Chapter 6: The Three Sworn Brothers
"ACE AND SABO!" Chopper screamed joyfully, tears of joy and relief in his eyes. "THEY CAME!"
"Well, it's about time," Zoro yelled out. While he was glad that those two finally decided to show up before it was too late; he couldn't help but feel resentment at how long it took. What's it been? A few hours already since that rubber idiot got himself caught by Porchemy? A few seconds longer and it would've been too late. What was the deal anyway? They didn't care about killing him earlier, didn't they? Just what happened to cause them to change their minds?
Just then he realized something… he looked around at the others and he could see that each one of them had been ready to attack. Chopper had shifted to his Kung-Fu Point, Robin had her arms half-raised, while the others each had weapon drawn or, in Sanji's case, had their leg burning softly. Each of them had been ready take Porchemy out and to protect Luffy; no longer caring that this had all happened years ago.
Not that he was one to talk… he quickly put his swords back in their sheaths before turning back to the real action.
Ace had jumped forward, knocking out the man closest to him with the metal staff he had before he landed directly in front of Luffy, holding it out threateningly. He glared furiously up at them all, just daring them to take a step closer.
"That's him, Porchemy!" one of the men yelled, pointing at him.
"That's the brat who stole our money!" the man with the sling added.
"What?!" Porchemy demanded, looking down at Ace with a mad glint in his eye.
Meanwhile, Luffy was looking up at Ace, tears falling hard and fast as relief broke over his face. "A-Ace!" he yelled, as if he couldn't believe that they had come to help. But Ace didn't seem to be interested in wasting any more time. He jumped up, taking a swing at Porchemy's head—but he didn't get a chance as the bastard's hand shot forward and caught Ace around the throat.
Zoro frowned, while he could see that Ace was already a decent fighter, he clearly didn't think before he attacked. He just charged in like an angry bull… that was no way to win.
Fighting hard to free himself, Ace struggled as Porchemy started to laugh. "Showing up on your own makes things much easier!" he said with an evil grin. "I didn't know what to do; your pal was so tight-lipped!"
"Ace!" Luffy cried out, terrified that something was going to happen to him.
"L-Let me go," Ace choked out, still fighting to get freed before he cried out, "Sabo!"
That was when the second boy charged behind Porchemy and hit him with his own metal pipe so that he would drop Ace.
"That's right!" Nami screamed out, punching the air ecstatically as Porchemy fell to the ground, a bloody wound on the side of his face. "Take him out, Sabo!"
"Ace… Sabo…" Luffy said worriedly. Sabo stood his ground, but it was clear from the look on his face that he was scared out of his mind. Ace got back up to his feet, looking ready to another round.
"That hurt pretty bad you know," Porchemy said, slowly turning to face Sabo.
"I hope so," Sanji whispered.
"Yeah, you more than deserved it!" Usopp cheered on. "ACE! SABO! Beat him up!"
"You know what happens when you mess with grown-ups, don't you?!" Porchemy demanded, raising his sword high.
"Your opponent is right here!" Ace yelled as he slammed the pipe down on the ground. He then called to Sabo while jerking his head at Luffy, "Sabo, help him!"
"Ace," Luffy croaked out as Sabo nodded and warned, "The guy has a sword! Be careful!"
"I agree," Zoro said folding his arms, "Even if they aren't half bad fighters, and this guy is nothing but trash, but they're still just kids."
Ace charges Porchemy again, dodging around the sword like an acrobat while trying to hit back. While he was fighting, Sabo went for the other men; dodging around them all and knocking a knife out of one of their hands. Quick as a flash, he cut Luffy free and grabbed him, already heading to the hole in the wall. "Let's get out of here, Ace!" he yelled back.
"Yeah!" Usopp and Brook called happily. "Now all they have to do is run!"
"You go on ahead!" Ace called, not turning away from Porchemy.
"WHAT?!" Brook and the 'Weakling Trio' screamed out at him.
"Now is not the time to be playing the hero," Sanji said angrily. "They got Luffy, they should just leave while they're ahead."
Apparently, Sabo thought so too.
"You idiot!" he screamed at Ace, "Come on!"
"Once I face an enemy, I never run!" Ace just shouted out to him, gripping the pipe tighter than ever, readying himself for an attack.
"Is he trying to get himself killed?" Usopp cried out.
"What? You brat!" Porchemy yelled.
"Don't!" Sabo yelled desperately, still holding onto Luffy like he was a rag doll. "He's on a completely different level than the delinquents from town!"
"They need to get Luffy treated anyway!" Chopper said, looking at how lifeless Luffy was acting.
"Don't you get it?" Porchemy sneered, "Playtime is over now! You stole our money! You will obediently return it to us, you insolent brat! I'm sure you realize you've done a bad thing." He pointed his sword at Ace's face and said, "I won't hurt you if you give the money back."
"Why do I seriously doubt that?" Nami yelled out skeptically. "He had no problems killing a seven-year-old just a minute ago!"
Ace just used his pipe staff to smack the sword aside as he yelled, "We're gonna make much better use of it!"
"What did you say? Enough of the bullshit!" Porchemy cried, losing all façade and his face was contorted with anger.
"You…just wait here a minute!" Sabo said to Luffy before dropping him to the ground like a sack of flour so that he could fight with Ace.
"Why those heartless…" Usopp began as Luffy struggled to raise his head up to watch.
"You think they would be a little more gentle," Robin said with a sigh. "If those injuries get any worse, he could die."
"Robin, don't say things like that!" Usopp yelled at her.
"You're being too reckless!" Sabo hissed to Ace, "Why are you always doing this?!"
"I never back down!" Ace said seriously.
"Apparently it's not the first time he's done this then," Sanji said with a frown.
"You gotta admire that," Zoro said, impressed.
"Not if it's gonna get you killed!" Nami yelled at him. "If he doesn't get out then he could die."
"But at the same time, they'll just chase after them even if they do run," Robin pointed out.
"So what are you saying?" Usopp yelled, freaking out. "The only choice they have is to fight then run?"
"Something that you're good at," Zoro pointed out.
"Would you stop it?!" Usopp yelled.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Porchemy yelled, raising his sword up and striking it down. Ace jumped up to try and knock it out of his hands, but instead he slashed through the pipe staff right in half and left a deep cut on Ace's forehead.
"If only this wasn't a memory," Sanji yelled. "I want nothing more than to kick that bastard's brains in."
"You aren't the only one," Franky said, his robot fingers twitching at the thought using one of his beams on this jerk.
"I too want a piece of him," Brook said, his sword drawn as he imagined fighting Porchemy in the children's place.
"If I lose to a pair of kids, I'll quit being a pirate!" Porchemy declared, raising his sword again.
"Then we'll make you quit!" Ace and Sabo yelled as they rushed forward together.
"I'm gonna slaughter you!" Porchemy screamed out with an insane flash in his eyes; and that's when the fight really broke out.
"Hmm," Zoro said as they watched. "They may be brats, but they're not half bad."
"YOW! GO FOR IT!" Franky cheered on with a grin.
Luffy just sat where he was and watched in awe—even though the two boys were getting beaten up, they were still able to fight him—until they were finally able to bring him down. Bleeding and hurt, Sabo grabbed Luffy like a doll and then he led the way out of the shack, with Ace right behind them.
"Thank goodness," Nami sighed in relief, so glad that nightmare was over.
"But why did those two come back in the first place?" Sanji asked as everything grew dark around them as the memory faded.
"Despite what we saw earlier, they're not unfeeling," Robin smiled. "If I had to guess, I'd say that when the two of them realized that no one had come back for the money, they might've guessed that Luffy hadn't said anything. And if that's what happened, then I'm also guessing that they realized that if they didn't go and get him, then he'd be killed."
"But they didn't seem to mind that idea when they tied him tied to that tree saying that they were going to kill him," Franky pointed out.
"Kids say things all the time," she said happily. "Sure, they said they wanted to kill him… but I am also certain that they never would've actually gone through with it. The fact that they showed up at all is proof."
"But that Luffy," Usopp said, shaking his head in awe at what he had seen. "Refusing to say anything even after all that? He was willing to die to protect Ace and Sabo… after all they put him through too? All he had to do was tell those thugs where the money was and that would've been the end of it."
"That's just how Luffy is," Zoro said simply. "I see now that's how he's always been."
"But why?" Nami asked in confusion. "Why do all this for someone who doesn't even like him?"
"I think we're going to find out," Brook said as the memory returned. It was dark out and the three boys were hidden among some trees. All of them were heavily bandaged with Luffy wailing loudly, tears cascading town his face once again while the other two boys completely ignored him. But at the moment, they were just relieved to see that his injuries were taken care of…
Ace was sitting cross legged up on a small hill as he tried to fix his broken metal staff while Sabo leaned up against the rocks right next to him.
"That's a real bad habit you've got, Ace," Sabo said with a frown as Ace weighed the staff in his hands. "Refusing to run even when you're up against real pirates? Why are you so eager to die?"
"It doesn't feel right," Ace muttered, as if he hadn't heard a word that Sabo was saying. "It was better before."
Sabo just sighed as he shook his head.
