"Well I’m sure that
In time the light will come to seek me out,
To draw my heart out from my mouth,
And prey on words I’ll never say;
And in time the shadows form to feed the dark,
To hide the beat of heavy hearts;
So in the night I’ll always stay,
A cowering fall, a coward is all that I’ll be."
Mree, Night Owls (x)
You never pretended to be the smartest person ever, okay?
Someone was trying to kill you. You may be reasonably strong, but poisoned and exploding weapons are a bit much for you, so you did what anyone would have done in your place and snuck onto a ship, praying for the owners of said-strangely-colorful-ship to not notice you.
The problem is that they didn't, and then you were at sea. On the ship of total strangers, who would probably not take kindly the fact that they now had a stowaway.
Except, of course, if they were insane, which they are.
(You get discovered during the storm, because you weren't prepared for the ship to fly.
So yeah, maybe you scream a little, and maybe you flail and maybe, maybe, maybe you almost fall overboard. Someone catches you, though, and then your brain stops working and you acquire the conviction that the Universe hates you- or is very bored.
Because in front of you is the grinning, happy, slightly confused face of Strawhat Luffy, aka the fifth Yonko.
You snuck onto the ship of the fifth Yonko.
Okay, so maybe you were a little concerned for your life, but you couldn't have been so distracted that you hadn't noticed the pirate flag on top of the mast. That's not possible.
Or maybe it is, because this is definitely Pirate Hunter Roronoa Zoro looking at you with not-at-all hidden killing intent.
You're going to die.)
As it turns out, you don't die, which is a pleasant surprise.
You do panic a little (a lot), and immediately reach for your storybook and throw it at the nearest person, which happens to be the captain.
That definitely wasn't your best idea, because Strawhat Luffy is still the only thing standing between you and falling into the water. You know how to swim, sure, but not how to swim for four days in a row, which is what you would need to do to get back to the previous island. Where people still want you dead.
(You're so screwed, you're so stupid, and the Universe definitely hates you.)
You stare at the pirates in front of you, who all look equal part wary and confused, open your mouth to say something, explain, apologize, anything-
And then the situation solves itself without you having to do anything.
Of course, by "the situation solves itself", you mean that the captain declares that, no, wait, this looks pretty! about the storybook you just threw at his face (you missed, because you're still dangling in empty air, above the water, so there's only a little part of your brain that isn't panicking, but still).
Before you know it, he has decided that you're going to be staying on the ship until you've finished telling him all the stories that they contain, and the entire crew sighs a little, shrugs, and goes back to their business.
(Nico Robin stares at you for a long time before making the eye on your book disappear, and you decide very quickly to stay the hell away from that woman.)
You're left sitting on the grass (on a ship, what is going on with this crew), still not quite sure of what just happened, and the captain is still chatting away, asking questions and exclaiming, and doesn't seem bothered by the fact that you're not exactly listening.
You're still wary and restless from the sheer amount on of adrenaline in your veins, but there's no more running and trying to escape weapons and fearing for your life happening, so you try to relax and think- maybe the world is doing you a favor.
(You're not exactly right, but you're not exactly wrong, either.)
So here you are now, hitching a ride on a (flying!) pirate ship, which just so happen to be the home of the fifth Yonko and his crew, who are known to have burned Enies Lobby to the ground, defied Big Mom for Fishman Island's ownership (and then, as if she wasn't pissed off enough, snuck into her territory, wrecked havoc there, and then escaped right under her nose) defeated Doflamingo, and declared war on Kaido.
But that's not all they've done, not even close.
Their less-known achievements, as you have gathered over the course of this past two weeks, consists of beating not one, but two Warlords (which brings their total of beaten-down-Warlords to three, what the hell), apparently sailing to a sky island, and then, once there, freeing yet another population from an egotistical Logia, punching a Celestial Dragon in the face, beating another pirate captain thanks to the power of an afro (????), making not one but two promises to a whale, only fifty years apart, making friends with several princesses from all over the world, and escaping Enies Lobby after, once again, burning it to the ground, via their somehow-alive-but-not-quite former ship.
You have lived in the New World since you were born, and, all in all, you like to consider that you've seen your fair share of insanity. Giants bugs? Sure. Almost-sentient, green and probably toxic waves? Not surprising. The sun suddenly disappearing? Annoying, but not overly out-of-control. Crossing an ominous mist that'll make you have hallucinations for the next few hours? Yeah, a usual Monday.
