a/n: I give a heartfelt thanks to everybody who reviewed and this piece is the result of everybody's wonderful encouragement. I will hopefully be able to give individual replies during the weekend.
The theme for this was "gritty determination." Its angst and fluff and the SHs being badasses, and set during the two year separation. (am I the only one who didn't know that diable jambe meant devil's leg?)
The title is from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto XXXII from which I previously quoted "the heart will break, yet brokenly live on.' No infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Canto XXXII is truly beautiful though, go take a look.
Kudos to those who find the connection!
Between being shunted by the village children and then hunted by the world, Robin was never naïve enough to trust her surroundings for a good night sleep. The habit persisted even after she joined the Straw Hats. Danger lurked behind every wave in the sea and Robin would wake at the slightest sound or movement.
The first afternoon Robin drifted to sleep on the deck, trusting the safety her crew mates offered, was the day she realized things changed. And her fingers were brushing against the blanket tucked around her in silent wonder, when Luffy dived under her seat.
"Hide me Robin, hide me!"
Robin obliged, pulling the blanket down to her lap and letting its edges drape over the chair. A smile was enough to send the irate cook back his way, and only after the stomping resided, Luffy crawled out. Watching Luffy giggle breathlessly in thanks, the wonder in the tip of Robin's fingers settled into words: I will never leave any of you behind.
In the end she left like she always did. It just wasn't for the same reasons she thought it would be; Robin condemned herself to her own death and gave up the world, literally the world, for them. Yet they followed her until they found her and handed the metaphorical one back.
Say that you want to live, Luffy ordered and remembering the hope and courage Saul had passed on, Robin answered with four words.
Now, those four words are not enough. She doesn't just want to live; she wants to live together. Never before has another person meant more to Robin the way every single crew member means to her and a dark, cynical voice warns her that if she loses this, fails to protect them, nobody will ever be able to mean anything again.
Robin, standing on the Revolutionaries' deck, doesn't doubt this. Her battles have always been in terms of victory or death so this sort of loss is new. And though she has yet to know death, Robin, so terribly alone, thinks that it would hurt less.
It is why she must master her devil fruit to levels Robin would not have been able to imagine in the past. Robin crosses her arms and remembers herself the way she remembers best, with her crew mates.
Robin takes a deep breath and opens her eyes.
The reflexive surprise of seeing her doppelgänger in flesh and blood before her, however minute it may be, makes her flinch. Her hana hana clone instantly collapses into a flurry of petals. It is an instinctive recoil against the unimaginable, unnatural sight of Robin herself standing before her. While perfectly understandable, it does not make such incompetency acceptable. Robin must perfect the technique and that means to succeed in mastering her emotions to create and control her clone.
All of it is for her crew mates she wants to sail the seas with. For her captain who will lead them till the very end.
The pain is burning him.
It is a particular sort of agony that one Cutty Flam would have been far too familiar with, what Chopper-bro would call phantom pain. Steel has replaced muscle but the mind has yet to understand. And the mind's struggle to reconnect with what doesn't exist anymore numbs Franky, sparking a pain that has to be fire. The pain is too searing cold and chillingly hot to be anything else. Robbing him of thought, of time, of color, it traps Franky and smothers him with a hyperawareness. Every single fiber in his body, half of them which are no longer in his body scream at him.
Though in the silence of solitude and wordless pain, Franky screws his eyes shut. He refuses to cry.
He is Straw Hat Luffy's shipwright. Luffy will need his shipwright to make sure Sunny is always in best shape so she can take them wherever her captain wants to go. Franky needs his hands for that which makes the surgery he did on his own left hand completely worth it. The pain is excruciating but collateral. The fear of even more pain if he tries moving his hand is reasonable but unimportant. What is important is if his hand can move, if he fixed his hand properly and so Franky needs to suck it up.
Without giving himself a chance to change his mind, Franky flexes his hand open, testing its movements. The digits move smoothly like it were an organic hand instead of brand new metal and steel and the tight knot in his chest unclenches itself. His hands, Franky's greatest weapons, are going to be fine. Once the phantom pain eases, Franky can work on his right hand and after that, he will build himself back up as a new Franky.
The new Franky will be super cool because Franky would never settle for anything less and he can't wait to see his friends' faces when they meet again. The new Franky will also be super strong because Luffy will become Pirate King. Franky needs to be ready for when the rest of the world finally sees it too.
He failed again.
What Chopper intended was "Horn Point," a new form to expand his combat range to underground. In theory, it will be useful for surprise attacks and taking cover. In practice, it can only be useful if Chopper can shift without the aid of Rumble balls and right now he can't shift even with them.
Chopper was supposed to retain the bulk and strength of Arm Point while bringing in his body shape and hands of Jumping Point.
