"He'll be okay, Brooke," Chopper told him gently, resting a paw on his knee. "He just needs to sleep for awhile."
"Of course," the musician replied with a light-heartedness that didn't sound close to real. "Would- would it be alright if I sat with him?"
The doctor smiled widely. "Yeah, sure! I don't have to worry about you getting sick, and Luffy would love the company."
When the door had closed behind him, Brooke took a seat in the chair beside the infirmary bed, clasping his skeletal hands in his lap. The boy in the bed was wheezing every other breath, face pale and pained.
He had been taken by Marines three days ago. Tossed off the Sunny and into the ocean during a battle on the deck, with no one the wiser until Zoro roared in an anger so fierce it shook Brooke to his bones and the whole crew whipped around at the Marine captain's vicious laughter, and saw him back on the deck of the battleship, holding Luffy by the scruff like a ragdoll, pressing a gun to his head; Luffy, locked in kairoseki manacles and lolling limply in the man's grasp, had been taken hostage right from under their noses in a matter of minutes.
"What a crew you are," the man had sneered from across the waves, "to lose your captain so easily!"
It had been a declaration of war, and the Strawhats had come together with a plan of immediate retaliation, all of them so angry their movements were brittle and stilted, as if they might break from the wrath in their hearts.
They'd had to wait until the ship had gone before they could follow, and found the military base with ease. They stationed the Sunny at the neighboring island and split up, half of them boarding the next ferry with a Den Den Mushi, the other half remaining with the ship and waiting for the signal.
In the end, Zoro, Sanji, Usopp and Robin went out as the vanguard; Chopper had clamored to go, he was the doctor and Luffy could be hurt, but Nami shushed him. They needed not to stand out, which was also why Franky and Brooke had not been on the list of contenders, and Brooke could understand this even as it made him ache. The rescue had to be done in atypical Strawhat fashion, swiftly and silently. So they waited, an agonizing six hours, and finally got the call from Usopp.
And by the time they reached the harbor, sirens were wailing. Nami went out on the Mini-Merry to meet their nakama at the end of the pier, and in a few short minutes, through a hail of cannonfire and rifle rounds blowing harmlessly into the water, they were back safe and sound, and Franky fired up the Coup d'Burst, and they were sailing away.
Luffy was small for his age, standing about as tall as Brooke's hip; lanky and long-limbed, but still small. And although Brooke towered over anyone anyway, and perhaps wasn't a fair comparison, he couldn't help but think it, looking at his captain now.
Zoro was the one who carried him updeck, and Luffy, limp and cradled as he was, looked absolutely too young to be the brilliant, shining pirate captain Brooke knew him to be. There were angry red welts around his wrists, ankles and his neck, and at a brief glance Brooke could see the tiny pricks from a needle and the residue of medical tape on his arm.
"Where's his hat?" Nami demanded, voice shrill, and Usopp pulled the battered, precious thing out from where he'd tucked it into his shirt.
"It's safe. He's safe."
Zoro handed Luffy over to Chopper, who transformed from Brain Point into that hulking reindeer-man and took their captain carefully, rushing him to the infirmary without another word.
And that's where Brooke sat with him now, anguished and at a loss. Chopper couldn't find anything wrong with him, other than hunger and fatigue, and came to the conclusion that they'd probably just been keeping him sedated. Which was a comfort, considering all the horrors Luffy could have undergone in the military's custody, but it had left him weak, and Chopper was keeping a close eye on his fever.
And, even more so than the vulnerability of the young man, lying prone and small under the sterile white sheets, it was the fever that was really bothering Brooke.
It was silly, and Brooke knew it was, but he couldn't keep images of Yorki from overlapping the boy in front of him. Yorki, sick and dying and saying goodbye under the guise of "maybe we'll meet again," and it was causing a panic in whatever Brooke had in place of a beating heart.