Yeah, you've witnessed quite a lot of mystery. You still question how you managed to stay alive during the Moonless, Sunless, Ocean-less and Island-less Islands Incident (capitals mandatory), and most days you're not sure you're completely sane (well, of course you're not, you live in the New World; less sane than is the average on this hell of an ocean?).
But for gods' sake, you didn't declare war on the World Government!
So- yeah, the casual insanity that none of the crew members seem to be baffled by (to be fair, their musician is a walking skeleton, their doctor is a talking reindeer, and the less is said about their captain's comportment concerning food, the better it is) might be one of the reason why you feel so uncomfortable at first. But after a week of traveling with them, the knowledge of their deeds starts to fade from your mind, until you can finally talk to their navigator without having "THIS WOMAN STOLE ZEUS FROM BIG MOM. ACCIDENTALLY." in bold, bright red letters at the back of your mind.
And the reason you can do that is because the Strawhats are nice. Yeah, it's true that their swordsman hasn't talked to you for more than ten minutes since you got invited by his captain, and yes, their archaeologist is the most terrifying women you've ever met (Eyes and mouths. Everywhere. Why.), and their doctor's eagerness to interrogate you about all the diseases you have encountered during your life is a little weird, but-
It's normal weird, New World weird. It's familiar.
What isn't normal, you think, you realize, more exactly, is the way this crew works, the way this crew is.
(This you know: the word of the captain is law.
You've been on a lot of ships; Marine's, traveler's, merchant's, entertainer's, and, on a memorable occasion and for a very, very, very short time, Celestial Dragon's (the less is said about what you saw there, the better it is; but ever since you saw this, you take any occasion you have to sabotage a slave dealers' ship). You've traveled several months with some and only a few days with others, but some rules are the same, no matter the ship you're on; like "always trust the Log Pose", and "no, you're not on duty, yes, you will help us not drown in this storm", and "the word of the captain is law."
It's true for every ship you've ever been to, which is, all things considered, a pretty high number. The Strawhats, for once, aren't an exception to the rule.
They aren't, because even if Monkey D. Luffy gets yelled at by his navigator three times a day, when he says that they're going to the most dangerous island, she just sighs and agrees. They aren't, because even if this strange, magnetic captain gets kicked out of the kitchen once every two hours, if he orders a party with plenty of food, then, whatever this hell of an ocean decides to throw at them on this particular day, there will be a party with plenty of food. They aren't, because one time, when you're pacing, on the deck of Sunny, right before dawn, you hear Luffy say "Will you play a song, Brook?"; and the musician answers, in a tone far too serious and reverent, like he's not talking to a boy he saw fall overboard three times in a row yesterday, "Whatever you want, Captain.", then starts humming a gentle tune. They aren't, because when this strange Sea King comes at them and their swordsman starts getting up to cut it down, only a word from Luffy makes him settle down again ("Usopp's going to take care of him, Zoro!"). They aren't, because when you take a look at their sniper, who, frankly, doesn't seem thrilled to be picked as the enemy of the enraged-and-probably-more-dangerous-than-average-Sea-King, Usopp just grins and say "Right.", like the pure faith that shines in the eyes of this barely-believable boy gave him the power to set on fire the seas. They aren't- oh, they aren't, because when you start protesting the choice to let Usopp go against this peculiar mix of a bird and a fish alone, a look from the fifth Yonko makes you shut up immediately, because in these eyes is kept all the power you constantly forget Luffy holds.)
It happens roughly two weeks after your arrival on board; you wake, one day, and there's an island in sight.
It doesn't seem to be doing great, even from afar. It's an autumn island, as much as you can see, but what once must have been flamboyant trees and spectacular mountains has been reduced to naked forests and a mass of enormous and uniform grey.
The village you dock at isn't in the worst condition you've ever seen, but it's not far. The streets are covered in faded leaves and traces of blood; there isn't a wall without cracks or a window that's clean. The people don't seem to be on the edge of collapsing in an all-out war, but- well, there's not a cheerful atmosphere either. The village is perpetually plunged in darkness, from the unnatural shade of the mountain, who's probably not as high as the Red Line but sure tries to convince the world it is.
You take one look at this shadow of a home for these shadows of people, and then promptly claim that you're not going anywhere near this place, because you've been to a lot of islands and you've traveled on a lot of ships, and you survived because your cousin forced you to learn both type of Haki when you were fifteen, which has saved your life more times than you can count, and because you're smart and can see when something or someone is going to try to kill you.
