A/N:Uwahhhhh SORRY for being so late! Yes, as one of my reviewers commented, life did get in my way. School among other things has been keeping me busy for a while...

so here is an extra long chapter to make up for it! It's the last chapter officially, but I am planning an epilogue after this so that we can all have that "aww so happy it's a real happy ending" moment.

Yes, because it is a happy ending! I love happy endings! Sabo must have a happy ending, that's the whole reason I started writing this fic in the first place!

So there you go. Minor spoiler, but who cares, cuz we all love Sabo ^^

Onward!


Chapter 9

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He didn't get very far.

The earth seemed to turn traitor, losing its natural pull on Sabo's pounding feet as he felt himself being sucked backwards. Sabo hurriedly jammed his staff into a crook of a nearby tree; gravity shifted 90 degrees and he was falling sideways, straight towards Blackbeard's outstretched hand.

Stupid devil's fruit.

Gritting his teeth in frustration, Sabo gripped his staff tighter as his feet gave way. Loose rocks and leaves tumbled past him in a flurry, flecks of dirt spittled onto his face.

"Blegh!" he split out the clump of grassroots that flew into his mouth, and tried his best to hang on as his airborne body hung parallel to the ground. More gunshots fired behind him. He twisted himself a bit to avoid getting shot, but a few bullets grazed his legs. The sting of the pain made it harder to hang on.

"Zehahahaha, get back boys! Don't want to end up getting vacuumed off the map!" Blackbeard's voice sounded out.

'Ok, I need a plan, I need a plan,' Sabo tried to think quickly. He'd gotten a good head start on them, but now he was stuck, and looking past his shoulders, he could see that distance was irrelevant. Pitch black covered the once beautiful scenery. Trees and bushes were getting swallowed up mercilessly as if by a voracious beast. Smack in the middle of its jaws stood

Blackbeard, alone and cackling triumphantly.

Entire trees standing around Sabo began to lose their hold on the earth. Sabo cursed as the tree he was using as an anchor suddenly gave way. Deftly yanking out his staff as the mass of bark and foliage careened past his vision, Sabo did a turnabout mid-air, already feeling his body follow the rest of the landscape: straight towards a freaking black hole.

"Just one hit!" he cried, eyes fixed on the alarmingly huge mass of black that covered his vision. "Just one!"

The other Blackbeard crew members were nowhere to be found. Probably retreated at a safe distance behind their captain, wary of that volatile power that discriminated neither friend nor foe. As the distance between him and Ace's nemesis closed in rapidly, Sabo fixed his eyes on Blackbeard's form, never minding the claws of shadow that leapt up eagerly to meet him halfway.

Sabo made a deft somersault in midair, avoiding most of the darkness as it converged onto him. But one of his feet got swallowed up; from the left ankle down, Sabo saw there was now nothing but black.

A numb sensation began to crawl its way up his leg.

"Ok, forget the hit. I'll just throw it!" he breathed, and with all his might, hurled his staff like a spear straight towards Blackbeard's chest.

The bigger man dodged, but wasn't quick enough to match the speed of a spear pole backed by years of hard physical training in the Japanese Navy. There was an audible crack, and the darkness receded in an instant as Blackbeard slammed onto his back with a howl of pain. The tip hadn't been sharp enough to pierce, but Sabo's aim was true.

Right in the center of Blackbeard's frame. With twice the pain being absorbed, Sabo figured even a man like Blackbeard would take at least a few seconds to recover his senses.

As the darkness disappeared, Sabo landed in a light crouch, never having been more thankful that the laws of gravity applied in this world as well. The darkness that had clung to his leg beat a hasty retreat back towards Blackbeard.

"Captain!" he heard one of the crew members yell out worriedly. Laffitte seemed to be holding him back.

"Calm down, the captain said he can handle it."

"Yup, he sure can," Sabo called out, "so how about everyone stays where they are until he recovers?"

With that, he tried to take off again. Running away didn't sit well with him, but what else could he do? Black holes just weren't his forte. If he'd had the foresight to bring an automated machine gun back with him from the other world, maybe he would actually have stood a chance.

But Blackbeard's recovery time was shorter than he thought.

"Not so fast, you little brat!" he sounded pretty angry. Clutching his chest, his dirty face screwed up in pain, Blackbeard stretched out his other hand once more. Once again, the landscape instantly became splashed with black. It took even less time than before for Sabo to feel his feet slipping off the ground again.

"Only cowards and weaklings let their devil's fruit power do the fighting for them!" Sabo tried.

"Zehahaha, then I'll be both, and rule the Grand Line while I'm at it!"

'Dammit!'