He couldn't bear the thought of Luffy, the man that saved him from the dark and let his music be an accompaniment again, being lost to him in the same way the dearly loved captain of his former life had been.
He couldn't bear it.
"Ah, Luffy," he said suddenly, "shall I run and get my violin? I'm sure you would like to hear a song, is that right? I'm your musician after all, and that's my job. To raise your spirits and make you smile." He said it and laughed, but the laughter ebbed quickly. "It's usually such an easy job, you're so quick to smile." He couldn't find the will to leave his chair, leave his vigil at Luffy's bedside, even for just the moment it would take to track down an instrument.
So he tapped his bony fingers against his bony knees, hummed anxiously under his breath, blurted out, "I'm sorry we let this happen to you, captain. I'm sorry we failed you so thoroughly. You're not awake right now and you can't stop me, so I'll take this time to say I'm so sorry."
Luffy shifted in his sleep, and panted once, face contorting in pain for a few minutes before his brow smoothed out again.
A weighted silence reigned for all of three minutes, and when Luffy shifted in discomfort once more, Brooke started to sing.
"Now comes a storm through the far-off sky; now the waves are dancing, beat upon the drums; if you lose your nerve this breath could be your last; but if you just hold on, the morning sun will rise. Yohohoho, yohohoho..."
And he imagined that Luffy could hear him, and take heart.
Brooke was just the musician, and the newest member of the crew. The only thing he could do was remain at Luffy's side, and sing to him the song of pirates; a song of bravery and farewell and hope, long after hope was lost.
For Luffy, who had given him a home and a family and the sun itself, Brooke wished he could do more.
It was two days before Luffy woke up; another before Chopper would let him out of bed. But just hearing Luffy's whine of "But I'm hungry," drift out of Chopper's office on the first day he was awake bolstered crew's spirits exponentially, and they took a moment to smile at each other in a moment of camaraderie and love, as they focused the way they always would on what was saved rather than what might have been lost; and if Brooke had been alive in the flesh, his chest would have swelled.
Oh, how blessed he was, to have been given a life after death, to have been given a chance to meet them!
He strode the length of the grassy deck and swept his violin up with practiced ease.
And he played their song, in major and in minor, as a ballad and a dilly, rejoicing fully in the only way he knew how, until the moon replaced the sun in the sky.
"Going to deliver Binks' Sake! Let's all sing it with a Don, a song of the waves. Doesn't matter who you are, someday you'll just be bones; never-ending, ever-wandering, our funny traveling tale!"
The day Luffy wandered outside, the sun was shining brightly and everyone was awake to greet him.
"Na, quit letting me sleep in," he scolded them. "I'm the captain, I should be awake too!"
Sanji ushered him to the kitchen for a late breakfast, and Nami spread a map open on the table beside him, asking him where they ought to go. He smiled with glee and picked out an island at random for it's funny shape, and she ruffled his hair affectionately.
Zoro remained a shadow at Luffy's side for most of the day, and as lost as Brooke had been without Luffy's energy and cheer, Zoro must have taken the same blow to heart just as hard. Luffy didn't mind, and by late afternoon the youngest three of the crew had tired themselves out, napping in a blissful heap under the resident swordsman's watchful eye.
Brooke sat at the mast and hummed under his breath, tipping his hat when Sanji excused himself to start on dinner.
"You sang to me."
He was startled out of his thoughts and his song some time later, and glanced down into wide eyes and a wide smile. "Ah- "
"I heard you. I don't remember most of the stuff that happened, but I remember music." Luffy's smile was warmer than any sunlight. "When I woke up I already knew everything was okay without anybody saying anything. My musician is amazing, he made me feel better while I was asleep! I bet you made everyone else feel better, too."
I had wanted to do more. Was that really enough all along?
"So, thank you, Brooke!"
"Of course, captain! It's my duty to lift your spirits, after all! Shall I play it again?"
If a song from me is all you ask, you'll have it. On my life, the music is yours.
Our funny, traveling tale.