This place is not going to try to kill you; it's going to suck you dry and then erase you from the memory of anyone until you become just another victim of the rusty knife that's stabbed on the ground next to an unreasonably large puddle of dried blood.
Your current captain does not have the same opinions as you. He propels himself onto the island the instant the ships gets close enough, and you figure that's okay because he's, you know, a Yonko that defeated Doflamingo less than three months into the New World.
So, because Luffy's whole existence is a threat to your sanity but not your survival, you dismiss the entire incident pretty fast, and you spend a pretty good and normal afternoon watching over Sunny with Brook.
(You spend a normal afternoon watching over the ship of the fifth Yonko with a living skeleton. The New World truly never ceases to amaze you.)
The majority of the crew comes back in the evening, looking either disappointed, wary, or like they'd prefer to be in the middle of a battlefield than on this strange, tense and inhospitable island.
(You also notice suspicious stains on Nico Robin's jacket, but choose not to say anything, because this woman terrifies you. You consider this fear to be perfectly justified. You suspect that there are few things this woman will not destroy, few people she will not kill, to protect her crewmates, and you're definitely not one of them.)
The log pose has settled, and you can sense that the whole crew is impatient to set sail and leave this uncomfortable island behind them. That might be a bad idea, though- the sky is covered in black clouds, and while you're sure it wouldn't be too much of a struggle to get through this storm, there's no need to run towards it when you can simply stay still and avoid it. You're about to tentatively ask Luffy what's going to happen when Sanji calls for him.
Now- you haven't been with this crew for a long time. Actually, you've been with them for an exceedingly short time, but- you've been in a lot of tense situations; you've encountered countless powerful, pissed off people.
You're not used to Conqueror's Haki. Even in the New World, it's rare. But- well, you consider yourself pretty resistant to it. It's just a battle of wills, right? You've got a lot of it. You're fine.
The burst of Conqueror's Haki that comes from Luffy the second he sees his doctor, bruised and unconscious, in Sanji's arms, proves that you are actually absolutely not fine.
It's not a battle of wills. Battle implies that you could somehow win.
What Conqueror's Haki is, actually, is an execution. It's an anomaly. It's terrifying and humbling and the worst thing ever.
You've lived in the New World since your birth- you've seen atrocities and abominations and nightmares made real. You've learned pretty quickly that staying immobile against them is the worst reaction you could have, because no movement means an easy target.
But, right now- even with all of your instincts, all your reflexes, the entirety your brain and willpower screaming at your body to move, right now, nownownownow- you can't even twitch. You're crushed by Luffy's fury- and the worst thing is, you're pretty sure he's not even aware of what he's doing. You're an afterthought, to him- but you still feel like you're facing alone a thousand angry gods, with no mercy, and inconceivable power, like someone looked at you and said "worthless" and started to erase you from existence because you didn't matter. You feel like you're facing a giant with no weapon- you feel small and stupid to have ever forgotten that this boy can kill you in less than a second if he wished to.
"-Luffy!" Says Nami, looking at you with a somewhat concerned expression- and the pressure releases and you can finally breathe.
You manage not to collapse, but it takes all your energy. You feel like you've been running for months, without sleeping or eating.
You take a look around- the entire crew is gathered around Chopper, who, up close, looks better than he did in Sanji's arms.
A part of you whispers that maybe you should be offended that no one is paying attention to you, after what feels like almost dying, but the rest of you knows, instinctively, that compared to Chopper, you mean nothing to them.
Oh, if you had been captured and on the edge of dying, they'd probably be paying attention to you; but you're not. You're perfectly fine, you didn't even faint, and because a life in the New World has trained you that way, you won't be caught dead acting in a way that will let someone guess your weaknesses, so you're going to bury this event deep in your mind, hope nobody ever mentions it again, and steer the hell away from anyone who might have a shred of Conqueror's Haki, because you've been thoroughly terrified of it. You're certainly not going to throw a fit because people who have no interest in your well-being aren't making a fuss about you ceasing to breathe for a minute or two. You're more mature than that.
(Okay, maybe you're not.
But- is it really surprising?
Here's another thing about the Strawhats, another secret they don't bother to keep or don't realize they're keeping; they're charismatic.