Not even worth a shot. This time Sabo's hands were empty; not that he could try and throw something else at Blackbeard—the man learned fast, throwing up a wall of shadows right in front of himself to guard against any and all projectiles. What a coward.

Sabo's body hurtled into the mass of shadows. He gave a few somersaults in mid-air, but to no avail. Boundless darkness instantly swallowed up his left leg, creeping up rapidly towards his waist and chest.

"Oh…boy, oh man, oh boy," Sabo gave a desperate kick, but it just served to offer up his other leg to the shadow's greedy clutches. He glanced all around him in hopes of finding something to hang on to, even as his memory informed him that with the dark-dark fruit active, nothing could withstand the gravitational pull.

At the last minute, just before blackness swallowed his head, Sabo looked up and locked eyes with Blackbeard. The pirate leered at him in triumph. Sabo attempted to give him one last scowl, but Blackbeard was faster. Before Sabo had time to scowl, or even have a flashback of his past life, or leave a last word for his brothers, his blonde hair was utterly lost amidst the pitch dark that covered the surrounding area.

At that exact moment, when the last traces of shining blonde disappeared, a straw hat appeared on the horizon.

"Saboooooooooooo!"

Blackbeard's guttural laugh answered Luffy's cry. "Zehahahaha, if it isn't the Straw-hat boy! Come to find your brother, eh?"

"You again! What did you do to Sabo!" Luffy shouted, dashing headlong down the hill towards Blackbeard, regardless of the swelling mass of darkness that surrounded him. The boy looked frantically left and right, trying to locate the familiar crop of blonde hair. After he parted with Sabo and went to the Whitebeard pirates' funeral, Luffy had quickly gotten bored of the proceedings and decided he wanted to tell Sabo all about his adventures on the Grand Line. He wanted to tell his brother about his pirate crew, and all the trouble they went through (that he put them through), all the laughs they shared, everything. Even though he didn't know where they were right now, Luffy was sure they would eventually get come back together.

And then, he could introduce them to his other brother.

The one he still considered to be the nicer one.

"Where's Sabo!?" Luffy drew his arm back and threw a gum-gum pistol at Blackbeard. He didn't really like the knowing smile on the guy's face.

The older pirate, not expecting the boy to attack with warning, got socked right in the jaw and fell back for the second time that day. The darkness receded a little, but not by much.

"Zehahaha," Blackbeard laughed slowly, spitting out a mouthful of blood. "No use looking for that one. He's been swallowed up by my dark-dark fruit . . . the next time you see him will be when I decide to spit him back out. And who knows what he'll look like by that time?

"Zehahahaha!"

Luffy, who had searched every other part of the island and knew for sure that Sabo had to have been here, didn't stop looking this way and that as he asked, "where's Sabo? That black stuff

doesn't look very good. What'd you do to Sabo?"

"He's wandering the abysses of darkness right about now, miserable, lost, lonely . . . zehahaha, he'll be trapped in my darkness forever!"

"What are you, stupid? I thought I heard Sabo's voice here, but if you don't know where he is, then stop wasting my time!" with a condescending look that struck Blackbeard dumb for a few moments, Luffy made to dash off again, still calling for Sabo.

"Hold it, kid! You're the one who doesn't understand! You see this darkness?" Blackbeard pointed at the black stuff at his feet, glaring at Luffy as he did so. He didn't appreciate being made fun of.

"I don't care about that. I need to find Sabo."

"He's inside here, Straw-hat! If you want to find him, then you'll have to dive in, right here!"

"Oh, is that so? Why didn't you say so from the start?" Luffy made to rush right into the middle of the darkness, and would have been swallowed up without a trace within seconds if it hadn't been for the burning hand that shot out and grabbed his collar from behind.

"Luffy, don't be an idiot!" Ace's voice rang out in the woods. He looked out of breath, panting as he held on tightly to Luffy's vest. The younger boy struggled to get out of the hold.

"Ace, let go! We have to rescue Sabo from that . . . that mystery thing!" Luffy pointed at the pool of darkness.

"Calm down! We don't even know if Sabo was actually taken into Teach's dark-dark fruit power . . ."

"Oh, but he was, 2nd commander," came Blackbeard's mocking voice. "It's what that boy gets for interfering with my plans. If all had gone well, Whitebeard would be dead and I would have gotten a-hold of one of the strongest devil's fruit powers in existence . . . but you're alive, and so is your captain, all because of that meddling kid!"

