For those who haven't figured out yet, Garp's Admiral name Kurokaba means Black Hippo. Don't say it's not fitting, because it's perfect! A large, lazy creature, but piss it off and you're gonna be crushed!
This one's a big boi! I broke my own record (which was this story's chapter 9) of the chapter length by a lot! Special thanks for The Patient One! Without him you'd be getting this chapter after 2 more years again :D
"Where can I find Raw Ham Melon?"
(Luffy/Usopp ~9, Nami ~10, Zoro/Sanji ~11, Bepo/Ace/Sabo/Nojiko ~12, Kuina ~14, Law ~16 y.o.)
Bellemere scanned the price tags, unable to stop herself from frowning. Meat prices had gone up more than she had expected since her last visit to Cocoyashi's market. Her finances already took a hit after the reconciliation dinner for Nami a couple of days ago, this would strain it even further.
Bellemere's eyes flicked up at the weathered face of the seller. She knew him well. Painted his barn's walls a few times back in her childhood days and got scolded for it. In the end, he had always pressed a candy into her hand before sending her on her merry way.
Bellemere set her features into an expression with just the right amount of pleading and childlike charm to appeal to the man's heart and asked, "How about a little discount, old man Natoshi?"
The seller huffed. "You know that I can't lower the price even more, Bellemere."
Bellemere's smile faltered. Even so, she was willing to pay for a few pieces of beef with just enough left over for some fresh vegetables. She would have preferred to add a bit more rice or even buy some fish, but this would do.
Bellemere blinked, eyes darting down to look at Nami. The girl had never called anyone 'grandpa' before. Standing next to her sister, Nojiko seemed equally confused for a split second before realization flitted across her face.
Nami beamed at the man who stared at her in a mute apprehension. "Please give us a discount, Grandpa Natoshi, please!" She nudged Nojiko with her elbow and her sister joined in, their puppy dog eyes ramped up to the maximum. "Pleeeeease!"
The corner of Bellemere's lips twisted into a sly curve. "You won't deny these two angels their discount, eh, Grandpa Natoshi?"
The disgruntled look she received as the old man added an extra free pound of meat to their purchase was so worth it. Bellemere laughed as she walked away from the stall. Seeing the wide grins of her daughters, her heart swelled with love. "Good job, girls," she said, giving each a pat on their heads.
They preened under the praise, chests puffing in pride. Eyes sparkling, Nami opened her mouth to—
"PIRATES! PIRATES ARE COMING!"
And like that, the mood changed from one of joy to dread, the excitement of the moment shattered into an anxious, fearful mess. More and more shouts of alarm filled the air as the crowd went wild, a flurry of people running from the dock and spreading out through the marketplace.
"What is happening? Is everyone okay?"
"It's the Arlong Pirates!"
"Arlong?! The fishman from the Grand Line?!"
"That can't be!"
"What are they doing all the way here?!"
The girls turned to look at each other, then at their adoptive mother. In all of their lives, they had never seen Bellemere so shaken. Ever.
"Run! RUN! Run for your lives!"
"GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT NOW!"
From where the group of three stood, they could see the large red ship with multiple sails practically ramming the Cocoyashi's dock and a bunch of pirates pouring out of it.
Bellemere grabbed a hold of her daughters, dropping the bag of groceries in the process, and pulled them along. Nami yelped as she felt a sharp tug on her arm, Nojiko almost tripping next to her. She started running, spurred only by the thought to get the girls somewhere safe, and didn't notice how they could barely keep up with a brutal pace.
Bellemere jerked in the direction of the call. A middle-aged man was waving at her from the gap in between two houses with a woman shifting nervously next to him. Fuji and Ise, a married couple who had a small rice farm on the edge of the village.
"Here!" Fuji called out to her again.
Bellemere made a sharp turn and ducked into the gap. The couple was already moving, so she followed them without a pause.
"This path leads to the forest," Ise explained as they sprinted. "We'll be safe once we reach—"
A loud laugh rang throughout the area, echoing in the narrow space as it bounced from the walls. A blue webbed hand grabbed Fuji by his beck, and Ise screamed when her husband was lifted off of the ground by a tall, bulky fishman.
Bellemere's heart sank. She recognized this one: Arlong the Saw!