People are drawn to them, to this beacon of joy and love and happiness, of magic and miracles and sheer determination to reach the sun and make sure they're shining brighter than it. And these envious observers look from the outside, longing for this kind of life while knowing it could never be theirs, and still wishing for it, despite this knowledge.
If Luffy is the sun of the Strawhats, the center of their strange, dangerous, magical world, then the crew as a whole is the stars. Unreachable; a somewhat-impossible miracle you dream to one day discover and understand, even though it's impossible. They're stars; way ahead and far away from you, gravitating around each other and paying no attention to your miserable self. They're bright, ablaze, oh-so-dangerous and yet attractive. They're stars; burning away the nothingness around them, lighting it up, revealing darkness but unafraid of it. They're stars; not quite understood, not quite predictable, a phenomenon you don't care about until you really think about it. They're stars, oh, they truly are; and compared to them, what are you?
Or maybe they're the ocean; maybe Luffy is their moon, dictating their movements, letting them go and calling them back.
The Strawhats, you have come to realize, can't quite be compared to something else; it's like you're unable to really step into their world, as if you're held back by some sort of barrier; or, perhaps, as if you haven't been invited in their universe yet.
You don't- you don't understand them the way you're used to understanding the rest of the world; and, even with your experience in seeing the world in a somewhat tilted way, in order to be able to see the truths hidden away in corners and shadows, you can't catch up with them; or maybe they're on another level entirely- and isn't that a frightening yet enchanting thought, to know the world will never entirely reveals its mysteries to you?
The Strawhats- they're more. More dedicated, more aware, more determined, more powerful, yes, of course; but not only. They're- they reach out, and the world answers; and maybe if you were a little older, maybe if you were a little younger, maybe if you hadn't seen so much and stood by while other people fought- maybe if you hadn't realized a long time ago how lucky you were, how precious your current existence was, then maybe you would be jealous. Maybe you would call it luck, or destiny, fate, prophecies- because you know about Conqueror's, what kind of people have it; and you've heard whispers and rumors about D and the slaying of Gods.
But- you can't bring yourself to be really jealous, because even if they're more- happier, braver, looking ahead like the world isn't theirs yet but will be- even if they are destined to witness more miracles than you ever will, and even perform some of them, guided by this boy who will take down gods, kings, tyrants and liars, and laugh- even if they're greater than your world, you are aware of a truth they ignore or deny: it will come with a price.
This you know: the higher you get, the harder you fall.
This you know: everyone falls, eventually.)
You take a deep breath, and eventually you manage to regain some calm, manage to stop feeling like your world has just been shaken to the core just because a boy reminded you that you are powerless, defenseless, against some things; that you have always been and always will be vulnerable against these, no matter what.
You look up just in time to see Chopper wake up.
The first things he does, instead of asking where he is, or what happened, like a normal person, is stare at Luffy and say, in the most serious tone you've ever heard him use:
"- We have to help them!"
There's a moment of silence then, and you frown.
You're aware that you don't know a lot about pirates, except maybe that they're bad for your health and finances; but, even if a few days with the Strawhats had been enough to prove that they weren't the stereotypical "kill and terrify people, pillage and burn villages" type, you're pretty sure they aren't going to help someone just because their doctor said so.
Of course, as you belatedly remember, you've been nothing but wrong about the Strawhats for the past two weeks, so maybe it shouldn't surprise you when Luffy, looking concentrated and determined, the smile you're used seeing on his face gone, announces:
"-Wait," interrupts their navigator, who looks just as confused as you feel. "Who are we supposed to be helping? Chopper, what happened to you?"
The tiny doctor finally seems to realize that he's lightly bleeding and heavily bruised, and says:
"-You don't understand, Nami, there are children! Again!"
Which doesn't come even remotely close to answering the question, in your opinion, but apparently it means something to the rest of the crew, because their sniper intervenes, in an exasperated tone of voice:
"- Wait, Ceasar? There's another Ceasar?"
And that's when you officially renounces from understanding anything, and choose to look at the rest of the crew for an explanation.
Which, let's be honest, doesn't help you out either.
The swordsman seems less sleepy and more pissed off than before Chopper and Sanji arrived, which might be because one of his crewmates is injured or because the cook has returned. The archeologist is as unreadable and scary as ever, the helmsman looks just as lost as you feel, the cook still hasn't said anything about where he found Chopper, the musician is frighteningly silent, and you don't want to know what it is exactly that the shipwright is building.