"I gotta give this kid the credit he deserves. I mean, dealing with both Ace and Luffy?" Sanji asked, shaking his head. "Yeah, I think I agree with you. We all have the scars to prove we've sailed with Luffy. My hat goes off to this kid if he dealt with them both."
"After this, Bluejam's crew will never forgive us," Sabo continued thoughtfully "They'll be after us from now on."
"That was so scary!" Luffy sobbed, still crying loudly. "I thought I was gonna die!"
Ace jumped down from his perch and seemed to lose his temper again. "YOU'RE SO ANNOYING! SHUT UP!" he screamed at Luffy, "HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO CRY FOR ANYWAY?! I HATE WEAKLINGS AND CRYBABIES! YOU REALLY PISS ME OFF!"
"What the hell is with him?" Nami asked, a deep frown on her face, "Sure, Luffy can get on your nerves a lot, but this is getting out of hand!"
"Ace-san is very harsh," Brook said, tilted his head and Chopper hid behind Zoro again.
"Luffy was tortured for hours and he's now yelling like it's his fault," Franky said sourly before adding, "Well, it is his fault for getting caught in the first place but still…"
"Not helping Franky!" Usopp yelled at him.
"I think that we're about to get some answers here," Robin said softly, approaching the three children a little closer—knowing that Ace would never let this go without getting some answers. At Ace's words, Luffy shut up at once.
"Well, that was quick," Sanji said in surprise as the other two boys looked startled. Normally it took a lot more to get Luffy to be quiet.
Sniffling a little, Luffy bowed his head and muttered, "Thank you." The other two were looking at each other, as if not understanding why they were being thanked. "For…" Luffy went on, tears now starting up again, "for saving me!"
For some reason, Ace seemed to grow angry again. "Why you!" he began, as if expecting a fight, but Sabo stopped him.
"Oi, oi," he said, trying to calm him down, "He's just thanking us."
"I just don't get how these two could be the same brothers we saw together in Alabasta," Nami said, folding her arms, now completely lost to how these two kids became the two brothers they saw together.
"We're talking about years apart, Nami," Robin answered softly.
"But why is he so angry?" Chopper asked, nervously looking at Ace's angry face. "I don't like seeing him like this! He's scaring me!"
"It just seems like he really hates Luffy," Usopp added with a confused frown.
"Oh, I don't think that it has anything to do with Luffy," Robin said knowingly.
"Huh?" they asked, looking at her, completely lost.
"Ace-san doesn't know how to respond to someone in a positive way," Brook said sadly.
"I think that's it in a nutshell," Robin agreed, remembering all her years of pain of being alone—she could understand Ace's feeling quite well. "I don't think that he's had too many people who care about him. He must be carrying around a lot of anger inside… so much so that he just can't contain it… that's why he loses his temper over the tiniest little things. That's why he lashes out at everything… because that's what he's used to."
"But what made him change so much?" Chopper asked.
She smiled, and it wasn't a forced one either, a true smile. "Isn't that obvious?" she asked him, her eyes going back to Luffy.
"I don't get it!" Ace's voice shouted out, interrupting them and they looked up, "Why didn't you tell them?! Those guys kill women and children without a second thought!"
Luffy sniffled, trembling slightly at Ace's loud voice. "If I'd told them… I could never be your friend."
"So that's why," Brook said softly, understanding washing through his body.
"That'd better than dying isn't it?" Ace demanded him. "Why do you want to become my friend anyway?"
"Because…" Luffy started off, but seemed unable to tell him the reason. "Because…"
"After all the stuff that I put you through?" Ace pressed on, wanting an answer, "Why did you still follow me this far?"
"That's what I want to know," Usopp said crossly. "If it had been me, I'd given up after that first day!"
"Well, good thing that you and Luffy are different," Zoro said.
"Hey!" Usopp yelled.
"Because…" Luffy said softly, he stopped for a moment as if afraid to say what was on his mind. But then he looked up and finally yelled out, "Because there isn't anybody else!"
"I thought that was the case," Robin said softly, understanding Luffy's desperate desire to follow after Ace day after day. Having seen that familiar look of pain and loneliness in this Luffy's eyes as he went chasing after Ace no matter what the danger was.
Ace blinked, unsure to what to say to that, but Luffy went on to explain, "I can't go back to Fushia Village, and I hate mountain bandits. If I didn't chase after you, I'd be all alone! And being alone is worse than being hurt."
No one said a word to that; all of them fully understanding now. For they all knew that feeling all too well… that painful feeling of being alone. Before they joined the Straw Hat crew… and for those two long years of training on their own, they all felt that same loneliness that made the days seem so long. But when they joined up, it was as if that pain in them disappeared… they travel around from place to place and the days just seem to fly by in a happy blur… a life that they wouldn't trade anything for.
"That explains it all," Brook said softly, solemnly, "I think we all understand now why Luffy-san never gave up."
"Ace was everything Luffy had," Robin summed up for them all. "Without him, he was all alone. Yes, he treated him terribly… but for Luffy, being alone hurt more than any of those wounds."
"Aww… Luffy," Nami whispered feeling tears in her eyes at that as Franky burst out crying.
"That's gotta be the sweetest thing I've ever heard damn it!" he yelled to the sky as the tears gushed down his face as Chopper howled next to him.
"Already, the bonds of brotherhood are taking root!" Usopp declared as he covered his eyes with his arm as he sobbed. "The first step has been taken!"
"WOULD YOU ALL SHUT UP?" Nami screamed at them, but she was unable to stop her own eyes burning as she watched them.
Ace looked loss for words as he thought over what Luffy was saying. "What about your parents?" he asked slowly.
"Just Grandad, nobody else," was Luffy's simple answer.
"And you can't blame him for not wanting to be around him," Usopp said, his tears drying up as he remembered what Garp considered 'training'.
"That is a good question though," Nami said softly, rubbing her eyes dry. "What about Luffy's mother? His father… well, I could understand why Luffy never knew about him, but his mother…?"
"At this point," Zoro said with a shrug, "I think it's safe to assume that she's dead. But even if she's not, that's none of our business."
Ace just looked at Luffy long and hard. "It isn't so bad when I'm here?" he asked, his tone no longer as cold or as harsh it had been up until now.
"Right," Luffy nodded.
"And it'd be bad if wasn't here?" Ace continued, his voice still surprisingly gentle, as if he was afraid of what Luffy might answer.
"Right!" Luffy said again.
Zoro looked over at Ace and watched how the boy's hand tightened on his staff. He then asked something that made them all stare at him.
"You want me to live?" he asked quietly, his eyes were no longer filled with anger… it was… curiosity.
Luffy looked surprised by the question and said, "Of course I do!"
Zoro watch Ace in understanding. Two unlucky kids who didn't belong anywhere crossed paths… is this a joke played by fate… or an unavoidable destiny…?
Franky continued to cry loudly, now bawling at the convection in Luffy's voice, "Such a touching scene!"
"Would you shut up?!" Zoro and Sanji yelled at him.
Ace's face was shadowed so they couldn't see what was going through his head at the moment. "I see," was all he said as he turned around, so that the other two couldn't see him. "But still," he added as he scratched his head. "I hate spoiled kids like you."
At those words, all the sadness in Luffy vanished at once as he jumped down and yelled angrily, "I'm not spoiled! I'm strong!"
"Strong?" Ace shouted, turning back to him, his expression skeptical, "How are you strong?! You're supposed to be a man but you keep crying all the time!"
"Well, he might not be so strong now," Robin said smiling, seeing already that Ace's heart of ice was melting. "But he sure is in the future."
"Have you ever been punched with a spiked glove?!" Luffy demanded. "I'm only seven! I won't cry when I get to be ten year old like you! I'll be much stronger!"
"I didn't cry when I was seven either!" Ace yelled, pressing his forehead up against Luffy's as they continued to argue. "You idiot! Don't compare yourself to me!"
"I'm gonna be stronger than anyone else! I promised Shanks that I'd become a great pirate!"
"A pirate?! You?!" Ace sneered.
"Ah, brotherly love," Brook laughed as the boys continued to glare and argue. "It's nice to see it, Yohohoho."
"It doesn't look much like love to me," Chopper said watching them with an apprehensive look on his face.
"You clearly don't understand brothers," Franky said with a smile. "This is common among them."
"Well, they might not be the perfect example of brothers, but I don't think we need to worry about Ace trying to kill Luffy anymore," Sanji said in relief.
"Really?" Chopper asked hopefully.
"I think that it's safe to say that," Nami admitted with a smile, her hands on her hips as she watched the two now in a glare-off.
"Alright, that's enough," Sabo said calmly, stepping between them and pushing the two apart. "Oh, by the way, I've got a problem here."
The anger melted right off of Luffy's face as he asked, "A problem?"
"What now?" Usopp asked, not understanding what the problem was.
Sabo nodded. "Because of what happened today, Bluejam's crew will be trying to find and kill will all three of us, right?"
Ace blinked. "Well, yeah. I guess."
Sabo walked passed him as he continued to talk, "I've been living in this forest, but it's close to their base, in Pirate's Cove. What do you think would happen if I fell asleep somewhere and they attacked me?"