"Greetings, my beloved pathetic humans," the fishman said, inhumanly sharp teeth bared into a mocking grin. The man in his grasp squirmed, scratching and clawing at those steely muscles of his captor's arm in a vain attempt to free himself. "Where are you going in such a rush when we came this far to give you an offer that you can't refuse?"
Shaking herself, Bellemere released her daughters and sprung forward. The ball of her feet slammed into Arlong's chin and his head snapped back, his hold on Fuji loosening up a little. Bellemere followed her first attack by stepping around and throwing a low kick at the back of the fishman's legs, simultaneously pushing at his chest with her hand.
Arlong hit the ground with a grunt. Fuji collapsed too, coughing and hacking as he massaged his throat, his wife rushing to help him. Bellemere spared them a glance, intent to tell them to flee now—
"Bellemere-san, watch out!"
Arlong's jaws closed around her arm, teeth piercing through skin and flesh and grinding against the bones. For a moment, Bellemere couldn't quite comprehend what happened. And then the pain exploded from tingling numbness all the way to searing, blinding agony faster than she could blink.
Breath hitched in Nami and Nojiko's throats when Bellemere screamed. Tears welled up in their eyes and they shot forward. "Bellemere-san! Bellem—"
Fuji caught them. "Don't…" he rasped, struggling to hold both girls.
"B-but, Bellemere-san…!" Nami sniffled, desperately pushing at the man's arm.
Nojiko mirrored her actions, equally determined to break free. "Bellemere-san is—!"
A loud crack silenced them. A scream that faded into pained groans made them flinch. Wide eyes darted to look up at the fishman.
Arlong was standing now, teeth still clamped around Bellemere's arm, blood dripping from in between them. He was so much taller than her that she hung in the air by her broken limb, teeth tearing its already ruptured muscles even further. The corners of his mouth lazily rose up, eyes gleaming with dark amusement.
As the fishman bellowed with laughter, Bellemere's arm slipped out and she fell, biting down on her lip to stop herself from crying out again.
It hurt. So much.
"You pathetic humans! Inferior beings!" Arlong rumbled, voice dripping with malicious glee. "Useless! Useless! Useless! Fighting back is useless! Shahahaha!"
Bellemere couldn't stop herself. Couldn't keep her head down, despite her mangled arm and knowing that it would have been better if she didn't do it. She did it anyway—looked up and glared at the fishman.
Arlong's smile started to fade, replaced by growing anger.
"Arlong!" Another fishman—also tall and muscular with an octopus-like face and six arms—jogged closer. "The humans were all rounded up at the docks, we're waiting for—oh!" He blinked at the humans dumbly. "Looks like some were left behind."
"Take these to the docks too, Hachi," Arlong ordered as he walked past his crewmate.
Nami used the moment when the old man's hold loosened and shook his hand off of herself with an angry growl.
"Nami!" Fuji hissed. He yelped when Nojiko ducked away from him too and took off after her sister.
"Bellemere-san!" they both yelled, practically slamming into their adoptive mother with tears running down their faces.
Bellemere winced, but managed to muster a small smile through the pain. "It's okay, Nami. Nojiko," she said softly, patting one girl's head, then the other's. Her hand shot out to instinctively shield them as the shadow of the octopus fishman fell over them.
"Oi, move it!"
"Leave Bellemere-san alone!" Nami all but snarled at the fishman.
Hachi reeled back, stunned by unexpected aggression. A second later, his eyes narrowed.
Bellemere tucked her younger daughter under her arm. Her other arm was just a mess of torn flesh and broken bones and refused to move, so she used an elbow to push her second daughter to hide behind her.
Once again, Hachi was taken aback by the glare he received from the woman, so fiercely protective as if daring him to do anything to the girls. He shook himself, drawing his shoulders back to appear more intimidating, and repeated in a no-nonsense tone, "You have to move."
Keeping an eye on the fishman, the old couple approached the trio. Ise ushered the girls a few steps away so that Fuji could help Bellemere to her feet. "How's your arm?" he inquired quietly as he winded his arm around her waist to keep her standing.
Bellemere cracked a wry smile, wincing when the first step joggled the aforementioned arm. "It's broken," she said, trying to pay more attention to where to put her feet rather than the trail of blood her daughters could definitely see. "It's bad," she murmured after a moment, low enough to keep it from the earshot of the girls.