This, however... Chopper closes his human hands into fists. He succeeded in the latter but not the former and the result is that he cannot lift his head and horns. No other option for him remains but to wait out the rumble ball effect and stay trapped by his own body for three minutes.
"I have to be stronger," Chopper whispers because he is too weak. He was too weak and it drove Luffy into a corner with an order to run. He was so weak that he couldn't even properly follow that order and only lived due to the whims of a mysterious enemy with paw hands.
Not even when he was being chased by enemies in Skypia or when he was taken by the Foxy Pirates can measure up to the fear he opened his eyes to find himself on this island and realize that he was alive-but alone. .
Three minutes is up and his horns shrink back to his original size; Chopper can move again. Five hours and fifty seven minutes before he can take another Rumble ball and not a second can be wasted. Chopper pushes himself up, ignoring the groaning from his abused muscles.
Being a kind doctor is not the same as being a good one. Trying hard is never the same as doing it right.
This much pain is nothing if it'll get Chopper to do his research right. With it, Chopper is going to be stronger. It is the only option he has and the only choice he'd take anyways.
Clima Tact is a good weapon, but like all weapons, it is only as good as it's wielder can be. The Straw Hat crew's resident swordsmen can both make the bluntest knife slice through stone and Usopp once demonstrated that he could pluck a tangerine off of its branch from the other side of the deck with nothing more but a rubber band. Their mastery over their weapons is stunning; once a blade gets into Zoro's hands or a sling into Usopp's, they fail to become 'just' another blade or sling and transform into lethal extensions of the wielder instead.
Clima Tact is a good weapon but for it to be a great one, Nami must be stronger.
Nami collapses on her sofa, flinging an arm across her eyes as she tries to catch her breath. The people on this island are intellectual and kind and they try to dissuade her from her daily workouts that become longer and harsher each passing day. She sees their point for she also knows that her greatest asset is her knowledge and intelligence. Nami is the crew's one and only navigator and it is her responsibility to steer their ship through whatever route their captain orders. This means she must be the best because her captain is Luffy and he will choose the hardest, most dangerous routes and call them adventures.
Yet Nami needs to be physically stronger because she wants to protect her friends in battle. For all their respective strength, Luffy is honest, Zoro honorable and Sanji chivalrous. Their enemies will not always be as straightforward and Nami must do whatever her friends are too dumb, stupid or idiotic to do; if their enemies lie, Nami will lie better. If their enemies cheat, Nami will cheat more. However, if Nami is to succeed, she must be swifter and stronger and always ready.
An alarm goes off; the bathroom water is warmed. Walking towards the tub, Nami leaves a trail of clothing behind.
The water will be good for her sore muscles and Nami knows the benefits of a good rest. All of Nami's actions are dictated by necessity and efficiency rather than indulgence. Even her short rest tonight is not for herself; it is for tomorrow in which she will run faster, train harder and be one day closer to meeting her friends.
In times of dire emergency, time spent thinking is more efficiently used as time spent reacting and the body is able to make the decision to react when the mind has yet to understand. It is basic survival instincts innate in every living being but the trigger, the 'emergency,' can differ. To Sanji, sudden movement from an enemy is enough set off his reflexes. Red puckered okama lips in front of his face, on the other hand, apparently fall so far into the spectrum that it ends up on the other side.
"Damnit," Sanji fumbles with the buttons of his shirt a pink haired okama came very close to ripping off him while he was frozen with shock. The memory of the okama and his(her? damnit) fingers all over him has Sanji chain smoking in the safety of the empty room he hid in. "That Kuma bastard."
Out of all the places the bastard could have sent him, it had to have been this hellhole. He hears the distant shout of an okama-no doubt looking for him-and shudders; have all of them been sent to their personal nightmares? Not for the first time that day, Sanji's thoughts drift back to his friends.
And though Sanji would rather bite his own tongue than admit it, he worries about Luffy. Nami-san and Robin-chan are as intelligent as they are beautiful and more than capable of figuring something out. The same cannot be said for his captain. In fact, Sanji dares to think, even moss head has more sense than Luffy (assuming he could find sense-Sanji snorts and lists Zoro as a goner). Luffy is an idiot when it comes to food; he crunches on crabs whole if they are placed close enough. He turns every utensil into a spoon by using them like a shovel. He has little thought of finesse and no capacity for patience and-
The brush of wind is what tips Sanji off; his desperate lunge to the side saves him from the gripes of the okama who sneaked up from behind him. Sanji curses his moment of sentiment. It is weakness in a place like this, where he must always be on his guard with no one to watch his back.
"Hel-lo sweetie pie," The okama winks at him and Sanji suddenly remembers the meat pie in Sunny's fridge that was supposed to be Luffy's desert but they never got to eat. He thinks of Luffy who has little thought of finesse and no capacity for patience and is somewhere out there in the sea, alone.
