Word Count: 1,877

Camaraderie: noun. A spirit of familiarity and trust existing between friends.


When Luffy was young and the rain poured down he would stop, he would halt and sit silently. Contemplating what is to come, because dreaming and wishing is too much for him to bare, even at the tender age of six. His dreams are riddled with images of gnashing teeth and the bloody crunch of Shanks' arm being severed from his body. He's learned better than to wish, because wishing has only got him hurt and disappointment as he blows out the candles and yet his parents, his family, don't appear. Luffy knows better than to dream and wish, both are inferior, only leading to hurt.

Sabo and Ace dream and wish though, and Luffy can't find the heart to tell them the error of their ways. So he simply laughs and smiles like he always does, because if there's one thing that he's learned from his grandfather is that the best defense is a shield of misdirection. Garp uses his differently then Luffy, but then Garp is famous and towering while Luffy is unknown and small. So Luffy can get away with using laughter and goofy antics to hide; he uses it liberally and after a while it's no longer just a defense that he uses, it's a part of him. He's now a laughing, smiling, goofing boy that sings and hops from one tree to another. He's loyal to a fault, willing to take hit after hit to defend Ace and Sabo's dream and wish. Because he may be small, he may be unknown, but he knows that those two can understand him. Can help him make his goal a reality.

So he will stay strong; because he can taste his future on his tongue. And it's flavor is spotted with ink and fire, so he will sacrifice his blood and flesh for the trust of Ace and Sabo.

Because he is tired of being alone. It's dark and painful and his soul still cries out for something. For a feeling that's missing; that's causing his chest to ache when he sees a happy child, mother, father walk by when he's in the city. He thinks that Ace and Sabo will be able to chase the feeling away-

He is strong.

And because he is strong for a brief moment the gaping feeling of empty is replaced with a happy light that makes his smiles that much brighter. Sabo, Ace, and he are like those families that he sees together, right? But that short moment is gone in the blink of an eye, just like Shanks' arm. The happiness is shredded and red seeps into it as fire burns and ash is left behind.

Ace Sabo Ace Sabo Ace Sabo.

The first time that he wakes after Sabo disappears in a blaze of red he is shaking; heart thumping in his chest as he gasps for breath. The horrible crackle of flames eating away at what he held dear still echoing in his head. He forces himself up as he tries not to gag, hands reaching out weakly for Sabo who will never reach back. Because Sabo's dream has led to his demise, as dreams are weak and fragile and can be melted by flame and drowned by water. And because dreams are delicate it is nightmares and the abyss that greet him when he falls unconscious.

He wakes up a number of times after that, weakness still licking at his limbs and keeping him down. He is only able to stand once, when Ace first appears. He makes a mess of himself, attacking the ground with abandon. Because he is small, insignificant, weak. And the people responsible for Sabo's death are anything but, so he'll get stronger. This he promises. He yells it, nearly screams himself hoarse. He will get stronger and stronger and stronger. And even stronger than that. He wears himself out thrashing around, with his peripheral knowledge that Ace is also in pain. If he was better he'd be able to help his brother, he'd be able to tell him the right words that would relieve the heartache and sickness. But that was always Sabo's strength, and Sabo is gone.

Once he's able to sit up without collapsing he looks around, eyes searching for the half of his world that has not yet been burned away. Ace shifts into his line of sight slowly, his edges are blurry and his older brother seems to sway with every step he takes. When Ace finally reaches him Luffy grabs hold of his arm, fingernails digging into the flesh of his left bicep. He knows that he must be hurting him, but his brother merely hooks his other arm around him and pulls him into a hug.

Luffy blinks rapidly, trying to clear his vision of the tears that have sprung up without his permission. Finding that he can't he allows himself to sob, small hands releasing Ace's arm to feebly grab at his brother. Trying to find a way to ensure that Ace will stay safe, never leave. Because Ace's death would be his own as well. He's been alone before, and he knows that if he's thrown back into that state the pain will suffocate him until he finally falls. "A... Ace?"

His brother has begun to rub his back in soothing circles, already trying to temper his wild nature in an attempt to fill the hole that Sabo has left. "Yes, Luffy?"