[A/N: I disclaim all rights to Scooby Doo]

Ace, who had suddenly been taken over by an unexplainable gnawing in his stomach, had excused himself from the funeral and went off after Luffy, figuring that if there was to be any trouble happening, his youngest brother would be at the center of it. But to find Marshall D. Teach and Luffy facing off, not to mention this whole talk about Sabo being swallowed by Teach's dark powers . . .

His face slowly crumpled in rage as the magnitude of what Blackbeard was claiming sank in. Luffy, who still didn't realize the extent of the dark powers, continued to struggle against Ace's death grip.

However, when he chanced a look up at Ace's face, Luffy ceased his movements. Instead, a serious look passed through his eyes, one that had passed there too many times in the past few days. Ace actually looked distressed. He was biting his lips, at the same time sending Blackbeard a murderous glare. Only the thought that he needed to keep Luffy out of Blackbeard's reach stopped Ace from jumping in there himself, grabbing Teach by the collar, and demanding to know what the hell happened here.

"Hey, Teach . . ." Ace bit out slowly. "Am I to understand that Sabo has been swa . . . llowed by your powers?"

"Zehahahaha, that's right! Too bad for him he didn't have a bounty on his head. Or else I would have kept him and turned him into the Marines for a profit . . ."

"TEACH!" a flaming meteor the size of a cannonball ballooned out of Ace's hand and shot towards Blackbeard. He dodged, but several more followed, and he quickly became tired of facing off against Ace's fire powers.

"I think you've forgotten that I can just pull you in and cancel those devil's fruit powers of yours," Blackbeard jeered. Immediately activating those said powers, he watched with satisfaction as Ace got pulled in. As soon as Ace felt his body leaving his control, he let go of Luffy so that the kid wouldn't get involved too.

"Ace!"

As Luffy bounced onto the ground, Ace found himself inches from Blackbeard's face, with his accursed hand resting lightly on his shoulder. Dammit! Was he about to lose to the same man twice?

Was he about to lose the same brother . . .twice?

Just as he made to kick out with his foot, and maybe get in a punch or two before Blackbeard let go of him, Ace thought he heard a faint shout.

'Huh?'

Apparently, Blackbeard heard it too, because they both paused, disregarding their current position as sworn enemies, and turned their heads with one accord towards the direction the voice came from.

It was Sabo's voice.

". . . ! . . . –ight! Ace, I'm alright!"

Ace's eyes widened, though probably not as much as Blackbeard's. They could see nothing but black on the ground, yet from beneath that blackness—beyond the shadows, somehow—Sabo's voice was telling Ace that he was alright.

His voice was barely audible, and Ace would never have heard it if he hadn't been right in the middle of the pool of black.

"Sabo?" he breathed.

He could hear Sabo's reply, but it was faint and far-off, and he could only catch parts of it. Though Ace was thoroughly confused and hadn't the slightest idea why he was hearing Sabo's voice when he should have been killed by Blackbeard, Ace strained to hear the words.

". . . this world . . . ! . . . again, I—! I'll . . . ! . . . back! . . . I can . . . go . . . ! . . . wait for m—!"

He didn't understand, but he got the last part of it. At the same time, he realized that Blackbeard was also standing stock still in confusion.

Whack!

Taking the chance, Ace aimed a low kick at Blackbeard's leg and knocked him off his feet, jumping back as Teach fell ungracefully onto his face.

Turning his right arm into a flaming sword, Ace meant to finish off the traitor right then and there, if it hadn't been for Luffy shouting behind him, "Hang on, Sabo! I'm coming to rescue you!"

Instantly, Ace whirled around and shot towards Luffy, scooping him out a hairbreadth's moment before the boy's entire body disappeared into the abyss. This unbelievable guy. He'd actually dived headfirst into the darkness covering the ground.

As Ace pulled Luffy out by his ankle, he meant to give his idiot brother a good dressing-down for making him lose this golden chance to get rid of Teach once and for all.

That is, if he didn't see Luffy smiling from ear to ear as he dangled upside down in Ace's grip.

"Ace, Sabo's alright!"

"Huh?"

"I saw him! He's alive!"

"What do you mean? Where?" as Ace began to look around, Luffy pointed at the place where he had just been pulled out of. The darkness.

"Sabo's in there!" Luffy shouted excitedly.

Ace tried to make sense of what his brother was saying, putting it together with the unmistakable voice of Sabo he had heard just moments before. So Sabo had been swallowed by Teach's devil's fruit powers. No doubt about that. But could it be? Had Sabo somehow managed to survive the attack?

But Blackbeard apparently didn't feel like waiting for the D brothers to figure out what had happened to Sabo. Recovering himself, and seething with rage that he'd been downed by all three brothers within the same hour, Blackbeard suddenly began spreading out his darkness at an alarming rate, intent on erasing both Ace and Luffy off the face of the earth.