"He'd be a dead man," Zoro answered at once.
"He'd be toast," Franky stated.
"Burnt to a crisp," Sanji added.
"You'd die," Ace said bluntly.
Luffy nodded. "You'd definitely die."
"Yep," Usopp agreed. "No doubt about it…"
"Alright we get it!" Nami yelled, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, men…"
"Right," Sabo said, looking back at them. "So I've gotta ask you something."
As the three boys pulled together in a huddle and began to talk.
"What are they saying?" Chopper asked, trying to get closer so that he could listen in.
"I think it's obvious," Sanji said, having pulled out another cigarette and lightning it. "Sabo needs a place to stay until everything cools down so where do you think they're going to go?"
"You mean back to Dadan's place?" Usopp asked in surprise.
"Good place to hide, with mountain bandits," Nami added and sure enough, the boys all turned and were heading back in the direction to where the bandit's hut was. Everything faded away, meaning that the memory was over.
"Does this mean Ace and Luffy really are friends now?" Chopper asked them all as they were sent back to the darkness.
"Well, I wouldn't say they're best friends," Sanji admitted. "But at least they've come to an understanding and I doubt that we have to worry about Ace knocking Luffy off anymore bridges."
"But what about that Sabo kid?" Nami asked them, asking the question that was all on their minds.
"Yeah, who is this guy?" Chopper asked, puzzled, "I don't think that Luffy's ever mentioned him before."
"First time that I've heard of him," Usopp agreed, before looking to Zoro. "You've been with Luffy the longest out of all of us. You know who he is?"
"I haven't been on his crew that much longer than you have," he told him irritably. "What's the big deal? It's not like he has to tell us about everyone from his past. I'm sure that there are plenty of people we know that we never told each other about."
His thoughts strayed a little to Kuina at that.
"Well… sure," Usopp said hesitantly. "But aren't you curious?"
"It doesn't matter if I'm curious or not. The fact is that it's none of our business," Zoro said firmly. "So we don't know everything about each other's pasts. What does it matter? We really shouldn't be knowing about any of this to begin with. We should stop watching this and get out before we see something that we shouldn't…"
But before anyone could come up with any ideas, the images came back. Ace, Luffy, and Sabo were sprawled out on the bandit's floor in a tangle of blankets, Dadan was standing there, gaping at what she was seeing.
"I can see that this is her new nightmare," Nami sighed, looking at the horrified look on Dadan's face. "She was having trouble with just two… but now there's a third one."
"Yohohoho! They're multiplying!" Brook called out happily.
"What the hell is going on?! ACE! LUFFY! Who is that?!" she yelled out loud enough to wake the whole island. "Why is there another of you brats here?!"
"Well they sure know how to start things off," Nami drawled.
Luffy groaned sleepily, sitting up and briefly looking up at Dadan through sleepy eyes. "Who's who?" he asked hazily before he fell back to the floor and started to drift back off to sleep.
Ace forced himself to sit up next as he looked up at to see who it was. "You're so noisy in the morning," he grumbled, and asked them before he fell back to the floor like Luffy had done, "Don't you know what time it is?"
Sabo sat up almost immediately after that, but he just looked ahead of him for a few seconds before he fell back with a groan.
"Yeah, I don't think this is the way you want to start off an introduction," Nami sighed.
Robin just smiled. "After what happened last night, of course they just want to sleep in."
"Why's there suddenly a third kid here?" Dadan yelled at them, glaring at Sabo. "Who are you?"
The crew watched in amusement as the three boys finally opened their eyes again. "Who me?" Sabo asked stood up, rubbing his red eyes. When he was a little more awake, he put on a huge grin while Ace and Luffy stood back to watch.
"I'm Sabo," he said brightly, now fully awake, "Hi! You're Dadan right?"
"Sabo?" she repeated slowly. "I know I've heard that name before."
"Really?" he asked cheerfully. "Well, that makes it easier for me then." He took her hand and shook it merrily, "Let's try to get along starting today!"
"Well, he gets to the point," Brook laughed.
She pulled her hand away and barked, "Get along? Don't think that you'll be staying here!"
Instead of answering, he merely farted and Sanji smacked himself in the face. "Looks like I found out where Luffy learned such bad manners."
"That's disgusting!" Nami yelled in revulsion.
"Don't answer with a fart!" Dadan screamed as Sabo laughed. "You've gotta be kidding me!" she went on. "If you're the Sabo I've heard about, then you're supposed to be one hell of a brat!"
Sabo grinned and asked, "Really? And I heard you're an old hag!"
"Really?" Sanji asked deadpanned as Franky howled with laughter. "That's really not how you win someone over."
"They are staying with her," Nami agreed. "She may not be the nicest person, but you think that they would try to be more polite."
"You shouldn't say things like that!" Dadan yelled as the other bandits fell over with what Sabo had just said. "I don't want to deal with anymore unruly kids."
Sabo just kept grinning. "But you're a nice old hag who can't turn down any requests from other people too, right? I heard that you're an old hag who's like a man among men!"
"Did he really just say that?" Nami asked, her head falling forward a little. "I can't help but feel sorry for her."
"You can't really blame them," Zoro said, looking at Dadan with a suspicious glance. "It's hard to tell that she's a woman."
"I'm a WOMAN!" Dadan shouted, staring down at the blond. "Can't you tell!?"
"I couldn't tell," Chopper stated.
After a long moment, Dadan let out a defeated sigh before she turned away and called them by name before snapping, "Since you're all under my care you'd better hurry up and get to work!"
Robin laughed, "Looks like she's not as bad as she makes herself out to be."
"It's not like she could just kick three boys out when they didn't have anywhere else to go," Nami said.
"Well, they don't know that they went and made this Bluejam character mad yet," Zoro added. "So I wonder just how they'll take the news."
The three boys grinned at each other happily.
"Thanks, Dadan!" Sabo said gratefully before they all turned and went running out the door. "Then, we're off!"
Usopp and Nami both fell face-forward at that.
"Just like that?!" Nami yelled as the rest of the crew all laughed.
"Did you honestly expect anything else?" Franky asked beaming. "Who wants to stick around cleaning all day when you can go out and explore?"
"HEY!" Dadan yelled, "Luffy you're supposed to do the laundry and clean the house!"
"No way!" Luffy cried, turning around to stick his tongue at Dadan, before realizing that he was being left behind. "Ah! Ace! Sabo! Wait for me!"
"I think that it's a good thing that he's leaving," Sanji said knowingly, painfully remembering just how poorly Luffy can do 'chores' anyway.
"Yeah, if he did try, he'll only end up making a bigger mess than before he started," Robin giggled.
"Oh, right!" Sabo said, stopping so suddenly that Luffy ran into him and fell back onto the ground. But Sabo didn't pay any attention as he turned to look back at the bandits, "I forgot to say…" he then yelled out loudly, "Hey Dadan! While we're out, Bluejam's crew might come around. So be careful!"
"Bluejam might be coming…?" Dogra repeated in a stunned voice. "Why?"
"We got mixed up with one of their crew and beat him up!" Sabo yelled. "See ya later!"
"What a way to tell them," Zoro laughed at the horror-struck looks on the bandit's faces as the three boys went running off.
"Dadan sure is an understanding old hag," Sabo said to Ace when they went chasing after them.
"But she's still an old hag," Ace told him firmly.
"Well, they're rude," Nami sighed as they all ran to try and keep up with them. "She's letting them stay with her even though a crew of pirates is after them."
"Little boys are all the same," Robin pointed out smiling.
"So what now?" Sabo asked.
Luffy answered that by running up with them and shouting out, "FOOD!"
"Of course he would say that…" Sanji stated, shaking his head.
Ace looked away in annoyance as Sabo laughed. "Alright! Let's get some food!"
Soon that memory faded out and by the time they were back in another memory, they were sitting by a large river. Ace and Sabo were sitting at a campfire with a giant fish's skeleton that was just picked clean. While they ate, Luffy was drooling just a few feet away.
Sabo then turned to Luffy and asked, "Luffy, so you're a Devil Fruit User?"
"Yup!" Luffy said proudly as he eyed the fish.
"So that explains why you can't swim," Sabo said as he threw the tail of the giant fish to him. "Here, you have some too."
Thrilled, Luffy jumped forward and caught it, shouting out his thanks.
"Well, he seems to be a little nicer than Ace," Chopper said, still looking uneasily at Ace, who had snapped at Sabo, "You're too soft, Sabo."
"It's no big deal," he smiled back.
"Yep! I like Sabo!" Chopper said smiling. "He's so nice now!"
"Well, it doesn't take much, consider what Ace was like," Usopp whispered, feeling sweat fall down his face at all the things he'd done.
Sabo then got up and went to Luffy asking, "So which fruit did you eat?"
"The Gum Gum Fruit," Luffy answered as he swallowed the tail whole.
"Gum Gum…?" Sabo repeated before he looked stunned, "You're made of rubber?"
"That was all of our reactions too," Usopp said, remembering the shock of finding out that Devil Fruit Users really do exist.