Fuji frowned, features set in obvious signs of concern, but it wasn't like he could help, so he decided to stay silent. Their best bet was to go to the dock where all the townspeople should have been herded in, according to what they had heard, and find the doctor to look at her injuries.
The group made their way into the main street and then the docks, the octopus fishman following after them. Thankfully, he didn't make any moves to rush them.
Everyone was forced into the middle of an empty field by the dock, fishmen surrounding them and standing guard. The giant pirate ship looming in the background, black flag fluttering in the wind, and the sails spelling 'ARLONG', painted an imposing and demoralizing picture.
Genzo was the first one to see the latest arrivals. "Bellemere!" he shouted, pushing his way through to them. He stopped at her side, eyes widening. "What… What happened?"
"We ran into the captain himself," Bellemere replied, motioning the old man to help her down on the ground.
Genzo lifted his hat and ran his hand through his hair, muttered, "Shit," under his breath.
Doctor Nako brushed past him and kneeled next to Bellemere. Lifting his sunglasses on top of his forehead, he scanned the broken limb. He leaned closer to inspect the injuries, careful fingers prodding and pressing, and his age-lined face sunk into itself with the force of his frown.
"Listen up, pathetic primates!"
They all froze, heads whipping up to look at the speaker.
"From this moment hereon, this village… No, this entire island shall be under my control!" Arlong announced, his crew exploding into cheers. "On this day of every month, you'll have to purchase your very lives from me. 100,000 Beli for one human adult and 50,000 for one human child. We came without notice, so we'll kill only those who can't pay up right now." Arlong swept the crowd of blanching humans with his eyes, reveling in their fear and despair. "How about we start from…" He raised his arm, making a show out of it. "You!"
Bellemere couldn't quite stop a flinch when Arlong pointed straight at her. She could feel small trembling fingers grasping at her shirt. Nami and Nojiko were smart girls. Of course, they would realize that there was no way they had such money to pay.
Arlong realized that too.
Bellemere saw it in his dark, cruel eyes. In the twisted, malevolent grin. The way he licked those razor-sharp teeth as if preparing for a kill. She saw it—the heartless, sadistic monster.
She wasn't sure if he would have left her alone if she had the money. They needed to ascertain their dominance over these people, to drive in the point that they followed through with their threats. They needed to make an example out of someone.
It seemed that Arlong had already marked her.
Bellemere turned and looked at her daughters. Their eyes widened, instantly filling with tears. She wished that they weren't so smart at this moment, that they weren't able to catch on to the situation so fast. She smiled nonetheless, feeling her chest swelling with pride.
And then she shoved them away, deflating the emotions more violently than she meant to. She couldn't get hung up on it in fear that the pirates would decide that she was taking too long. She couldn't risk it. The lives of her daughters were on the line.
She stood up.
"I can pay 100,000 Beli," Bellemere declared, ignoring all the yelling around her. "It's my children's share." She smirked. "I don't have enough to pay for myself."
"Oh?" Arlong said, pushing his hand under his coat and behind his back. "How very unfortunate."
He pulled out a flintlock pistol and pointed it at the woman's forehead.
Villagers yelled. A few swooped forward only to get brutally thrown back by other fishmen.
And overlooked by them all, a blue-screened dome soundlessly swept across the area.
The grin on Arlong's face wasn't any less vicious than before. "You'll die for your pathetic love."
Her daughters' terrified screams rang in her ears. "Nojiko! Nami!" Bellemere exclaimed. "I lo—"
She vanished. Disappeared without a trace in front of everyone's eyes. One moment she was there, on another there was someone else in her place.
A straw hat flew off of the stranger's head, catching on a string around his neck and revealing a mop of messy black hair. His hand clutched the pistol's barrel, the metal bending and twisting as easily as paper under the force of the grip.
Arlong's eyes widened. Even he would be hard-pressed to deform metal so easily with only brute strength, and this was a small boy! A human boy! Where did he even—
A fist smashed into Arlong's face. There was a loud crack, and then another, and another as his nose, in which he held so much pride, fractured and broke. Nigh-indestructible shark teeth shattered into tiny pieces and his body flew across the field, broke through several trees, and crashed into the closest house.
In the deathly silence that followed, everyone could hear the dull thud of the ruined gun falling to the earth and the soft sound of sandals brushing against the dirt as the boy turned around.
Nami gasped when a second later she found herself in a tight hug. The boy's hair tickled her cheek. She smelled the ocean in the strands.