"You won't leave, will you? You'll stay. You won't d- you won't di-. Die." He chokes on his inquiry, throat closing up and chest hitching as a broken gasp breaks free. It's been a month since Sabo's death and he still can't talk about it, not really. He and Ace have skirted around the topic, delicately maneuvering their discussions so that to an outsider it would seem like Sabo was only away for a trip. Not dead. Not permanently gone. Luffy knows why Ace allows this sort of thing, where before his older brother would huff and barrel forward with no tact, he has learned to hold his tongue and dance verbally. Another way that Ace is trying to make up for Sabo's absence.

Ace is silent for several moments, gathering his thoughts as he tries to figure out an answer to his little brother's question. It isn't fair for Luffy to ask him this, it isn't fair that Sabo's dead. It isn't fair. "I... I'll try Luffy. I'll try my hardest. Because we're not going to live with regrets, right? We'll both live our lives to the fullest. Just like Sab-... Just like he would of wanted."

Luffy shivers as he realizes that Ace didn't say that he'd stay. That he derailed his request with his own personal way of life and a mention of Sabo. "... Yeah, Ace." He doesn't have the heart of disagree, to make Ace promise to not leave him. To not die. Because Ace has been hurt in the past, this Luffy knows. He also knows that Sabo's death has hurt him terribly, so he'll let it go. He won't push the topic.

Years pass as they try to find an equilibrium. Ace tames himself, at least on the surface. Luffy still sees small embers of defiance in Ace's eyes when his brother looks to the ocean; when that happens he knows that Ace is thinking about his wish to be accepted, and how he will fight until he is. Luffy tries to be more responsible, tries to reign in his more devastating tendencies, tries to make things easier for Ace. He fills much of his time (when he isn't training, playing, eating, sleeping) imagining what his crew will be like.

Because he will be the King of the Pirates. He and his crew will be free on the wide ocean that called to Sabo so.

He imagines various sorts of crews; some large, others small, a few are mass hordes of musicians, while several are made up of only chefs. He can't find the heart to wish for a crew, because he knows that if he wants it he has to make it happen.

And he does. Two years after Ace leaves (don'tgowhywhywhyi'maloneNO) he sets sail.

He quickly finds his first crew member. Zoro. Zoro who harbors a will that won't be stopped. Zoro who cuts through metal and men with practiced ease. Zoro who dives in after him when he falls, or jumps, into the ocean. Zoro who pushes him to be better (captainfriendpersonnakama). Zoro who is torn from him with a wave of Kuma's massive hand.

He finds Nami next. His navigator that has sacrificed and lied and forced herself to survive for those she loves. Nami is a force to be reckoned with; her temper and intelligence are like the storms that she calls down. And when she disappears before his very eyes his barrings fall into chaos.

Usopp comes after. Usopp that weaves fantastic tales and tries to be brave. Usopp who faces him down for a nakama. Who rejoins them after leaving to save Robin. Usopp who goes flying to one of his fictional lands.

While he doesn't have a crew made of cooks he has Sanji, which is even better. Because Sanji understands him. Understands how debt and limbs go hand in hand. But doesn't quite understand how to repay that debt. Understands the importance of food, understands that the others are more important as he is sent into the sky while reaching his hand out.

Chopper is his doctor and his nakama and a monster. Chopper is a monster because he heals and destroys. Chopper is a monster because he believes himself to be. Chopper is a monster because that is what his crew is. Monsters that have survived what the Blues and the Line have thrown at them. Chopper is his nakama as he throws away his humanity to protect them.

The Devil's Child is Robin is hurt is hoping for more. So he gives it to her. He lets her stay because he recognizes her desperation. To never be alone, to have a place. He makes her nakama and embraces her and goes to war for her. He apologizes as she's cast out to sea by a monotone voice.

He get's a single musician instead of a horde. But he wouldn't trade Brook for a million hordes. Brook is another who understands, but instead of understanding like Sanji does, he understands in the way of Robin. Loss is his companion and Luffy silently screams as Brook is forced to rejoin hands with it.

Franky makes Sunny. He makes his crew more complete. He makes them laugh and makes them rejoice. He makes things that protect and things that destroy. He makes himself. Franky is a maker. He makes him sob as he too is lost to him.

His crew is scattered and Luffy is alone again. His heart is breaking apart and his soul cries out because this is the last thing he wanted. Burn him, cut him, kill him. Anything but being alone. As he flies through the sky; his chest heaving, eyes watering, body bleeding he imagines. He imagines his crew together. He imagines them shouting kanpai and cheering and dancing. He imagines them happy and safe.

And it's barely enough.