Luffy's attention is still fixed on Chopper, and you have a feeling that it'll take the end of the world or more to change that. The little doctor has started telling a story -story of a former admiral and labs and children and a building protected by the white, pure flag of the Marines-
(You've stopped believing the Marines were good a long time ago.
When you were little- when the world felt new and full of wonder and dreams- when you were little, you lived next to an island. You had a couple of friends, there, even if you have forgotten their names a long time ago.
Still, you remember a red-haired girl who liked to draw; remember a boy who only had an older cousin for family, and still smiled brightly; remember a decently-sized town and a beautiful waterfall.
When you were little, the island burned.
Oh- not literally, of course. But a dangerous pirate decided that this peaceful place would be the perfect place to settle on, and, well- of course, the Marines just wouldn't let that pass by.
So they rained hell on a little town, and killed hundreds of people, to catch one criminal.
The smoke lingered for days above the destroyed buildings. Its smell had carried over to your home, and every day you woke up coughing, and crying, thinking that this was the last thing your friends had breathed- this dark, dark smoke who made your life feel more like a nightmare than a reality.
Your parents went to look for survivors and came back the next day, grimed-faced and terribly silent.
They stayed like that for days.
Yeah- you abandoned your illusions about the Marines pretty early.)
"- And then- they realized I wasn't a pet and they captured me! Sanji saw me, and he managed to save me, but the rest of the soldiers were gone and-"
Luffy's voice rings out suddenly in the evening air. Everyone stop what they were doing and look at him- you find your gaze drawn to him, inevitably, and you stare at him for a moment.
Luffy's gaze is fixed on Chopper, with an intensity you'd find stressful, probably, but that the little doctor seems to have no problem bearing. Chopper smiles- it's a little sheepish.
"-Sorry, captain. I know you wanted to get off the island as soon as possible, but they're hiding in the mountain and I don't think I can get to them alone-"
"-The one who hurt you. I'm going to beat them."
(And the world stills.
It's not Conqueror's- at least you don't think it is. It should be, because there's no way anyone can force so much certainty in his voice without some kind of mystical power, but-
But then again- maybe it is.
Maybe you just didn't meet someone who cared enough. But this boy -this Emperor who loves his crewmates more than the air he breathes- you think he does. You think the Strawhats are luckier than you thought.
You looked at them first and thought- oh, but how happy they seem; how defiant, and radiant, and ready to take the world by storm and not give it back they are.
You look at them now and think of the rising of the moon and the setting of the sun; of the wind's howl during a tempest and the way a fire can burn down a life.
You look at them and think: oh, but how dangerous they are, when they fight for each other.)
The Marine's building crumbles under the Strawhats' wrath.
You didn't understand everything about their reasons- you're pretty sure they didn't, either, that just the request from their doctor and the order from their captain was enough for them.
It wasn't for you, who always want reasons and logic and assurance that what you're fighting for is worth risking your life, but the Strawhats are powerful and their life matters not when they're fighting at the request of one of their own, so they go. You find yourself following them, wondering if maybe you'll be a witness to one of these miracles they call adventures.
Your common sense fails you for ten minutes and then kicks back in, screaming that these are the crewmates of the fifth Yonko and the fifth Yonko himself going up against an entire building of Marines and a retired Admiral, and, hey, maybe it's a bad idea for you to be with them when they're going into battle.
You consider that for a second, and then decides that common sense means nothing in the New World. You grin when the captain utterly destroys the doors of the not-so-secret-anymore laboratory; you stand aside while he destroys all that seemed unbreakable, and you never consider for more than a second that they will lose.
Lightning strikes and explosions fill the air; smoke rises from the side of the mountain, and you cough a little, then a little more, until you're on your knees desperately trying to breathe-
(They won't lose, but you forgot-
You're not one of them.
(Aren't you, though?) )
"- What did you do?" Screams Luffy, appearing at your side; or maybe he was always there, but your vision is getting blurry and you can't breathe and you're going to die-
The world is filling with black points, your ears are useless and you feel the taste of blood in your mouth, feel it running down your nose and ears, and it's terrifying-
You try to call your Haki but everything is so far away and out of reach and you're so tired and maybe, maybe-
Then there's a syringe in your arm and worried eyes in front of you, and you barely recognize the doctor. You hear a laugh.
"- That's a civilian. You brought a civilian to a fight! Did you think I wouldn't use it?"