"Yeah, that's right!" Luffy said wiping his mouth.
Ace meanwhile was using a bone of the fish as a toothpick as he said, "So you became unable to swim in exchange for being a rubber man? That's stupid."
"Yeah, it is isn't it?" Sanji agreed.
Luffy jumped back up and yelled defensively, "It's not stupid! I've got a bunch of unbeatable techniques."
"That's for sure," Chopper said, thinking of some of them. But Robin was smiling knowingly—knowing that Luffy had a long way to go before he could call them unbeatable.
"Oh, is that right?" Ace asked, leaning back on the ground patting his full stomach. "A guy who couldn't even catch a fish shouldn't talk like that."
Sabo pulled on Luffy's cheek as Luffy marched over to Ace, as if about to fight him. "So you really are made of rubber!" he exclaimed in interest, Luffy stretching out over several feet. "That's so cool!"
"Don't play with me like that," Luffy said before Sabo let go and he fell forward to the ground with a snap.
"They're treating him like some kind of toy," Usopp said with a sweatdrop.
"Well, it's not everyday that you met a rubber man," Brook answered. "When I first found out… it was so surprising! I thought my eyes would fall out… ah! Not that I have any eyes. Yohohoho!"
"Still, rubber can stretch, shrink, and expand," Sabo went on. "It might be pretty useful in a fight."
"Weird, but useful," Zoro agreed and soon they were watching and laughing loud and hard as Luffy tried to show off his Gum-Gum Balloon only to end up as a beach ball for the boys… as they played around, the boys accidently ended up kicking him to the water… and Luffy was eaten by a crocodile.
"WHAT JUST HAPPENED?" Usopp screamed as Brook and Chopper yelled in shock.
"I bet that's what those two were wondering," Robin said smiling as the two boys screamed and watched the crocodile spit out the straw hat and dive into the water.
"Wait up you!" they yelled. "We won't just let you eat him and run!" And then they dove in after him before everything grew dark.
"At least they're acting a little concerned for his safety," Brook said brightly, "Much better than before."
"They sure have their work cut out for them though," Sanji sighed, shaking his head. "After all, it takes all eight of us to try and keep Luffy out of trouble, and even then, that's no guarantee that nothing's gonna happen."
The next memory was of the three boys carrying the dead crocodile, tied with ropes, above their heads. Luffy was behind them—carrying the tail, and looking angry at the other two in front of him.
"Well, you know…" Sabo offered slowly. "Don't be mad."
"How can he not?" Usopp demanded. "If it were me I'd be angry! They threw him to that croc!"
"Of course I'm mad!" Luffy yelled, obviously feeling the same way. "I was almost eaten!"
"Oh, shut up!" Ace called from the front. "You can eat as much as you want of this crocodile meat when we have it for dinner."
The anger on Luffy's face was immediately replaced with a bright smile. "Ok, I forgive you."
Nami sighed tenderly. "The best way to get to Luffy is through his stomach."
Sabo looked back at him and asked, "You're just going to forgive us so easily?"
"I want to eat this crocodile already," Luffy answered, his mouth drooling.
Sabo looked up at Ace and called, "There's something I wanna check on! Come with me!"
"Now what do you all think he's going to do?" Franky asked as they watched them leave the crocodile near some giant rocks before they headed back to the same tree where they had kept their treasure stashed in the day before. Had it really just been a day ago? It seemed like it had been so much longer than that.
Still, after stuffing leaves and flowers around their heads, the boys looked from behind the same bushes they hid behind before as they looked up to the tree. A group of men were there, searching around it, and a few of them seemed to have found the trapdoor.
"So?" one man yelled up at them irritably, "Did you find it?"
"No!" they called down, "Nothing!"
They then heard Sabo whisper to Ace, "It's a good thing that we moved our 'Pirate Fund' to another place."
"Oh, that must've been what they were doing yesterday," Robin said, glancing over at them.
"Like that was worth getting a little kid killed," Usopp muttered bitterly to himself, still a little sore that they took so long to get back for Luffy.
"Yeah," Ace said softly, "You want to go look at the Gray Terminal?"
"What's the Gray Terminal?" Chopper repeated in confusion.
"I'm guessing that's what that giant junk yard is called," Sanji said, noticing how Sabo's eyes flickered in the direction of the mountains of trash.
"Yeah I guess," Sabo agreed before they looked at Luffy and said, "You should go back to Dadan's place first."
"Do they really think that he's going to do that?" Zoro asked rolling his eye.
"NO!" Luffy yelled so loudly that Ace had to dive top of him, covering his mouth to keep him quiet.
"Telling him to do that was pointless," Sabo sighed.
"What did you expect?" most of the crew asked while Brook and Robin both laughed. They followed the three of them back to the junk yard and watched as they came closer to the wall—silently keeping their eyes open for anyone who might be part of this Bluejam's crew. The three of them ended up piling up on top of each other like a totem pole behind a large pile of junk so that they could get a better look.
Not having any fear of being seen, the Straw Hats walked a little closer so that they could get a better look. The part of the city in those walls was all worn out, dirty and broken down… though at least there were some decent houses that were built there… much better than all the mountains of trash.
Looking inside the wall, they could see that there was a crooked sign labeled, "Edge Town".
"I guess that that must be where the residents who have at least a little money must be living," Usopp decided.
"I wouldn't call it the best place to live," Sanji said, looking at the suspicious buildings. "It looks like you get drug dealers and criminal spawn from that place. I bet that most people can't even leave their houses without needing some kind of protection against muggers."
"I rather live in there then with all this trash," Usopp pointed out, jerking his thumb behind them to where some shady-looking men were arguing with each other over what was in some bags. "I rather live there and inside a house then out here with these guys!"
Just then, some men, who they guessed were part of Bluejam's crew, were talking to some of the other Terminal residents; asking questions to where they last saw three young boys.
"What do you think that those guys are doing?" Chopper asked, pointing to the pirates.
"Looking for those three," Nami said, pointing to Luffy, Sabo, and Ace. "What else would they be doing?"
"This isn't good," Sabo's voice said and they looked back to see him looking anxious. "The place is swarming with delinquents from town, and Bluejam's crew. This is serious."
"We must've really made Bluejam mad," Ace said below him with Luffy struggling to support them both.
"I guess," Franky said, thinking of what happened at Water 7 to how his boys were beaten up and his house destroyed. He frowned at his crew at those memories, trying to hold back the resentment he felt. "If a couple kids stole from me and beat up my boys, I'd go after them."
"Hey guys!" a man behind them suddenly shouted and surprising the boys so that they fell into a heap on the ground, "Somebody here is looking for you!"
As soon as the trio was spotted, they ran for their lives with Bluejam's crew right behind them—and they were only able to lose them in the thick forest.
"Damn it…" Usopp gasped, on his knees and tongue rolling out his mouth, trying to catch his breath after having run after them the whole way. "How can… how can they run… so… so fast like that?"
"Big baby," Nami said, as she fanned herself with her hand, "You're telling me that you're tired after a little run like that?"
"You and Robin were riding on Chopper!" he yelled back angrily as the three boys were found leaning against a tree—or Luffy's case—hanging upside down by a branch.
"Looks like they got the guys from the Gray Terminal helping them," Sabo said in a depressed tone, "Guess it's better to just lay low for awhile, at least until things calm down."
"That would be the best course of action," Sanji agreed. "The last thing they need is to go out and pick fights when they don't have to."
"It doesn't matter," Ace said firmly as he picked up his staff. "If we run into them, we'll just fight."
Nami sighed… that sounded like something the 'Monster Trio' would've said.
"Well, sure we could…" Sabo said hesitantly, "But there's no point in picking a fight."
"I agree with Sabo!" Luffy added brightly.
"That's a first," Brook laughed, strumming up his guitar, "Luffy-san choosing not to fight."
"I think he's only agreeing with Sabo because he's nicer," Robin giggled.
"You just shut up!" Ace snapped at him and just like that the memory faded away until they were standing in a large clearing, Ace and Luffy stood across from each other with Sabo standing a short distance away watching them.
"What are they doing now?" Chopper asked, looking around in puzzlement.
"Begin!" Sabo called, holding up his hand like how a referee would in a wrestling match.
At that, Luffy ran ahead, spinning one of his arms in a circle while Ace stood still, his arms crossed over his chest—as if testing him. "I'm going!" Luffy yelled confidently, "Gum Gum… Pistol!"
That was when he shot his fist forward… but the aim was so bad that he ended up hitting the ground, which caused his fist to bounce back up and punch him in the face. That was when the Straw Hats all started laughing.
"Oh, the poor guy!" Sanji laughed, holding his ribs. "He's so bad… but this is just too good!"
"That doesn't surprise me," Robin laughed loudly. "After all… it took me all these years to be able to fully tap into my own Devil Fruit powers. You don't master your abilities instantly after all."
"Yohohoho, that's true," Brook added cheerfully as he watched Luffy spinning around like a top before falling to the ground. "It took me over fifty years to be able to use the full effects of the Yomi Yomi fruit!"
"Well, I guess we all have to start somewhere," Franky pointed out as he roared with laughter.
