Thank you for all your lovely reviews! I'm flattered by the attention this story received in its first chapter. Now, on to the second chapter that you have been waiting for! Hope you like it as much as the previous one!
Roger led the way through the forest, his four small companions trailing after him. Glancing behind him, he saw that Ace and Sabo were lagging behind a little, sharing a whispered conversation. Deciding to let them be, Roger shifted his attention to the youngest boy. And a topic closely related to his hat.
"So, Luffy, how did you meet Shanks?"
"He came to Dawn Island!" Luffy chirped. The boy looked thoughtful. "It's been a year since he left, I suppose."
"It's hard to keep count in the jungle, shishishishi."
Roger and Shanks sweatdropped. Just what kind of life had this kid been living? But then again, considering Garp and his crazy ways, it wasn't all too surprising.
Luffy continued, completely oblivious their reactions. "Shanks and his crew stayed for about a year, setting sail every now and then. They always brought back really cool stuff! Like the weird fruit that lets me do this." To punctuate his point, Luffy pulled his cheek out to a clearly impossible degree before letting it snap back. "It tasted really bad." Luffy made a face at the very thought. "But Shanks never let me sail with him! Meanie." The last line was accompanied by a pointed look at the red-haired apprentice. Shanks just looked startled while Roger burst out laughing.
"A Devil Fruit, huh? That's pretty neat. But I'm surprised he let you have it."
"I ate it when he wasn't looking." When Shanks looked at him askance, the boy said defensively, "I was hungry!"
Roger just laughed harder. "How careless of him," he finally said when he had recovered slightly. "And when did he give you the hat? Don't tell me you took it behind his back too."
"Of course not!" Luffy was indignant. "I would never do that. He gave it to me before he left the island." For a brief moment, Luffy's mouth turned down a little, as if recalling a not-so-pleasant memory. But the moment passed almost as if it hadn't happened, for the boy's irrepressible grin returned in full force.
"You see, a bunch of mean bandits were messing up Makino's bar and they insulted Shanks. So I yelled at them but they got kinda angry and wanted to hit me. But then Shanks and his crew came and beat them all up! But the meanie leader picked me up and ran away, and was going to escape on a boat with me on it too! And then there was this huuuuuge fish," Luffy waved his arms about to emphasize on the creature's size, "which was really, really huge and kinda scary (though I wasn't scared, because I'm going to be the best pirate!). It ate the boat and the bandit leader and after that I thought that it was going to eat me! But Shanks saved me! He was reaaaally cool, he just chased it off by frowning at it!"
That was quite the story. Roger felt that there was probably more to the story, but didn't question. His mind focused on a different matter. Something just didn't add up, and Roger was rather unhappy to not know what they were missing. It was strange that the child seemed completely convinced of the events that he had just told, yet it was a scene that couldn't possibly have happened. The only plausible conclusion was that the boy was making things up but Roger would say without a doubt that the boy wasn't the type to lie. What a muddle!
Shanks was not plagued by the confusion that swamped Roger's mind. His excited exclamation snapped Roger out of his thoughts. "It must have been Haoshoku Haki! Awesome!" the boy's eyes were shining. He wanted to be able to do that too! Roger smiled fondly at his apprentice's enthusiasm.
"What's that? Can it be eaten?" Luffy asked, tilting his head to one side.
"Not everything is food!"
"Oh." Luffy pouted, disappointed. He then turned to Roger. "How far is your ship? I'm hungry."
Roger stared round at the unending forest. Not that he was reminded of it, they had been walking for an awfully long time, especially since he hadn't really gone very far from the ship. And the cover wasn't getting any thinner, as it tended to do at the edge of a forest. "Weird... Shouldn't we have reached the shore by now?"
Ace looked up from his discussion with Sabo to snort rudely. "So you're lost."
"I'm not lost!" Still, Roger stared around at the forest, perplexed.
"Oi!" Roger decided to just continue in the same direction that they had been walking in. Surely they would reach the shore if they kept on walking in a straight line. It wasn't that big an island after all.
The forest just went on and on. And on.
"Just admit that you're lost." Ace said flatly. The boy seemed to take great satisfaction from jabbing at him.
"Am not!" was Roger's indignant reply. It was, however, more of a reflexive retort that anything else. Roger was honestly starting to get slightly worried and a snap of a twig nearby, loud in the eerie silence, made him jump. He spun around, only to meet the irritated grey eyes of his first mate.