You want to say that you're not a civilian, not an ordinary one at least -that you know ghosts and have watched worlds fade- but your lungs aren't functioning right and you're really trying not to die.
Then whatever Chopper used chases the last of the gas out of your system, or you guess it does- you're left exhausted and angry.
The fifth Yonko's will presses on you- it's a gentle push this time, unlike the one on Sunny, just Luffy assuring himself of your well-being before resuming fighting. You're not sure why he was worried about you- well, yes, you know, it's because you had been poisoned and couldn't breathe and was dying.
But why does he care?
(Why wouldn't he? Whispers something inside you. You're his friend, now.
It hits you, suddenly, that- well, you are. You spent two weeks with him, telling stories and playing games, discussing the weather with his navigator and the art of storytelling with his sniper.
You spent the past two weeks listening to stories of what this insane crew had done for their friends -toppled gods, shattered false thrones, stood against the most threatening shadows and dared them to stare back-, thinking about how incredible being their friend would be, and then-
You became it, and now Luffy will fight because you've been hurt.
You blink at the realization, then look at him for a second, and think you can understand- why this eclectic band of weird adventurers and foolish dreamers decided to follow this boy who never bows down to fear or reality, why they look at their captain and see a king.)
And then Luffy throws himself at the enemy, the same way he throws himself at anything and everything that has hurt what he cares about. You shut your eyes tightly because the smoke is irritating them and not at all because you're about to cry, absolutely not, why would anyone think that? Chopper drags you to the closest safe place available and leaves you there, and for a while you just-
(Oh, but this is why, isn't it?
This is why the world bends to fit this boy's dreams; this is why his crew will break the world if he does not bend.
This is why.
It's because of the fury in his movements, of the determination of his heart. It's because of his light and it's because the darkness he casts is meant to protect, to raise you above in the infinite space that separate stars, where dreams dwell.
You close your eyes and accept that you will be just another friend left behind in their stories- because you can't be on par with a king, you don't have the ambition or the skills or the utter devotion needed.
You will be another person to have crossed their way, another dull string in their vibrant tapestry of every and all color in the universe. You'll be a stray thought, another person who hears about them in newspapers, and smiles. You don't have a place in their legend, don't belong in the middle of their promises and sacrifices and love.
You'll watch and leave, and maybe someday you'll hear that the Seas have a new King and you'll smile instead of being worried.
(Maybe one day you'll hear that the throne is vacant, and maybe you will scream and rage and cry, and then you'll move on, and your world will not have been shattered like theirs.)
You've never been one to chase after dreams. You're more than content to sit back and watch and ache for what you used to call home.)
Eventually, Luffy wins, because that's what he does.
Eventually, everything stops, eventually, the last punch is thrown, eventually, the enemy stays down.
And in that split second, that moment of silence that occurs before the world remembers to breathe again, you-
You think. You wonder.
You never met Gol D. Roger. To be fair, few people ever did.
You heard whispers about him, though. It's not surprising; Roger ruled the oceans, and he roamed the New World most of all. The seas have long finished mourning their King; now they build his legend.
Each rumor you managed to catch about the former Pirate King mentions something about recklessness, stupid luck, terrible, terrible, terrible jokes, and power.
Not power as in, he could destroy an island with a single punch; not power as in, he had a thousand men at his command; not power as in, crews cowered just at his sight, though you've certainly heard all of that many times.
The power you speak of is more subtle; it's when he spoke, really spoke, the world stopped turning, the waves stopped roaring, and your heart would have stopped beating if he had asked you.
When you had heard that, you scoffed. The New World isn't the most accurate in its descriptions; on this mad ocean, extraordinary becomes monotone. Exaggerations are common.
Luffy stands still in the evening light, his hands still curled in fists, breathing heavily and looking untouchable. You can't actually see his eyes; he's turned away from you, and you can only see a side of his face, obscured by the shadows the setting sun is casting through the ruins of the buildings.
He looks dangerous.
You're used to dangerous; you're used to that and more, honestly. You're used to the boisterous type, who will take down a mountain in a second, to the quiet person who attacks so suddenly that no one can react. You're used to the eccentrics- they're usually the ones you avoid. You're used to the ones you can't sense and the ones you'd have to be dead to not notice.
But- there's something more to Luffy, right now.
It's something in the stillness of his posture, something in the weight of the silence he only is allowed to break- something in the way he looks so solemn in the middle of this rubble, even with the blood that's dripping down from his fist, with this hat you first thought was a bit childish.