Ace leapt back with Luffy's ankle still clutched in his hand, but the darkness was faster; he found that he couldn't retreat as rapidly as the shadows consumed the landscape. His feet whirled into a flaming tornado in an effort to get out of range.

"Zehahaha, there's no escaping the dark-dark fruit!" roared Teach, his maniacal laughter filling the air.

Then without warning, the ground beneath him gave way.

"Ah…?"

Tremors began to shake the grass beneath their feet; the sound of cracking glass echoed loudly amid the few remaining trees that had not been uprooted by Blackbeard's vortex. Blackbeard's pirate crew all simultaneously lost their balance, staggering this way and that as the ground heaved violently.

"So…Teach, you've come back," a deep, familiar baritone sounded out, accompanied by the booming sound of his fist crashing against the air.

"Pops!" Ace landed next to Whitebeard's tall form, surprised to see almost the entire Whitebeard fleet running towards them. "How did you get here? I mean, how'd you know?"

Whitebeard didn't take his eyes away from Blackbeard, who finally seemed to feel apprehensive in the face of the great pirate himself.

"Some of my other sons followed you when you left the funeral . . . it seems they were afraid you might still be thinking that it might be your fault, as useless as such a thought is. When they realized you had run into Teach, they immediately reported back to me," here Whitebeard addressed Blackbeard, who had been trying to sneak away quietly. "So, Teach, how does it feel to wield a power that you stole by murdering a brother?"

In the face of Whitebeard's stoic wrath, even Teach didn't have the gall to laugh. "I don't regret what I've done, Whitebeard. If I were to go back, I would do it all over again, the exact same way! Power! This power is something that not even you can look down on!"

". . . That may be so, but I know this much is true—even the weakest of my sons are stronger than you, Teach."

The sound of Teach grinding his teeth was clearly audible, even from a distance. Ace warily got into a battle stance, as did the rest of the Whitebeard crew. A nervous silence settled over the air. Whitebeard and Blackbeard both stood still, eyeing each other, one impassively, the other with undisguised hate. Luffy, who remained somewhat clueless to the direction of the conversation, hefted himself up from where Ace had dropped him and dusted off his head.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ace noticed something missing. Surprised, he asked, "hey Luffy, where'd you leave your hat?"

"My hat?" Luffy glanced up, where his signature straw hat used to be, and grinned. "Shishishi, Sabo has it. Don't worry, Ace. He needs to return my hat, so he'll come back to us for sure!"

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From his vantage point on the ground, Sabo craned his neck towards the distortion up in the air, about 10 meters above where he stood. It was hard to make out, but he could see Blackbeard seething with anger, staring over at something, or someone, that Sabo couldn't see.

When he'd been swallowed from head to foot by darkness, Sabo had thought for sure he was a goner. No one could imagine the shock that ran through him when he found himself dumped out, quite unceremoniously, into the middle of a forest.

He knew instinctively, it was the other world. The smell of the air was different, the shape of the trees and the grass. The sound of birds chirping that by now was more familiar to him than the bird-sounds of the One Piece world.

Leaping up, he'd spotted the sizable hole that disturbed the shape of the sky. Within it, like a television screen, he could see Blackbeard's form laughing against a black backdrop. The screen was long and narrow, so Sabo couldn't see anything much except for Blackbeard, when he suddenly saw an abnormally elongated arm shoot in from somewhere on the left and punch Blackbeard in the face.

"Luffy!"

More concerned for Luffy's safety than anything else, Sabo attempted to jump through the hole that had brought him here for the second time.

Of course, just like before, his body simply passed right through the hole—not entering it, not passing through it, but just . . . bypassing it, as if it didn't exist at all. He tried a few more times, just to make sure, then gave up, knowing it was useless.

"Does this mean . . . I have to wait again?" slowly, a deep despair began to overwhelm him. "For the portal to open up? When I finally got to meet up with my brothers again, I get sent back to this godforsaken place? Dammit! I just wanted to be with my brothers! Is it so wrong, to want to live in my own world?"

He punched the tree beside him with all the rage he could muster, feeling the bark crack and splinter beneath his knuckles.

". . . Ace?"

Almost involuntarily, Sabo jumped towards the portal when he saw Ace captured by Blackbeard; it didn't do anything at all, so he tried shouting at him instead.

"Ace! Ace, get away from that guy! Do you want to be captured again? Ace!"

Sabo couldn't hear what was going on beyond the portal, he could only see. But the same couldn't be said for Ace, it seemed. Ace didn't even glance at Sabo, his angry glare directly fully at Marshall D. Teach.