"Roger! What trouble have you gotten yourself in this time!?"
"Rayleigh!" Roger was visibly relieved, his face splitting with his grin. "Thank goodness you're here!"
Rayleigh gave a long suffering sigh. "Okay, what mess do you need my help with this time?"
Roger wordlessly pointed behind him at the three children who were staring curiously at the newcomer.
Rayleigh's gaze moved from the young boy who was wearing Roger's straw hat to the blond boy with the blue top hat to the last black-haired one who looked like…
"Roger, why didn't you ever tell me that you had a kid?" Rayleigh noticed how the boy's shoulders stiffened, proving his guess right.
"Huh?" Roger was completely baffled. "But I don't. I ran into these boys just a short while ago."
Rayleigh was sceptical. Surely there couldn't be such coincidence in the world. "You don't? That one looks just like you. He even has Rouge's freckles," Rayleigh said, gesturing towards Ace.
Roger turned quickly to look for himself, gaping. It was true. Why hadn't he noticed before? Or more importantly, why hadn't Rouge told him about a child? And why was the boy here and not with his mother? The questions were piling up.
Ace glared back at him, uncomfortable with the close scrutiny. The boy crossed his arms in front of his chest, a defensive posture. "I'm not your son," he snapped. Roger breathed a sigh of relief, and almost missed the whispered, "Not yet, anyway."
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.
Ace didn't seem to want to continue, so Sabo stepped in. "Ace and I were talking just now, and we came to the conclusion that the three of us," he indicated his sworn brothers, "have travelled back in time, or you all have travelled forward in time. A bit more than ten years is the estimate."
"Time travel? Is that even possible?"
"Why do you say so?" Rayleigh asked, looking grim. He had been considering that idea for a while, but didn't have evidence to back it. It appeared that the boys did.
Sabo glanced at Ace a little nervously. "Well… For one, in our time, Gol D Roger has been dead for about ten years."
Roger didn't look surprised at the information, though his two companions looked pained.
"And if we make the assumption that Shanks here is the same Shanks who gave Luffy his hat – which seems very likely, considering – the age difference would be close to ten years as well. Because Shanks was apparently in his late twenties when he met Luffy. This Shanks here looks like he's around our age…"
"My point proven."
Roger and Rayleigh traded a look. Time travel. This was an even greater mess that he had initially thought. But there was hardly anything that they could do at this moment. So Roger turned his mind to another matter.
"So your mother is Rouge?" Roger directed this next question at Ace. His son. It was a wondrous thought, even faced with the prospect of dying within the next few years.
"Could she be anyone else?"
Roger smiled. "Of course not. I love her too much to betray her. I'm glad you got her freckles. I always thought that they were lovely."
Ace looked like he had no idea how to respond to that, and finally settled on a scowl.
Roger was not at all fazed by the boy's less-than-friendly attitude. "You live with your mother?"
He faltered. "...No?"
Roger froze, his face going pale. His upcoming death he had more-or-less expected, considering his illness, but he hadn't even thought about something like this happening. Rouge - his beautiful, smiling, rosy-cheeked Rouge. "What?" he croaked, his mouth suddenly dry as a desert.
"She's dead." Ace repeated, even though he knew that Roger had heard perfectly fine. "She died giving birth to me, while hiding from the Marines that wanted to kill both of us! All because I am your son!" His glare was hateful. "You're the reason Mum's dead!"
The accusation hung heavily in the air, smothering all those present into silence. Biting his lip to push down the traitorous tears that sprang to his eyes, Ace turned sharply and stalked away.
Roger caught his arm. "Ace..."
"Don't touch me!" Ace yelled out, shaking it off forcefully.
"Hey you!" His gaze fell on Shanks, who had stepped in his path. "Don't speak to Captain that way."
"It's none of your business what I do."
"Hey!" Like his captain before, Shanks also reached out a hand to hold the younger boy back. This time, Ace didn't remove the intruding hand immediately, instead choosing to turn and glare venomously at the red-haired boy.
Shanks, surprised at the level of animosity in his boy's gaze, frowned back at him.
Ace's eyes narrowed before he swiftly ground his foot over the older boy's.
"Oi, what's your problem!?" Shanks yelled out in irritation, letting go of Ace's arm to clutch at his abused foot.
The action, however, had achieved the boy's purpose. Ignoring the redhead's outburst, Ace broke out in a run, disappearing amongst the trees, deaf to the voices calling him back.
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