes, and scribbled a quick note within the sliver of shushing, shuffling white sheaves of paper.
"I'm afraid that if you show no further signs of response, I'll have to record that you still remain in a vegetable state. Do you understand, E478?" Robin pronounced in a clear, emotionless tone.
There was no response.
"…Ple-…God …I don't wa-…no…"
Robin sighed, removing one steady hand from her clipboard to rub her sore, aching temples. "Do you understand the implications of this, E478?"
"…No, no, no, no, no, no…ple-…help…"
She cleared her throat, and spoke louder in order to be heard over the frantic raw muttering. "You will be then referred to in official files as unconscious, and would therefore be subjected to experiments that would otherwise be illegal on any other ordinary human. Please respond to me, E478," her voice shook a little, a trait barely noticeable to the casual observer. Swallowing sharply, Robin cursed her unprofessional manner and trained every single one of her forty-three facial muscles into a carefully precise neutral expression.
Nurse Nico gave a melancholy nod. "I understand," she spoke. "Goodbye, E478."
She turned to leave, her arm raised towards the recognition den-den mushi in absolute exasperation as she tucked her pristine clipboard beneath her armpit. It was extremely dangerous, having your back turned to a clinically insane patient. However, Robin had grown to trust this young man for no explainable reason whatsoever. Her heels clicked with each step, and the door slid open.
Startled, Robin whirled around, her white coat rippling from the air resistance of the movement. Eyes widened almost comically and mouth agape in a smile of shock and relief, she was suddenly overcome with gut-wrenching, draining, heart-racing fear. She never especially saw this man's face properly, but now she could decipher his expression she recognized the mysterious force of haki. It was of the subtle kind; an overbearing sensation of a heavy atmosphere softly straining her muscles against the pressure. She recognized the power, but had never experienced such natural, flawless haki within her entire lifetime.
The boy himself had the most extraordinary wide brown eyes. They flared with the warmth and coziness of molten dark chocolate, strong and soothing with an unusually bitter sweetness. There was something young and inspirational in those eyes, like the roaring crackles of a grinning great big fire, untamable and uncontrollable. All at once Robin was hit with the terrific, exciting, thrilling force of his blazing intensity, caught within the burning warmth of his passionate glare. He was handsome, that much was certain. Although pasty from the lack of sunlight, thin from the lack of food and dirty from the lack of hygiene, he dominated everything with his sheer crazy aura that radiated from every pore of his being. It was like his presence could dominate priests and kings and pirates and worlds all in one sitting. So many emotions freshly coursed through her tired old veins, the thrill of youth and giddy childish excitement pumping blood and adrenaline and emotions back into her beating, fluttering chest. She gasped, inhaled, and struggled to even speak from the overbearing tidal wave of fear and enjoyment and happiness and sleepiness and contentment and panic washing over her weary, aged soul, like bathing in the waters of the fountain of youth.
He gave shuddering, gasping breaths, somewhat mismatching the strength behind his every being in the small display of weakness. The dark circles under his eyes quivered in twitching squints, and she remembered that he'd spent three years with his head in his lap, and was just adjusting to the small filters of artificial light streaming from the ceiling. "Don't come near me, I'm diseased," he firmly rasped.
Robin raised one single finely plucked, arched black eyebrow. "No, that was a mistake. There was no disease," she cooed in the former tone she'd used earlier, her clipboard entirely forgotten. She had to mentally remind herself that only professionalism was correct, even if this new development was somewhat of a surprise.
"What?" he swallowed, cocking his head like a confused little dog. The desperation and eagerness in his chocolate brown eyes enveloped her in a sudden incasing of pity.
"You've been a patient of this asylum for three years. The warning symptoms of the plague were incorrect and presumptuous, and as such the government made a mistake in the containment of your island. You were the last survivor; apparently everyone save for 3 people, including you, escaped from the lockdown. Count yourself lucky you're not one of the two that died."
"Who died?" the boy asked, jutting his jaw in stubborn determination.
"There were no official files to identify the two deceased members," Robin replied, lacing her voice with a hint of pity.
The boy gazed down at his folded hands, and slowly, gradually pushed his legs away from his chest until they were entirely straight and flat against the floor. Robin recognized tears welling within the swirling chocolate, the transparent streams despairing over the cold, stark reality of life.
"I want to go home," he sobbed. "I want to fucking go home."
A/U: And finito! Apologies for any scientific errors, please let me know if I've made any mistakes. I really hope you enjoyed reading, and that it wasn't too boring for you. Thanks very much. :-)