It's potential, maybe; it's something you don't quite know how to qualify, and you think that maybe this is what Will of the D means; that this is why it is whispered with such reverence, that this is why the world government itself hates it, that this- this is why rumors are believed in the New World, this is why stories inspire such fear: because there's always truth behind it.
(You believe that Luffy could repaint the world in shades of red, if he so desired.
Does that mean that other people with the same will, the same power, the same- could they exist?
Could they do it?
You don't want to know.)
And so you focus on Luffy, and you wait, and wait, and wait, for him to move, for him to say something, for something to break this silence that feels unbreakable, for this foreboding feeling to leave and vanish and never be heard of again, for yourself to shake your head and realize that the man in front of you, dripping with blood, breathing heavily, is not dangerous, is not to be feared-
(That he should be feared, in fact- but that you don't need to.)
You wait and wait and wait, but the moment never comes, and you're left leaning against a partially destroyed wall, feeling on edge and waiting for something to break, for the tension in the air to vanish.
And then Chopper rushes at his captain's side, seemingly unaware or unaffected by the silence that surrounds Luffy like an armor, breaking this wall that had seemed so permanent to you. He reaches out to his captain without even thinking about it, and Luffy catches his doctor in his arms, laughing and smiling and looking like the whole world could be burning and he wouldn't care. Chopper's slightly out of breath, and you're nearly sure you can see tears in his eyes before he shakes his head- he says something to Luffy and the boy just laughs and smiles brighter, and Chopper smiles, too, and you-
You feel strangely out of place, like you shouldn't witness this scene, like this is something precious and to be protected.
(Here's the thing-
The Strawhats are a tapestry of promises, carefully intertwined, painting a vibrant picture that is held together by a million hidden strings.
The Strawhats are colors that should not go together, a melody that shouldn't be so hypnotizing, a group of people that have nothing to do with each other and yet think their friends are worth lives and worlds. The Strawhats are all that and more, and their love is a force that can bring down stars and dry the oceans, that can make any common sense disappear without any of them questioning it. Their love is something of legends; or perhaps it is something of rumors, of low murmurs and heartfelt wishes.
They don't seem to belong in your world, who is sad and gray and so very lonely, who might one day collapse on itself, or maybe make you collapse. They don't seem to belong anywhere but with each other, and you wonder, sometimes, if they are chasing after dreams and friends and fame, or just after the smile of their king.
The Strawhats are champions that don't really care for the awards or the glory that comes with winning, just care for each other's happiness, and-
It is odd, in this world of pirates (of people) chasing for fame and gold and power.
It is odd, but-
You like it.)
And then, Chopper realizes that Luffy's still injured.
In less than a minute he's already dragged him back to you and your -surprisingly comfortable- wall, fussing over exhaustion and poison and gas, and really Luffy, you shouldn't have done that, it was dangerous! Luffy pouts for a second, because he's fine, see, Chopper, I didn't even collapse or anything!, and his doctor sighs again and says something about waiting here while he checks on the others (who, you remember all of a sudden, didn't have a genius doctor right at their sides when gas got released in the entire building, and, as such, are probably much less okay than you are).
(As it turns out, they're completely fine, because Nami can control the weather and apparently already has had bad experiences with gas.
It's apparently very hard for gas to kill everything when it's stuck in a tornado.
You're suddenly very aware that this is the crew that burned Enies Lobby to the ground. Before having any idea about Haki.)
And then it's over.
Well- no, it isn't, not quite. It must be over for them, you think, as the party that began as soon as you all returned to Sunny slowly dies down, but you're sure the event will linger in your mind for a few more days.
You keep thinking back- you keep remembering-
(You feel like the world tipped slowly, ever so slowly, during your stay with the Strawhat, and that you just suddenly realized that it's now upside-down.
And what are you supposed to do, now that the sky has become a sea that you can explore, now that you can look up and see that all that you took for granted is infinitely more precious than you ever realized?
What do you do, now that you know that you must leave, but that you don't want to?)
You've stayed fairly quiet during the entire party, observing the storm clouds getting increasingly closer, and so you're not too surprised when it starts raining.
You consider for a moment staying there, not moving, staying lost in your thoughts and hesitations and dreams, but your existential crisis is not worth catching a cold over.