"Hey, Ace! Ace! What, are you angry because you think I'm dead or something? I'm alive, you idiot brother! I'm here! I'm alright! You hear me, Ace? I'm alright!"

Sabo screamed with the desperation of a man afraid for his brother's life. He screamed with all his might, somehow hoping that his voice would carry across that boundary that his body couldn't.

There was neither rhyme or reason in what happened next.

Ace turned and looked right at Sabo.

For a moment, Sabo was thrilled. But then he realized that Ace couldn't actually see him—he saw Ace's eyes roaming, searching for the voice he had heard.

But he had heard.

Sabo saw Ace's lips move. He could almost hear his name being called—Ace's voice. But he only imagined it, and the figures beyond the portal stayed silent. Their lips would move, and Sabo knew they were saying something, but to Sabo, it there was nothing but silence.

Even so, Ace could hear him.

So Sabo yelled at him as loud as he could. "I've been in this world before! It's like that day years ago when I almost drowned, I know it! I found a way back once . . . I'll find a way to get back again, I promise, you hear? I'll come back! I'm sure I can find a way to go back if I try again! Don't worry about me, alright? Just wait for me!"

He would have said more, but at that moment the portal shrunk into the size of a small book. Sabo could barely make out the colors on the other side. Shapes moved, and something bright red like fire flared across the narrow tunnel of vision.

But then it was gone, and Sabo was left somehow feeling even more desperate than before. Had Ace heard him? Would he know that Sabo wasn't dead?

He hated to imagine what Ace and Luffy would be thinking right now, after finding out that he had been swallowed by Blackbeard's dark-dark fruit powers. Especially Luffy. The kid had been so happy to know that his 2nd brother was alive and well, but now . . . how could Sabo let him know that he was okay? Sabo himself didn't have the slightest clue as to what was going on.

Nobody knew the truth behind Blackbeard's devil's fruit. Even Sabo was starting to second-guess his previous theories with this new development. Why on earth did getting swallowed up by Blackbeard's power lead Sabo back here?

Did everything that Blackbeard absorbed get sent here?

Or was it just Sabo?

Come to think of it, he still hadn't figured out why he came here the first time—instead of drowning in the ocean. What mysterious force had enacted to save Sabo's life that day?

As Sabo stared at the chasm in the air, lost in thought, a familiar straw hat fell out of the hole.

. . . straw hat?

Sabo's eyes widened into the size of saucers as Luffy shot out of the hole, head-first, with his arms stretched over his head in a classic diving pose.

"LUFFY!?"

Their eyes made contact, and Luffy's face broke out into an overjoyed smile. "Sabo!"

"What are you . . . how?"

"Sabo, you're alive—!"

"Wait a minute, Lu—!"

And then he was gone.

Sabo's hand paused, reaching out towards the spot where Luffy's hand had been outstretched. Blinking in confusion, jaw hanging loose from disbelief, Sabo stood there for a long while afterwards, unmoving, even as the portal shrunk down into a microscopic size. Although he kept his eyes trained on the hole, waiting to see if Luffy would pop out again, nothing of the sort happened, and all he got to see was Blackbeard's various reactions to things happening off-screen.

The last thing he glimpsed before the portal disappeared altogether was Blackbeard turning tail and running away—at this point, Sabo had to hazard a guess that Whitebeard had made an appearance. If that was the case, Sabo could rest a little easier, knowing that Blackbeard still feared Whitebeard quite a bit.

At least Ace or Luffy wouldn't be in danger all over again.

"Now, what to do . . ." somehow, getting to see Luffy's smile one last time had helped calm him down. He could think more clearly now. Glancing down, Sabo stooped and picked up the worn straw hat that had fallen onto the ground.

As he examined it, Sabo muttered, "what are you doing, leaving your hat in a place like this . . . it's your pirate crew's symbol, you idiot. You're supposed to take better care of your treasure. What's Straw Hat Luffy without his straw hat?"

But even as he admonished his younger brother, he couldn't help smiling.

The portal had disappeared.

He was stranded in the middle of a forest without the slightest clue as to which country he was in.

He was left in the dark—he had no clue what was happening in the other world even now.

And worst of all, he didn't know when the portal would open again, if it did at all.

It was, in all probabilities, a worse-case scenario, just short of actual death.

Yet the rough texture of Luffy's straw hat felt strangely warm on his hands; it felt like the one link he had with his own world. The key to his eventual return.

"It's your important treasure, Luffy," Sabo grinned. "I'll have to return it to you before you set sail again."


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A/N:I solemnly promise that the epilogue will come within two weeks.