"We should just be happy he got better," Sanji added grinning.
Ace sighed. "I told you," he said, suddenly rushing forward and kicking Luffy in the face, "What the hell are you trying to do?!"
Sabo grinned. "It's over," he said, turning to write a big zero on, what appeared to be a scoreboard, behind them.
"What are they doing?" Chopper asked, now looking at them all, hoping that one of them could explain.
"I get it," Zoro said, looking at the scoreboard. "They're training. Fighting each other and improving their skills."
"Looks like Luffy keep losing," Usopp said, looking at all the zeros.
"I recall that Luffy did mention that he could never win against Ace," Sanji said thoughtfully, thinking back to their meeting in Alabasta.
"He didn't seem to be upset by it though," Chopper reminded him.
"Yeah, never being able to win a single fight against someone is rough," Zoro said, thinking of all 2001 straight losses with Kuina. "But it only makes you that more determined to try harder."
Suddenly it was Sabo and Ace's turn to fight, this time with Luffy watching. The fight was longer this time around, each boy giving as good as he got—both pretty well matched—but it ended up with Ace winning again. After that, Luffy went against Sabo… only for Luffy to have his ass handed to him.
Franky whistled loudly. "That's harsh… he just can't seem to catch a break."
Ace rolled his eyes and sighed. "I've already told you," he said, "Your fruit isn't useful for anything."
"Crap! It won't work!" Luffy yelled out in frustration, "Just a little more… Again!"
"No," Ace said, crossing his arms stubbornly, "We can only fight one hundred times per day. Wait until tomorrow."
"Don't they have anything better to do with their time than pound each other?" Nami demanded exasperatedly.
"I guess not," Usopp said, as he fell to his knees at the thought of getting beaten hundreds of times over the years. The guys really were monsters…
Sabo went back to the scoreboard and counted them all up as Luffy and Ace continued to argue. "Final scores… me and Ace were 26 to 24." His jaw fell open as he cursed and cried out, "He beat me two more times? I've got to get stronger!"
"And of course, Ace is the strongest one," Usopp sighed tiredly.
"I got that feeling after we met him," Nami sighed, running her hand through her hair.
"Luffy sure has a long way to go to beat him," Franky laughed, but stopped almost at once at the reminder that he couldn't… not anymore. Thankfully, no one seemed to notice his slip of the tongue as Luffy was now yelling, "When I'm ten, I'll kick your ass!"
"By then, we'll be thirteen," Ace reminded him before he picked up his pipe staff and called to Sabo, "We better go look for some food."
Luffy's angry mood changed at once at the mention of food and was more than happy to follow after them to a river that was filled with the same crocodiles that almost ended up eating Luffy before.
"They're going hunting for crocodiles?" Brook asked.
"Looks that way," Robin smiled.
"Hey," Zoro said with a grin. "In a place like this, you eat it before it eats you."
"Looks like we'll be having crocodile for diner," Ace decided as they observed the crocs, trying to figure out which one to eat.
"That meat looks good," Luffy said, drool dripping down his face.
"Man, doesn't he ever think of anything but food?" Sanji said.
"At least you don't have to worry about him wasting anything, right?" Usopp offered.
"Luffy," Sabo said, "Make sure not to get eaten, alright?"
"Wasn't it their fault that happened?" Chopper asked.
"It's always easier to blame Luffy for when things go wrong," Nami offered.
"Just watch," Ace said, "You'll just get in the way."
He hadn't even finished saying that when Luffy jumped down screaming out, "Crocodile meat!"
"I told you to watch!" Ace shouted as he and Sabo jumped after him.
"Boy he's a real handful," Franky laughed.
"Of course he was," Zoro smirked. "Even more back then than he is now… at least we know he can protect himself… we don't have to worry about him getting eaten all the time."
"Yeah, now it's only half the time," Nami sighed.
"I hope not," Chopper shivered as he watched the three beat of the crocodile and drag it back to shore. The next memory was of them standing near the wall that led to the place called Edge Town. They looked around expectantly, but for some reason they didn't see the boys.
"Now where are they?" Usopp asked, shielding his eyes as he looked around for any sign of them.
"Dunno," Zoro confessed, also glancing around. "Though I thought they decided not to come around here for awhile."
"You honestly expect them to actually go through with it?" Nami asked them irritably. "Luffy and Ace can't sit still… and that Sabo kid isn't much better."
"What are they doing?" Chopper suddenly asked as a large group of people were walking through the gate in the wall towards the city, each one carrying bags.
"I don't think it's strange to think that the residents here take what they find from the mountain of trash and then try to sell it," Robin said as a cloaked figure stumbled by, pulling a long cart that was covered with a tarp.
Zoro, Sanji, and Robin all looked up at the figure—watching it stumble around as if he was unsteady on his feet.
"Whoa, what's with that guy?" Usopp asked as the man almost fell and had to support himself against cart to keep him from going down.
"He looks like he had one too many," Franky commented.
"Let's follow him," Zoro said at once as Sanji and Robin all began to follow after him.
"Why?" Nami asked in surprise. "He's just some drunkard isn't he?"
"Trust us on this one," Zoro told them as they neared the figure now talking to a guard, asking what it was that they were pulling in the cart.
"Crocodile leather for sale," the figure said, pulling the cover back to show him.
"Wait… is that…?" Nami asked softly, suddenly realizing to who that man was.
"Looks like it," Robin smiled back.
"Not bad, they're small enough to pull it off," Usopp said, now grinning.
"What are you all talking about?" Chopper asked, now completely baffled to what they were talking about.
"You'll see soon," Robin smiled at him gently as they continued to follow the figure through the gate and into the city. Like they all thought, the buildings here were dirty and rundown, but still much better than living at Trash Mountain in the Gray Terminal.
"Looks like this place is the rough part of town," Franky said, thinking of Water 7 and how he used to rule the black market. This almost reminded him of home…
"Hard to believe that people actually live here," Nami said, looking at the passing windows to either see timid or threatening figures looking out. "I wouldn't feel safe stepping outside my house if I had to live in a place like this."
"Better here than the Gray Terminal," Sanji offered once again as he looked around. "Didn't you did say that Goa Kingdom was known for being beautiful, Robin-chan? Because it couldn't fooled me?"
"Where the Nobles live, that's true," Robin answered as a group of thugs came out from the alleyway to the robed figure. 'But like everywhere else, if you can't afford it then you're worthless.'
"It seems you're carrying something valuable there," one of the muggers said as he walked forward with a smug grin on his face, "Answer, you bastard."
"Shut up if you know what's good for you," came a familiar voice from underneath the hood.
"Why are we following this guy?" Chopper asked them all, not realizing whose voice that was. "I thought that we were following Luffy and…?"
"Wait for it…" Franky said as the others smirked.
"What?!" the thug cried.
The pipe staff came from the cloak and tripped the thug up—thing was, it came from much lower than where the man's arm was supposed to be.
"Before you rob somebody, you should choose your targets more carefully!" that voice said, reaching down and throwing off the cloak to see that it was Sabo, Luffy, and Ace stacked on top of each other again, all of them looking ready to fight.
"Ah! So it was them!" Chopper exclaimed in amazement while the others all smiled at each other, deciding not to say anything.
"It's those brats!" one of the thugs cried. But before anyone could do or say anything more, the trio was on them and soon it was a brawl as the three kids took them all out.
Franky laughed and applauded as he watched Ace sucker-punched one of them so that he was out cold before he even hit the ground. "I love these guys! What a team!"
Though they were only kids, and were heavily outnumbered, they were more than a match for these guys as they knocked each one of them out. It was soon over, the three of them escaping with nothing but a few cuts and bruises—and once they found the cloak, they climbed up on top of each other's shoulders again—leaving as if nothing had happened.
"Should I be concerned that a few kids were able to beat up all those thugs who had guns and knives with them?" Nami asked them all, looking a little nervous at what she just saw.
"You saw the forest didn't you?" Zoro asked as they followed after the boys again, still dragging their crocodile leather behind them. "On this island, you have to get stronger or you'll get eaten. Personally, I think that those jungle animals are a bigger threat than any lowlife thug."
"You guys are heavy!" Luffy complained on the bottom of the stack as they stumbled through the streets.
"It'll be worth it," Ace's voice answered, "I'll treat you guys to some Ramen soon."
"Ramen?" Luffy's voice asked.
"How can he not know what Ramen is?" Sanji sighed, remembering the countless times that Luffy asked for that for dinner. It was his second favorite food—second only to meat.
"Well, it's not like they have anything but meat back with the bandits," Nami asked with a forced smiled.
"Just be patient and you'll see," Ace answered as they walked uneasily on their feet through Edge Town, and towards another gate that lead to a place called 'Town Center'. When they passed through this gate, that was when they all gasped at what they saw.
"Gorgeous!" Nami gasped, her eyes shining at what she was seeing. This whole town around them couldn't have looked more different than Edge Town… There were tall, brightly colored buildings on either side of them that were so clean that they shone like diamonds in the light.