"Your mom's safe. She's okay. Don't cry."
A gentle voice spoke into her ear, soothing, reassuring, bursting with sincerity and promises of safety. Nami hiccupped, arms wrapping around the unfamiliar boy as she buried her face in the crook of his neck.
The kid glanced to the side. Reaching out with his free arm, he tugged Nojiko into a hug too. "I'm sorry I'm so late, we ran into a storm and it slowed us down, but your mom's safe now. She's on our ship with my brothers and Law is a doctor, one of the best. He's going to take care of her, fix her up, don't worry," he babbled, low enough so only two girls could hear him. "They're coming and will be here soon, we won't let them hurt you or anyone else, I won't let them, so please," the last word sounded like it was punched out of him. His arms around them tightened. "Please, stop crying…"
Nojiko sniffled. "Who-who are you?"
"I'm Luffy and I'm—"
The girls stumbled, thrown off-balance when the boy vanished from their embrace.
To their relief, though, Luffy wasn't gone.
He stood in front of them, lips pulled into a sneer. Opening his fist, he let bullets he had caught fall harmlessly down on the ground while glaring at the ones who shot them. The fishmen stared back, eyes wide and mouths hanging open in disbelief.
One of the villagers finally broke the silence as another development made him stammer, "W-whose ship is that?"
A caravel was quickly approaching the land, looking tiny next to Arlong's galleon. With white, unmarked sails and a flag that was clearly custom designed, no one recognized it and thus had no inkling of who it belonged to.
A huge ball of fire shot up from its deck. Everyone's eyes instinctively followed it as it soared high into the sky, flames spreading like wings of a blazing bird, before it changed its trajectory and flew downward twice as fast.
The projectile slammed into the middle of the pirate group, exploding on impact. The powerful blast swept the area, knocking down the closest pirates right of their feet with debris raining down on them. Even half of the villagers were left unbalanced from the sheer force.
The inferno didn't let up after the initial explosion, spreading around in a circle, pushing fishmen further and further away from the epicenter. It seemed as if it had a mind of its own.
Fishmen fell into disarray. They panicked and fled, but some were too slow to react and didn't dive out of the attack's path on time, catching fire.
"There is someone in the center!" someone in the crowd shouted.
Everyone squinted at the fire. Sure enough, they could easily discern a crouching human's silhouette inside the heart of the inferno. As they all stared at it, it moved, straightening up. The flames started to dwindle until only a few small separate fires were left burning in a circle around the mysterious person. He flicked his cowboy hat up with a burning finger, revealing a freckled face of a boy in his early teen years, and flashed a brilliant shit-eating grin at everyone.
"Yo, Luffy!" Ace called out to the first boy. "You can't just gobble all the fun by yourself!" The only reply he received back was a distracted, "Mmm," as a sign that he had been heard. Ace's eyes flicked to the two girls behind his brother, then to the spot on the edge of the area that Luffy seemed to be trying to incinerate with his glare alone. No one was there, so Ace looked around to note down the potential battlefield.
Meanwhile, the caravel made its way to the dock.
The girls snapped their heads in the direction of that achingly familiar voice. Their eyes watered again upon seeing its owner on the newly arrived ship. "BELLEMERE-SAN!" they both cried out, already running past the dumbfounded humans and fishmen and towards their mother.
Bellemere climbed over the railing, ignoring an annoyed, "Oi! What are you doing?" behind her, and jumped down. The impact shook up her broken arm that was now bandaged and put into a makeshift sling, but she didn't have time to even wince, because the next moment her daughters were already upon her, almost toppling her over. She hugged them as tightly as she could with only one arm. "Shh, it's okay now, it's okay," she whispered, tears gathering into her eyes as well.
"I told you to be more mindful of your injuries."
The three of them jolted at the interruption. Nami and Nojiko peeked at the tall teen with a sword who was suddenly just there, but ducked their heads down after meeting his piercing gaze. They didn't notice him coming! He looked scary!
Bellemere, however, shot the teen a withering look. "Oh, shut it, brat," she retorted. "A little fractured bone won't stop me from reassuring my daughters."
Law rolled his eyes, but said nothing more. He wasn't about to argue with a stubborn parent, even if she was acting like an idiot.
Cora face-planted into the ground behind him with all the grace of his usual self. Must have slipped as he tried to climb over the railing to disembark.
