No matter when and where, somehow, he would always find them. Inspired by Aoihand/Aoi24's multiverse challenge.
This story is part of Straws, a series of AUs centering around the strawhats and their captain. This one might very well be the most personal.
Disc.: I don't own One Piece. Neither do I claim historical accuracy. It was a horrible time that should never, ever be repeated.
Sometimes, when Usopp closes his eyes, he can hear them. Sharp whistles, followed by ear-splitting explosions, the shattering of glass drowned out by crumbling buildings. His heart speeds up, and he races through the halls, shouting, until he reaches the Missus and tries to disappear in the folds of her long skirt.
"The bombs are coming," he tells them, "I can hear them."
She gives him The Look. That mixture of exasperation, annoyance and what he likes to think of as affection.
"Don't be silly," she says and pushes him away. "The only ones that are being bombed are the English. There won't be any bombs here. And why is that?"
Usopp opens his mouth obediently. "Because the Führer won't allow it. We'll win soon."
She nods, satisfied. He knows he is expected to leave, so he bites his lip and turns with hunched shoulders.
Behind him, he hears Carrot ask, "Is it true that he can hear the bombs?"
"No," the Missus says. "He is lying, like always."
Usopp's mouth moves in sync with Onion's voice: "That's why he has a long nose like Pinocchio!"
Laughter rings behind him, chasing him up the stairs. But he can still hear them, the whispers and mockeries, gossip about his father and mother and what a coward, such a liar, how un-german. Usopp can't fight voices, can't fight anything, so he runs where nothing will find him, clambering up the ladder to the attic and closing the hatch.
The musty air makes him smile proudly. He might not be good at many things, but hiding is sure one of them.
He turns around, coming face-to-face with two very big, black eyes.
His shriek is muffled by two hands.
"Sssshhhh," says the boy in a volume that probably makes every pigeon on the surrounding roofs fly up in panic. "You're supposed to be quiet!"
Usopp stares at him, wild-eyed, and discovers that the boy is very much serious. There's a scar under his left eye, and that doesn't stop the terrible shaking of Usopp's knees.
The boy drops his hands from Usopp's mouth and cocks his head to the side. "You're a coward, aren't you?"
A thousand answers and lies race through Usopp's head, he wants to say something about how that's ridiculous, he's got thousands of followers to back him up, but what comes out instead is: "There's a star on you shirt. A-a-and the swastika."
The boy looks down on his lapels in puzzlement. Then he laughs and smiles brightly. "Oh yeah! My brothers had them, so I wanted to wear it too!"
Usopp gulps and tries to figure out which question following such a statement would have the least terrifying answer.
"So, uhm, your brothers," he brings out finally, "They're ... where?"
"Oh, they left." The boy waves his hand dismissively. "They said I should stay here until they come back." He beckons Usopp forward, as if to tell him a secret. "It's safe here."
Then he frowns, because Usopp has started swaying and is probably slightly green in his face. "Hey, are you okay?"
No, Usopp thinks and faints.
Usopp blinks and is greeted by a spider rappelling down from the roof beams.
It was all just a dream, he thinks with great relief. I didn't just find a Jew hiding in my attic.
"Say, do you have something to eat?"
Usopp jumps and his head flies around to find the boy sitting next to him, picking his nose. He stares at him for a while, before the boy huffs.
"Well, do you?" he demands. "I'm starving."
Usopp shakes his head quickly, and the boy's face falls. A loud rumbling echoes in the woodwork, and they both stare down at the boy's stomach. For the first time, Usopp sees how unnaturally skinny he is.
Before he can think, he's already stuttering. "B-bu-but I can b-bring you s-something, ma-maybe."
He already regrets saying it, but the boy's eyes light up. "Really? Do you have meat?"
Meat is a rarity in war. Usopp is lucky they have a piece on sundays. Smuggling food away is terrible enough, but meat is impossible. One would think runaway Jews have other priorities, Usopp muses.
"No," he tells him.
The boy nods with a look of habitual disappointment. "Okay. I'm Luffy." He grins. "I'm gonna be a Free Man one day!"
The term sounds like an infamous title out of his mouth, and it should sound ridiculous, especially considering what and where he is. But Luffy says it with so much conviction that Usopp somehow finds himself believing him immediately.
"I'm Usopp," he tells him, and before he can stop it, he says, "I'm going to be a brave man someday!"
It's embarrassing, because saying it means he's not, but he's supposed to be. He almost retreats his hand to hide his face in it, but the boy is faster and snatches it.