There were hundreds of stores on all sides, people dressed in fine clothes doing their shopping and enjoying the nice day… they were all so taken aback that almost lost track of the boys and had to run to keep up with them. They travelled through Town Center for a few blocks before they met with some men and traded the crocodile skin for a decent amount of money before they headed on, deeper into the city.
In the center of the city was another wall which held a beautiful palace that rose higher than a mountain and looked down at them all.
"I'm guessing that's where the nobility live," Robin said, looking up at it with a strange look on her face—as if she swallowed something bitter. "This really is Goa Kingdom. A country without any trace of dirt… known as the most beautiful across the East Blue."
"I thought Luffy was born in Fushia Village," Chopper asked, tilting his head in confusion.
"He was," Robin answered, "Fushia Village is still part of this kingdom, but I'm guessing that it's so small that they don't notice it. Remember? I guess that it's on the other side of the island…" She remembered the direction that Garp came from when he first brought Luffy to live with the bandits, and the opposite direction that Ace went running off to in everyday.
They followed after the trio of boys, all of them staring around at all the fancy stores and expensive merchandize.
"Does anyone else notice something about these people?" Zoro asked as the people were giving the boys the same exact critical looks.
"The fact that they're all ugly?" Usopp pointed out, which was true. The faces here were indeed all very ugly, with constant sour or stuck-up looks… as if they smelled something disgusting.
"Well, yeah," Zoro added, "But I was talking about the fact that they're avoiding them like he's carrying a plague or something."
"Yohoho, you're right," Brook said as they watched the people around them moving back as if afraid of getting their clothes dirty.
"I think that it's the clothes that they're wearing that's doing it," Robin sighed, having seen this very often. How in high society, how you dress and how much money you have means everything…
"The clothes aren't bad though," Chopper pointed out, "Just a little dirty."
"I think that's the problem," Sanji said, watching them—some of the women actually taking out handkerchiefs and using them to cover their mouths. "I normally like a clean surface, but this is ridiculous. It's almost… too clean."
"It's like there's not a speck of dirt anywhere. I mean look," Usopp said, looking around at the streets, and tapping his foot on them as if to prove a point, "The streets here's so clean you can eat off it!"
"Yes, and where do you all think that trash must go?" Robin asked them, her head turning back to the wall that they walked out from.
They all looked at each other. "You mean the Gray Terminal?" Nami asked, suddenly realizing what she was saying.
"Yes," Robin nodded. "I get it now… they throw out what they don't need or want and it all piles up in the Gray Terminal."
"I don't know if I like this place," Chopper said, not liking the snotty looks the nobles were given the cloaked figure, "These people… they're not… I mean they're…" but he trailed off, not sure what he was trying to say. But Brook seemed to understand.
"I agree with you, Chopper-san," Brook said, knowing full well the look that they were giving them. That look as if they knew they were better than anyone else. These people reminded him of someone but he couldn't think of who it was.
"They paid us a good price for that crocodile leather," Sabo's came out from the cloak as they continued on, "More money for our pirate savings."
"I'm hungry!" Luffy whined again.
"Just hold on," Ace answered, "Soon you'll be enjoying some delicious Ramen."
"What is Ramen?" Sabo asked, "Is it really that good?"
"I don't care," Luffy whined, "just hurry up."
After walking a little ways, they had followed them to one of the fanciest looking restaurants any of them had ever seen. It was huge, a good five stories at least and they could tell Ace was smiling when he said, "This is the restaurant."
"Not bad," Sanji said, looking at it. "Wouldn't mind running a business that looks as good as that. If only the customers were better than the kind around here…"
The host inside bowed and welcomed them in, but when he looked up and caught sight of who had just entered, he paled and became somewhat frantic as he tried to get them to leave. "W-wait a minute!" he stuttered out, "You can't come in to my restaurant!"
"Eh? Why can't they go in?" Chopper asked in surprise, "They didn't do anything."
"Does it look like they have money?" Franky asked him.
"I thought that it would've been obvious from the looks they got outside," Robin observed. "But this city values rank and status above anything else. Unless they have money, they aren't welcomed just anywhere. And in a place like this, then anyone who looks like they're broke—even if they're starving—isn't welcomed."
Sanji's eyes narrowed dangerously. What a crap reason to refuse someone food. It's people like them that he couldn't stand… snotty, big-shots who thought that they were better than anyone else… these cooks are all disgraces to chiefs everywhere. As far as he was concerned, anyone who was hungry was a customer—any chief worth his salt would feel the same way.
But before he could begin to rant and rave about this, there was some shifting around under the cloak and Sabo's hand pulled out a round, golden pendant that bore the crest of a daisy.
"I'd like a private room," Sabo said, his voice much deeper than normal.
The host gapped for a moment, eyes wide as he stared at it. "T-that… that's…!" he stuttered before he gave him many low bows and said in an oily voice. "It is an honor that a noble would visit my restaurant. We'll serve you right away!"
"He thought that they were a noble because of that pendant?" Zoro asked suspiciously.
"I'm guessing that emblem is something that only the nobles wear," Robin said, leaning down closer to the crest so that she could get a better look at it before Sabo put it away.
"Hey, that was great," they heard Ace whisper as they followed the man, "Where'd you get it?"
"Oh, ah… it was something I found in the city," Sabo answered unusually apprehensive.
"In other words, he stole it," Usopp answered with a shrug.
Robin didn't say anything to that—she knew it was the most likely reason, but still… she couldn't help but notice the nervousness in Sabo's voice. If he really just stole it, why would he be so worried instead of bragging about it?
Still, she said nothing as she watched the boys being led to a private room somewhere up on the upper levels. The room alone was big enough to hold at least two dozen people and was beautiful carpeted with statues and crystal decoration on the walls with a sparkling chandelier was over their heads as the boys awkwardly sat down at the table.
"Wow!" Chopper called, looking at everything with wide eyes.
"I'll say this much," Sanji said, breathing out some smoke. "They pay be rotten people, but these guys don't spare any expense on décor."
As soon as the host left them, Luffy whined about wanting to come out, but Ace told them both to stay put until after they brought the food. A few minutes later, a waitress came in with the three bowls of Ramen.
"Don't they realize that something's wrong?" Sanji asked as he watched the girl put the bowls down in front of them. "I mean… even if he's hungry, three bowls of Ramen for just one person?"
"I'm guessing that even though these nobles are rich, they don't have too much common sense," Zoro commented with a smirk.
"They probably have others do all the thinking for them," Franky laughed. "They're too busy counting their money to do anything else."
"Here you are, sir, three orders of ramen," the waitress said politely, quickly backing away from them as if she was afraid she would be scolded for staying too long. "Sorry for the wait. Please, enjoy," and then she bowed her way out of the room.
That was when the other two poked their heads out from the cloak.
"So, this is ramen?!" Sabo exclaimed hungrily.
"It looks delicious!" Luffy cried, drooling.
Ace smiled as he threw off the hood. "Come on, eat it," he told them, and they had no problems doing what they were told. And soon they were eating it like they hadn't had food for days.
"Again, these guys need to work on their manners," Sanji said shaking his head in disgust.
Sabo was grinning, a satisfied look on his face. "You're right! It's delicious!"
Brook laughed, "Ah… it does look good… I wish I could have some."
"Too bad it's just a memory," Robin agreed, now starting to feel a little hungry herself.
"I'll be sure to make some when we get out of this place," Sanji promised and Brook, Chopper, Franky, and Usopp all cheered happily before doing a dance around him, chanting 'Ramen! Ramen!'
Soon enough, the boys finished the bowls and Luffy was shouting out, "I want mor…" but before he could finish, the other two clapped their hands over his mouth to keep him quiet before Sabo cleared his throat and called in that deep voice for three more bowls.
"There won't be anything left in the kitchen by the time they're done," Nami said, shaking her head.
"Well, growing boys need food," Robin pointed out.
"It's the restaurant's fault for not realizing what's going on anyway," Zoro said as the boys hid under the cloak again and the waitress came back with another helping. "One person ordering all that ramen? Like I said, they have no brains."
And they watched them eat more and more… they just kept bringing in the food, which was like adding fuel to the fire. The boys were clearly showing this place no mercy.
"How many bowls is it now?" Chopper asked in amazement as they inhaled bowl after bowl.
"I think 23 of them give or take," Usopp said, doing a quick count of the empty bowls. "Come on, you mean to tell me that the kitchen still hasn't they figured out that something's not right?"
The boys ducked back under the cloak, not even done with this next helping when the waitress came back in, gasping for breath, looking as if she had run up here from the kitchen. Not even bothering to hide his abilities, Luffy's arm shot out and took the tray from here. She stood there frozen for a second before she screamed and the door shut behind her.
"Well, if they don't notice something's wrong now, then they are all hopeless," Zoro said as the others laughed.
And that was true. Soon, the door opened, and there stood someone who could only be the owner, "Sir, can you please explain…" But his voice trailed off when he saw the boys there and he yelled out in shock.
"Crap! They found out!" Ace exclaimed with a startled look on his face as he swallowed the last of his food and grabbed his staff.
"Run!" Sabo yelled and then the three of them made a break for the nearest exit, which happened to be the window, and went crashing right through it.
"Wait! What floor are we on?" Nami screamed out.