Yep. Acting like a certain idiot who Law knew so well.
Ignoring Bepo fretting over the said idiot, Law surveyed the area.
Ace had yet to move from where he landed, surrounded by the fishmen pirates, either too shocked or afraid to try their luck against someone who made such a dramatic entrance. Villagers clustered on the other side of the field, pure confusion and fear on each of their faces. Despite that, small glimmers of hope were starting to shine through.
After noting all of it, Law's eyes inevitably settled on Luffy as if his small disposition demanded unwavering attention from him and everyone else around him.
Eyes hard as steel, an underlying danger lurking in their depths, features set into a focused frown, Luffy was a titanium wall between these two hostile groups. Despite his sharp appearance and hostility rolling off his shoulders, he felt oddly calm.
Law had seen his little brother in such a state before; the first time had been when he leashed his deadly fury on the day Sanji almost died and Sabo got kidnapped. Luffy tended to slip into it rarely, only when things got personal. When someone threatened his loved ones. His nakama.
Law followed the boy's line of sight to the edge of the field.
A person leaned against the tree, holding a hand pressed under his nose. Blood flowed down his face, his attempt to staunch it notwithstanding, through his fingers and dripped from his chin onto his chest and the grass below.
Law's lips twitched up. Luffy was not a force this Arlong guy had bargained for when he decided to come to the East Blue.
Slitted eyes of the enraged beast glared at the tiny human who effortlessly sent him flying. "Who the hell are you?" the shark growled.
"Monkey D. Luffy," the kid replied, fierce and dauntless. "The Pirate King."
Arlong snarled, a low, guttural sound that would have left any lesser men soiling themselves. Yet, Luffy didn't even blink. "Kill them!" he roared. "Kill them all!"
Some villagers paled, some burst into tears. The fishmen crew exploded into murderous cheers, grabbing swords, pistols, and other weapons they carried with them, ready to kill, to destroy, to show these puny brats who they were dealing with!
Law pitied them.
Ace rushed to meet the wave of pirates with a grin as delighted as it was unnerving. He plowed through them in the form of a merciless fire tornado, not even bothering to avoid their strikes.
Sabo joined the fray as well, dancing across the battlefield and delivering hits with clean precision, his pipe a whirling blur as he parried attacks and countered with smashing blows of his own.
Bepo was there too, a white streak among the crowd as he dispatched his opponents left and right, electricity snapping and sizzling with every punch and kick that left the fishmen writhing in pain, if they even managed to stay conscious.
Law observed all of that impassively, not eager to join the fight. He would have kept on the sidelines if not for a couple of stray fishmen, deciding that Bellemere and her daughters were an easy target. Eyes narrowing, he gripped the hilt of his nodachi, flicking it out—
With a wild cackle, Ace hurled both of those fishmen somewhere into the nearby forest with a well-placed kick. He rounded on Law and shouted, "Ha!" with such a smug expression that it begged to be punched.
Law's eyebrow twitched. He couldn't let this one slide. Damn his pride if he did. "Just watch and learn how adults do it, Brute."
Ace crossed his arms and huffed, "Creep."
Contrary to the first time, everyone became aware of the shimmering blue dome that covered an entire area. All eyes also focused on the one who conjured it.
Law shifted, turned, raised one hand. Splayed fingers spelled DEATH. "Takt."
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, it started: wood creaked and groaned, ropes snapped, the water churned, misplaced things rolled around and broke. A cacophony of sounds and the shadow stretching across the shore drew the battle to a halt, nobody able to look away from the incredible and utterly terrifying event that Law was now orchestrating.
"Our ship is in the air!"
"W-What's going on here?!"
"Who are they?!"
The sound of Law's sword sliding out of its sheath felt like it scraped across the already raw nerves of the panicking fishmen. Then he swung it. Once. Twice. Thrice. And with every swing, the pirate ship split, invisible slashes cleaving its pieces cleanly in half. Debris and broken things fell away before they were caught back in the undetectable power and left floating above everyone's heads.
Law re-sheathed Kikoku, but he wasn't done yet. "Shambles," he intoned as he lifted his hand again, extended a few fingers, then spun his wrist.
Chunks of the ship and other bits began moving, drifting either up or down, stacking on top of each other into some sort of a giant bizarre structure.