When you finally get inside, in the library, Luffy is asleep on Sanji's shoulder, who looks fond and is probably not that far from sleep either. Chopper is curled up in Robin's lap, and since the archeologist's arms are curled up around him, it's a disembodied hand that slowly turns the pages of a fairly thick book. Usopp's quietly talking with Zoro, in what is less of a conversation and the sniper rambling and the swordsman grunting occasionally (which, as far as you know, is the equivalent of undivided attention for him). Franky and Brook are still drinking, and when you creak the door open, the cyborg looks at you and smiles brightly.
You make your way over to him, somewhat hesitantly, and he just hands you a leftover cup of hot chocolate and continues his conversation with his musician about music boxes. The door opens again, and you see Jinbe entering and closing the door behind him delicately once he notices that his captain's asleep.
The Fishman sits next to you, a stern look on his face, and you frown.
Jinbe has come out relatively unscathed of the fight, and so he isn't covered in bandages like Luffy or Zoro- for a moment you wish he was, because at least you would have something to stare at, instead of fidgeting nervously.
"- Nami said to tell you that it'll take a few weeks to get to the next island, so, if you wanted- we could leave you here? Apparently, the city on the other side of the island is not as dangerous."
(It's the New World, so there's a 90% chance that you'll narrowly avoid death in the first ten minutes you're left alone. Still, you appreciate the sentiment.)
"- Are you kicking me out, then?" You ask quietly, and Jinbe looks at you strangely.
"- We can't kick you out, that's Luffy's choice. And even then- we don't want to. You've been a pleasant, if somewhat unpredictable, companion."
You try hard not to feel irrationally pleased by the small compliment, and fail.
"- It's just- well, we're not the safest group you could choose to travel with (that's a lie, you think) and we're definitely not the most peaceful, as you've probably noticed."
(That's not a lie, but it's not that far away from being one, either.
The Strawhats aren't calm, far from it. There's almost always someone running, someone laughing too loudly, someone building something, someone screaming at someone, when you're around them. It's rare to have a moment of silence on this ship, and it should be exhausting, this constant noise and activity.
But it isn't.
The Strawhats aren't calm- but they are calming, in a strange way.
There is something strangely peaceful in Luffy, Chopper and Usopp's games; there's comfort in Brook's melodies, in Robin's books scattered across the kitchen table, in finding Zoro napping by Nami's tangerine trees and hearing Franky's hammer repairing whatever part of Sunny it is he's taking care of this time.
It's not the kind of peace you're used too, that comes with silence and the rain knocking at your window in a predictable pattern, that comes with candlelight and stories you thought the world had forgotten.
It's a different sort of routine, one that's loud and never quite the same, one that fills every moment of your day and reminds you, each second, that being alone isn't an option.
You'd expect yourself to hate it, this reminder that you're stuck on a ship with ten people you barely know. Instead, it's- strangely welcome.
Loneliness isn't as good a companion as the Strawhats, even if you know her better. And- you like the Strawhats.
(But you don't belong with them.))
"- I think-", you say, and stop yourself, hating how uncertain you sound. "Can I be honest with you?"
Jinbe nods, looking interested and a little concerned.
"- I think I'll go, yeah. I like you all, but- You're a little too crazy for my taste," you blurt out, and immediately wince, because that sounded so rude, what are you doing?
Jinbe laughs, soft and fond.
"- We are, aren't we? I wouldn't have thought that it'd bother you, though."
(But you're not normal, you want to say. You're not normal, you care, and sometimes I look at you and think you'll crash and burn if one of you ever dies, and that's not how life on the New World works.
You're always going to lose to someone, you want to say. Don't you understand? This is the New World, and I believe you'll make it to the top, of course I do, but I don't think you can do it without losing someone.
What if I stay, you want to ask. What if I stay, and one day I realize I can't leave you? What if I stay, and someone dies, and the world stops making sense? What if I stay, and I look back one day, and realize I can't leave?
Maybe you're brave enough to stay, you want to say, and maybe you're brave enough to lose and still go on, but you've dedicated your destiny to your king and I hold mine too close to my heart to ever bear giving it away.
The truth is- the truth is, you're standing at the edge of a cliff, and you've never been brave enough to take a leap of faith.)
"- Well," you mutter, then stop yourself; look around, at all these people you've come to know almost by accident, this glimpse of a world you'd like to be a part of if you didn't know the price it came with. "I've told you all my stories, haven't I?"