"Doesn't matter," Sanji laughed as he and Zoro jumped after them.
"Let's go! Yohohoho!" Brook laughed, also taking a jump, and almost flying through the air as Franky picked up the girls—one in each hand—before he also followed, with Chopper and Usopp right behind him. Chopper had turned to his guard point form and had stopped his fall easily while Usopp landed on top of him and bounced down to the ground.
"The thieves are escaping!" the owner shouted from the window, "Someone get them!"
"What a rush!" Franky laughed as he went chasing after the boys. "What fun this is!"
"This explains why Luffy loves to dine and dash," Usopp said, also laughing as they caught up with the boys.
"It's them! Those brats again!" a voice yelled as they ran.
"Again with those three criminals?" an officer yelled. "Why did they let them into the restaurant? Don't run! Someone catch those brats!"
"I guess that this isn't the first time that they did something like this?" Robin asked, now laughing outright.
"Ah, these snobs deserve it," Zoro grinned.
But as they ran, they ended up passing by a finely dressed man with a thin mustache and a top hat, much like Sabo's but with feathers, a flower, and what appears to be a chain-like band on the hat. When the boys ran passed, he stopped dead as he spotted Sabo.
"Sabo?!" he cried in shock, "Is that you, Sabo?! WAIT! So you were alive!"
Sabo stopped dead and turned to stare back at the man with a panicked look on his face.
"They know each other?" Brook asked in surprise.
"Probably some guy he ripped off in the past," Usopp came up with.
"Come back home!" the man yelled.
"Come home?" Nami asked, her eyes widening a little. "What's he talking about? Doesn't Sabo live in the Gray Terminal? Why would he have any connections here?"
Zoro was now looking at this Sabo kid with new interest. Just who was this kid?
Luffy and Ace were probably wondering the same thing and Ace asked, looking back at the man in mild surprise, "Hey, Sabo, that man's calling you."
"Who is he?" Luffy asked, also stopping.
Sabo didn't answer that as he said hurriedly, "He must be mistaking me for someone else. Let's go!"
And without giving them a chance to ask any more questions, he went running off. Ace and Luffy exchanged a surprise look before going after him. "Hey, Sabo!" they both called after him just as the man shouted out for him to stop one more time.
"What's going on here?" Usopp asked, not understanding what just happened as the memory faded away into darkness. "Just who is that Sabo kid? What's his story?"
"If we knew that, don't you think we would've told you?" Sanji asked irritably. Just then, the next memory appeared, and they were standing on a grassy cliff that was outside the forest and had the perfect view of the ocean. The three boys were there, Sabo leaning up against a tree with the other two standing in front of him, apparently wanting some answers.
Luffy was patting his stomach happily as he said, "Since I ate all that delicious Ramen, I'm in a good mood! But a little sleepy…"
"Don't go to sleep now," Ace snapped at him before glancing at Sabo, his arms folded. "Before we do anything else, I think that you need to tell us just what it is you're hiding from us!"
Luffy, who was starting to drift off to sleep, was suddenly wide awake. "Eh? Sabo's hiding something?"
"What's wrong? I don't see what the problem is. I'm not hiding anything!" Sabo exclaimed even as he shifted nervously and couldn't seem to bring himself to look at either of them.
Luffy blinked up at him innocently. "Really?"
"Luffy, you really need to learn how to tell if someone's lying to you," Nami sighed. "He trusts people to easily…"
"That's why he has the rest of us here," Usopp said, punching his own chest proudly.
"And you know more about lying than any of us," Zoro said.
"HEY!" Usopp yelled, smacking his shoulder again.
"It's obvious that you're hiding something!" Ace yelled out angrily. "Spit it out, Sabo! Do you think its okay to keep secrets between us?"
Both boys were standing in front of him, and said together, "Spit it out, Sabo!"
Sabo's blinked and stepped back, still refusing to look at either of them as he said, "I already told you, I'm not hiding anything…"
"You think that he could come up with something more believable than that," Nami sighed. "I mean, it's obvious that he's hiding something."
Luffy and Ace both grabbed Sabo by his collar and shook him.
"Talk, damnit, or I'll make you talk!" Ace yelled and Sabo put his head back as he gasped for air.
"L-lemme go!" Sabo choked out as he shoved their hands away. "Alright! Alright! I'll tell you!"
Ace and Luffy backed off and Sabo leaned back against the tree behind him. He looked between his friends for a moment before turning his gaze to the ground.
That was when they all heard the truth…
"Ehhhhhhh?!" Luffy exclaimed in surprise, "A Noble's son?!"
"You took the words out of my mouth, Luffy," Nami said, her jaw wide open in shock. "He's the son of some rich nobles? Lucky!"
"Who?" Ace and Luffy asked in confusion.
"Me of course!" Sabo yelled.
"So he didn't steal the crest," Brook said as Franky, Usopp and Chopper were staring at Sabo in amazement. "It must really belong to him."
"But why would he be living in the garbage?" Nami asked, not understanding what was going on here at all.
"I think we'll find out," Zoro said. But he was personally thinking that if Sabo had to live with people like the ones they saw in town, then he had a feeling that Sabo chose to leave all that behind.
"But that makes no sense!" Usopp cried out, pointing at him, "Look at him! He looks like he's been living in that garbage for years!"
"Shut up and listen and we might find out," Sanji said, watching how Sabo flinched violently at the word 'noble' as if reminding him of a bad memory.
Ace and Luffy blinked and started picking their noses before saying in unison, "So?"
"You're the ones who were asking!" Sabo yelled, annoyed.
"They may not be related, but they sure act like it," Nami whispered to herself. Could anyone blame them for thinking that these two were really blood brothes?
Sabo sighed, sliding down the tree until he was sitting on the ground. "The truth is," he said softly, "My parents are still alive. I'm not an orphan of the Gray Terminal… and the man we saw today… he's my father."
Ace's eyes went wide but Luffy didn't seem to react at all.
Sabo glance up at them. "I'm sorry for lying to you…" he said sincerely.
Luffy crossed his arms and smiled a little at him. "Well you apologized, so I forgive you."
"Of course he would," Usopp said, smiling fondly, remembering that horrible moment when he left the crew and how he'd been welcomed back after he swallowed his pride and apologized.
"To be honest, I'm surprised," Ace said as he turned and walked a couple steps away from them, "Why would you do all of this if you're a Noble's son?"
"That's what I want to know," Nami said with a frown, puffing out her cheeks with a thoughtful expression. "Aren't his parents rich? Why would he rather live in a place like the Gray Terminal?"
"Remember the people we saw in town?" Robin asked her. "If I had to live with them, I probably would've left too."
"But they're his family aren't they?" Chopper asked softly.
"Let's be quiet and find out," Franky said, watching Sabo gritting his teeth together.
"I had to run away from home!" Sabo confessed loudly and the boys looked at him in surprise.
"I thought so…" Zoro said, feeling new sympathy for the kid.
Sabo sat there, with an angry look on his face as he came clean and told them, "They only care about money and social status… not me."
Nami blinked at that.
"If I don't marry a girl from the royal family," Sabo told them, his eyes narrowed in resentment, "I might as well be crap to them. I had to study everyday… just for that. I was always arguing with my parents because of my poor results in school. For that family, I was nothing more than a nuisance."
"They must be some pretty greedy jerks to do that to their own kid," Sanji said frowning, his hatred for these snobby nobles rising.
"To dictate a child's life…" Brook said softly. "That is terrible. They should've been encouraging him to live his life… not to make him live how they want just to make them look better."
"Good for him for leaving then," Usopp said, folding his arms.
Sabo sighed as he stopped shaking from anger and said, "Sorry if I offend you, but even though I had parents… I felt lonely!"
It was that last sentence that caused it to be too much for the more sensitive members of the crew, and they all started crying again.
"The poor guy!" Franky cried a river of tears as the others had tears in their eyes.
"Would you stop crying every few minutes?!" Nami yelled as Zoro, Sanji, and Robin watched the scene sadly.
"The people of Gray Terminal aren't like the Nobles," Sabo said, crossing his arms, "But for me, it was better than to live for decades in that place, with the Nobles."
"It's strange how that is," Robin said frowning. "How it's those with money and power who care more about keeping it all."
"Well, you can't miss something you don't have," Sanji commented.
Robin gave Nami a sideways glance before finishing, "Even with all that money, he wasn't happy. He chose his freedom instead… he could go back at any time, but he rather remain where people truly care about him as a person… not as a tool."
"They must've been bad if Sabo rather live in the junk yard than with his parents," Nami said, thinking of Bell-mère… they may not have had a lot of money, but she knew without the shadow of a doubt that her mother loved both her and Nojiko.
She blinked for a moment before holding her hands folded over her chest, her heart aching as she thought of her mother and sister… suddenly missing them more than ever. If she had to choose… she would rather have grown up poor again if she could be with them. Suddenly, she was starting to see why Sabo must've left.
Ace looked at Sabo with new understanding as he muttered, "Now, I understand."