He dodges the okama's second lunge and raises a leg to spin in tight circles, faster and faster and faster still, until he is just a blur of black and yellow and then he flips backwards. Landing on his hands and with a twist and a snarl of "Diable Jambe!" he lashes out.
The connecting blow is immensely satisfying and when the dust clears from the now broken wall, the okama's mouth is frozen in a small 'o' of surprise at the burning fire on Sanji's leg.
They were the ones to ridicule his resolve by making the Attack Cuisine recipes a prize as if this were a game. Sanji is sick of running and they will learn that he will make a deal with the devil himself if it means to win.
His only warning is the strange hiss of wind. It is like the kind he used to hear seconds after Zoro leaped towards whatever stupid enough to block their way, moments before Brook would sheathe his sword back into his cane. It is the sound of a blade whistling through air with the attempt to maim.
Usopp ducks, or rather his legs give out beneath him and he doesn't fight the fall. His actions are for the better because the several locks of curly hair that flutter to the ground aren't figments of his imagination. The beetle has scythes for front legs and the blow Usopp just avoided would have taken his head off.
"I-I-I'm not afraid of you!" Usopp yells while scrambling furiously backwards. "Not anymore!"
Sometimes, when monsters take him by surprise, Usopp shouts out for his crew mates. The answering silence is bitter and crushing but he swallows the catch in his throat. However much these reminders pain him, Usopp tells himself, they must hurt Luffy more.
So even if he couldn't do anything to save Ace, Usopp can be stronger to help Luffy.
"Hissatsu Midori Boshi," Usopp releases his sling. "Trampolia!"
The Pop Green bursts into a flower bubble and Usopp takes his chance. With Kuro Kabuto already pulled back to aim, Usopp springs onto the plant and leaps, high into the bright sky.
He cannot be afraid. Not anymore.
The one in his blind spot tried to run him through with his double edged blade but the rustle of his movements were too obvious, even with Brook's back turned. Half a beat later, the bounty hunter blinks into empty space.
Brook lands, heels first, on a second bounty hunter's face. "Yohohoho! My sincere apologies sir!"
The bounty hunter crashes backwards but the other two ignore their comrade to relocate themselves. Trapped in the circle of the three again, Brook chuckles.
"It seems that my attempt to avoid a battle is in vain, but very well!" Brook hooks his cane on his wrist and bows. "It is an honor that you would come for a pirate like myself."
The air settles, growing still and chilled. The bounty hunters, who all have eyes on the pirate in fear of a sudden attack, do not notice this.
"However, you will have to return empty handed today, good sires, for my life is already in the hands of another!" Brook hums. "And no amount of distance or time can change this delightful fact yohoho!"
In a blink of an eye, he is outside the circle of the three pirate hunters that was meant to entrap him.
"Yes, sires. There is nothing for you to take," Brook's voice drops to a whisper. "For my life is already in the hands of the man who will be king."
The skeleton slides his sword back into his cane with a sharp snap. That is the moment his enemies fall.
A blur of movement from his left is felt rather than seen. Zoro pulls his white hilted katana out and the blade draws an uninterrupted arc; the last mandrill jumped back to avoid a fatal blow. Zoro flips the hilt over and pulls his arm back in; the harsh grating of his sword meeting the mandrill's axe is satisfying in the least. The mandrill tries to shift its weight forward so as to push Zoro down, but Zoro kicks it off and it is still trapped mid-air when Zoro sees his opening.
"Yakko," Zoro tightens his grip, crouching down and tensing. He pauses for half a second before springing forward. "Dori!"
The dangerous glade of air hits the mandrill square in the chest but Zoro clucks in disapproval when he sees the path of his attack: the blow isn't clean enough. It left a messy path of overturned sand and he will have to move faster and hit harder if he wants to create enough force to use air as an extension of his weapon. If he can manage to make a clean blow despite wet sand hindering the projectile, he will be able to make in any other conditions as well.
And he will be stronger.
Zoro ignores the waves lapping against his ankles in favor to look into the sea. His heart hums in anticipation but he channels that energy into a firm grip on his swords.
All of them will return to Luffy and it will be for keeps. And that is where the fun will begin because his captain is to become Pirate King and Zoro, the world's strongest swordsman and their crew, the greatest in all of New World.
Not so long now, Zoro thinks and slowly, carefully, breathes in.
Luffy exhales, flopping against the patch of grass to look up at the sun. His training will never truly be over, for Luffy must always be stronger than his enemies if he is to protect his crew. 'Tis the lonely path of a captain and yet, Luffy thinks with a grin, that for some strange reason, he doesn't feel very alone.