Luffy smiles at him and shakes his hand, and Usopp knows he has just signed his death sentence.
Hiding a national fugitive, Usopp discovers quickly, is not only extremely dangerous and against every rule he was ever taught, it's also next to impossible. Usopp hopes for the sake of everyone dumb enough to offer a hiding spot that not every jewish boy is like Luffy.
The boy doesn't do anything halfway, except maybe hiding, apparently. He laughs and runs and jumps and talks Usopp's ears off, and it's not even about important stuff, like the war raging outside. It should be taking up every space under the roof like an elephant, but Luffy parades all over it as if it wasn't there. His favorite topics are bugs and his brothers, telling Usopp everything he never wanted to know about both.
Except, Luffy never tells him about their parents, or why his stories only contain the three of them, or even who they are and Usopp wonders how those brothers ever managed to keep the boy alive. Almost every waking hour, Usopp spends fearing discovery. That the other boys remember the attic. That the Missus hears the sound of Luffy's feet on the planks, or his laughter, or sees him steal something out of the panty, because Luffy is so impossibly loud and always, always hungry. He gulps down what little food Usopp can hide in his napkin and then looks up to him with puppy dog-eyes, begging for more. And Usopp shakes his head and tries to drown out the sound of Luffy's stomach by telling him stories.
Luffy likes his stories. They're impossible and full of made-up gadgets and far-off worlds and nobody ever likes them, maybe because the heros aren't big and strong and blonde, they're often weak and skinny and have black hair and long noses and are armed with nothing more than a slingshot. Usopp tells Luffy this, once, and the boy frowns.
"I'm strong," he pouts. "They just hate your stories because everyone's free there and everyone can be brave, and they want it, too - but they're afraid to take it."
And Usopp will save his piece of meat the following sunday for him, because he starts to have nightmares about soldiers finding Luffy and taking him, and he's suddenly very sure that this boy can not be allowed to die.
The problem is, it's not enough. Because one day, when Usopp comes back from school and Kaya is with him to do an assignment, he opens the door to his room to find Luffy sitting on his bed.
Usopp jumps back and slams the door, before Kaya can glance past him.
"S-sorry," he stutters and blushes, "It's, uh, it's terribly messy! We can–" The gears in his head turn furiously. "We better do it in the sitting room! There's more space there! You-you can go ahead, I'll be down in a minute!"
He smiles at her in what he hopes is a very convincing manner, and after a moment of silence, she returns it.
"Okay," she says easily and coughs into her sleeve, "If it's that awful."
Usopp nods feebly and waits until her blonde hair disappeared under the upper stair, before he opens his door again.
Luffy looks back at him with a tilted head.
"What are you doing down here?!" Usopp hisses and shuts his door quickly. "What if someone sees you!"
Luffy shrugs. "I was hungry. And bored. Do you have food? Who was the girl? Can I meet her?"
"No!" Usopp sprints over and grabs him by the arm. A shock goes through him, because his fingers come all the way around it. He lets go as if he's been burned.
"Why?" Luffy hasn't noticed. "Please?"
"No," Usopp repeats, searching desperately for an answer that Luffy would understand. "Remember what your brothers told you? They said you should stay hidden! Nobody should know where you are!"
Luffy pouts. "But you know!"
Because you're lucky it was just me, Usopp thinks. Even if he were to tell anyone, they would just laugh. Everyone knows Usopp is a coward and always, always lies. But it would be so incredibly foolish to risk it.
"I don't have anything to eat now," he says instead, "and if you don't go back up and they discover you, we'll both die."
Usopp counts the heartbeats that pass, until Luffy heaves a deep sigh and climbs off his bed. After he makes sure the coast is clear, Usopp waits until the boy has disappeared back up the ladder and has closed the hatch, before he stumbles down the stairs to Kaya. He can't concentrate, every time his fingers tighten on his pen he remembers how he was holding a stick and no arm. He could swear he could feel the bone.
I'm strong, Luffy's voice echoes through his head. Usopp looks down on their essay about the race theory and bits back a sob. He can't do this. He barely survives the Hitler Youth, wouldn't if he weren't so good with a gun and without Sanji having his back, how can he ...
Usopp can feel Kaya looking strangely at him from the sides because of his rapid mood-changes, but he can't help the relieved smile that's blooming on his face. He might not be able to do this alone, but there might be a chance he won't need to.
Reviews make me happy. How about guessing what kind of WWII character each straw-hat will be?