But just like magic, the gloomy look on Sabo's face disappeared and he jumped up to his feet with an excited grin on his face. "ACE! LUFFY!" he said smiling, taking them all by surprise. "We definitely have to set sail and leave this place someday! I wanna leave and see the world! Everything that it has to offer! And then write a book about my adventures! I don't mind having to study navigation. I'll get stronger and I'll become a pirate!" he called out at last, punching the air with his fists.
"What a nice dream," Robin said with a big smile as the others laughed good-naturedly.
"I think I like this kid," Zoro said as Ace and Luffy grinned with Sabo. He remembered making a similar vow to himself after he first lost to Kuina. He decided that if he wanted to become strong… he would dedicate his life to swordsmanship… and work until the day came that he would become the greatest.
Ace laughed. "I know," he told them as he walked out to the edge of the cliff. He gazed up at the bright blue sky and said determinedly, "You don't need to tell me. I'll be a pirate and I'll fight and fight and fight until I become the most famous! That will be proof that I lived!"
He held the staff up and declared, "I don't care if the world doesn't accept me, no matter how much they hate me, I'll become a great pirate and stand above everyone else! I won't run from anyone, or lose to anyone! I'll make sure the world knows my name!"
"Well, his name certainly went down in history," Robin stated softly and they all glanced at each other nervously, knowing full well that Ace's name will always be remembered… though not in the way that Ace had planned here.
"But what did he mean by 'if the world doesn't accept him'?" Chopper asked slowly.
"It's hard to explain," Robin said, her eyes overshadowed by her bangs, and suddenly very tense.
"Robin-chan?" Sanji asked her, noticing her on edge frame, "What are you…?"
"It's nothing," Robin said firmly, forcing another smile on her face. "It's not important now.
Thankfully, Luffy was giggling. "I see… Right!" he said, running forward to stand by Ace. He raised his fists in the air, took a deep breath and shouted out confidently, "I'M GOING TO BE KING OF THE PIRATES!"
The Straw Hats had heard this line countless times before, but at the same time they couldn't stop the smiles coming to their faces. They each remembered the first time they heard that dream from their captain's mouth, and felt their resolve to fulfill their own dreams increase. Ace and Sabo both stared at him as Luffy burst out laughing… the Straw Hat crew all soon followed suit, unable to stop themselves.
"You're talking nonsense again," Ace sighed, scratching his head in annoyance as Sabo burst out laughing too.
"You're so funny, Luffy!" he cried out. "I can't wait to see what happens in the future with you!"
"The idiot has that effect on everyone," Zoro stated, looking forward to seeing how their dreams came to an end. For the Straw Hat Pirates… they all will continue to pursue their dreams for eternity if they have to… as long as they exist in this world, they will continue to chase.
Sabo suddenly stopped laughing and asked, "Wait, it's okay that we all want to be pirates… but is it okay that we all want to be captain?"
"That would be a problem," Nami smiled.
Ace blinked in surprise as Luffy looked over at him. ""I didn't think about that," Ace stated slowly, "Sabo, I had planned that you'd be my navigator."
Luffy grinned and put his hands on his hips. "You'll be on my ship!" he cried out predictably.
Sabo and Ace turned to Luffy. "I refuse!" they both cried out.
"Well, I often wonder why I joined him," Sanji stated with a shrug. Maybe Ace and Sabo had the right idea…?
"Luffy-san is so much fun, yohohoho," Brook laughed, strumming his guitar again.
"Ehhh?!" Luffy exclaimed, looking disappointed, "Come on, do it! Join my crew! I'll be fun!"
"Now that brings me back," they all said, thinking when Luffy said that to them all. They each had refused at one point or another but Luffy never gave up. They all learned the hard way that Luffy has a bad habit of getting to you in the end. Luffy may be idiot, he may be reckless and high maintenance—often causing them to question their own sanity for joined him in the first place—but still… at the end of the day, they just can't bring themselves to regret joining.
"That will never happen!" Ace said at once.
"Yep, I agree," Sabo nodded and grinned at the outraged look on Luffy's face.
"Yeah, I wonder if I should've said that," Sanji said.
"Be nice," Robin smiled.
"Yeah I guess," Sanji sighed, puffing on his cigarette for a moment before his eyes turned back into hearts and crying out dramatically, "If I hadn't joined, then I never would've been able to sail with you two gorgeous ladies! Oh, my heart aches at the thought of never seeing you two again! That was the most painful thing during our two year separation! But now that we are all reunited, I feel as if those painful memories of hell disappear to the corners of my mind!"
"What mind?" Zoro asked.
Just then, Sanji's eyes turned to anger as he growled softly, "Say that again, Moss Head!"
"I said, what mind?" he repeated.
"I'll kill you!" Sanji yelled, kicking out, which Zoro dodged, going for his swords—before Nami hit them both on the head.
"Would you two knock it off for once?" she yelled at them.
"Sanji-san, just what do you mean by 'hell'?" Brook asked interestedly.
As Zoro gave Nami a death glare, Sanji was on his knees, growling to himself, "I don't even want to think about it, it's the thing of nightmares!"
"But what d'you…?" Chopper began but Luffy had interrupted their conversation.
"What?!" Luffy paused and then tried looked away saying, "Hmph, like I care!"
"What's was that?" Ace asked, his eyebrows raised.
"He's not so good at hiding his emotions," Nami sighed, a little surprise that Luffy let it go so easily. Normally, he went on and on until you just couldn't take him anymore and said yes just to get him to shut up.
Now it was Sabo who was laughing. "You're definitely a funny guy, Luffy!"
The last thing they saw before the image faded were all three boys laughing their heads off as they gazed longingly out at the sea. But when the next memory came back, they were in the forest again; though if they had to guess, it wasn't far off from where they were… they could still hear the ocean waves. Luffy and Sabo were both waiting around a tree stump, and watched as Ace come towards them, carrying a bottle of sake.
"What're they doing now?" Usopp wondered as Sabo put down three red sake glasses, using the stump as a table.
"Looks like they're gonna have a drink," Zoro sighed, suddenly wishing he could have some of what was in that bottle.
"Hard to say what's gonna happen later on," Ace said, walking up to them, dropping the bottle next to the glasses. "But I think it's best that we decide future things in the future. Maybe we'll end up on three different ships."
"I'm guessing that's what happened," Usopp said, remembering how Luffy once said that Ace had set sail to become a pirate a few years before he did.
"Did you steal Dadan's liquor?" Luffy asked him as Ace grinned and opened it with a popping sound.
"Did you know? When men drink together, they become brothers," he said, pouring a generous amount of the drink into each cup.
"They do say that," Sanji said, thinking of when Chief Zeff once mentioned it in passing.
"Brothers? Really?" Luffy asked, a wide, beaming grin on his face, Sabo grinning just as widely next to him.
"We might not be pirates on the same ship, but we'll be united by our bond of brotherhood," Ace said, now smiling so widely that—for that moment—he looked like the man they met in Alabasta. "So this way, no matter what we do or where we are, no one will ever break that bond!" he exclaimed, picking up a cup.
The other two copied him, each taking their own glasses.
"From now on," Ace proclaimed firmly, holding his glass up, "We're brothers!"
The trio clinked their glasses together, Luffy and Sabo affirming Ace's words—and as the sun shone down on the cups, the drink in them seemed to sparkle as they tilted their heads back and drank.
It was too much for them. Franky, Brook, Usopp and Chopper all broke down crying at that.
"That was the most heart-warming thing I've ever seen!" Franky cried out so loudly that the rest of them had to cover their ears. "I love these little guys!" he bawled, twisting a tissue in his giant hands.
"You don't see that kind of bond just anywhere!" Usopp cried out dramatically, "I can't believe we were able to witness such a thing!"
"I wish I had brothers like that!" Chopper bawled out with Franky.
"So touching!" Brook cried out, tears falling from his empty sockets. "I feel as if my heart is being torn in two… though I have no heart of course!"
"We get it!" Nami yelled, her hands over hear ears, as they cried. "I think we all agree that it was special, but you don't need to carry on like this!"
"So Luffy had two brothers… not just one," Robin said softly watching the three boys all laughing together again. "Ace and Sabo…"
"You think that Sabo's out there on the seas somewhere and we might meet him like we did with Ace?" Chopper asked happily. "I'd liked to meet him!"
"Complete approval!" Franky cried out as he blew his nose loudly, and the darkness came back so that the memory faded away. "I'd love to meet this guy…!"
"That seems like a pretty good guess if you ask me," Usopp said, drying his eyes and beaming at Chopper. "Maybe that's why Luffy never told us about them… to make it a surprise when we do meet them."
"Really?!" Chopper called out in excitement. "Oh, I can't wait!"
As they all talked happily with each other about meeting Sabo, they failed to notice that some of the more serious members of the crew weren't sharing their enthusiasm. While they did want to meet this second brother of Luffy's… they couldn't help but feel as if they were missing something important here.
After all, some of them had met Ace and seen the brothers together… yet neither one of them ever mentioned another brother… why was that?
(So now they learned the truth about Sabo—but already they sense that something's wrong. This is the longest chapter yet, and I hope that you all enjoyed it. Next chapter they're going to go a little deeper into the idea of what 'family' is.)