Satisfied, Law brought his nodachi to rest on his shoulder, shooting a smug look at Ace. The irked glare he got in return made him grin.
"You know, Law," Sabo commented from the side, staring at the weird structure his brother just made with a dubious expression. "I don't know if I should be amazed or worried about your taste in art."
Ace cackled as he pulled his arm back, his fist bursting into flames, and punched forward, "Firefist!" A howling stream of fire slammed into the structure, blasting it into smithereens and devouring the remains in an instant. The boy continued to laugh like a madman, enjoying all the destruction he just caused.
Sabo sighed. "And if I didn't know, I'd have said that you're the bad guy here, Ace," he deadpanned.
"Eh." Ace made a little wave of dismissal. "Who cares."
Sabo jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at the poor innocent villagers. "How about them?" Whiter than the sheet of paper, eyes bugged out, mouths open—those people looked like they had witnessed the Reaper itself in action.
Law caught the sight of Cora's face and his eyebrow started twitching for a completely different reason now. Even with those silly facial tattoos gone, that particular expression was just ridiculous to the highest degree. Dammit. Law hoped to never see it again. He couldn't help but yell, "What's with that face?!"
Cora's jaw slowly returned to its original position and his mouth stretched into a huge grin. "I knew you boys were strong, but I never realized you were this strong!"
Law scoffed. Of course they were strong. No way that they wouldn't be. After all, they were trained by the Pirate King himself who knew their personal techniques inside and out. Not to mention…
Fingers tightened around Kikoku's sheath.
Not to mention, Cora could never be truly safe with Doflamingo lurking somewhere out where. The Admiral who killed Ace in Luffy's previous life was still there too. As was an entire World Government eager to see them dead.
They couldn't afford to be weak.
'D will surely bring a storm upon the world.'
Law smirked. Oh, yes. They were going to do it. No one would see or expect this storm coming. Nor would they realize just how big it would be until it had been unleashed upon the world.
"Luffy, watch out!"
The attention of the four brothers snapped to Nami first, then to Luffy.
Arlong roared, seething with pure hatred and overwhelming fury boiling inside him, as he aimed a punch at Luffy. With a slight twist and a step back, the thick limb whizzed past the boy, not even so much as grazing him. And Luffy immediately counterattacked with a blow to the fishman's stomach.
Arlong doubled over, choking on his own spit when the breath forced its way out of his lungs in a painful, explosive gasp. From the corner of his eye, he saw the kid winding his arm for another punch, but he couldn't react in time. A fist to his jaw planted his face into the dirt.
Luffy didn't move. Didn't smile. Didn't look away. "Get up," he commanded.
Arlong snarled, pushing up from the ground, ready to rip that tiny infuriating human apart, only to get kicked across his face the moment he lifted his head. The power put into that kick almost flipped him around. His head jerked back, neck screaming in pain and his own shattered teeth filling his mouth for a second time, but this time he managed to endure it and made a grab for the kid.
Anticipating the angle of the attack, Luffy shifted his body. With a growl of his own, he slammed his fist into Arlong's mug again. The broken nose bones cracked again. Blood splattered Luffy's face.
Arlong howled in agony.
Crimson droplets dripped from Luffy's knuckles with a rhythmic plop-plop-plop.
Other fishmen shuddered.
"Wait! Wait…" Arlong said, one hand pressed against his heavily bleeding nose and another extended towards the kid as if trying to keep him at a distance. "What do you want?" He felt a chill slide down his spine as he stared into those icy cold eyes with a dark twinge in them.
"I want you to get up."
Arlong ground his newly regrown teeth, indignation and shame flowing like molten lava in his veins. An idea popped in his head and his mouth stretched into a vicious smile. "MOHMOO!" he bellowed in the direction of the sea.
The sea churned and swelled and then erupted. A huge creature, fat and hundreds of feet tall, rose from its depth, easily towering over the dock. The caravel that brothers used to travel seemed like a small wooden shaving compared to this beast.
"It's a cow," Law deadpanned.
"It's a sea cow," Bepo added.
"Yep, it's a huge sea cow," Sabo agreed.
"A huge sea cow that looks tasty." Everyone looked at Ace. "What?" he asked. "All this fighting made me hungry."
Bellemere couldn't believe what she was seeing. These kids neither looked nor sounded worried. Although… She glanced at the youngest boy. That one appeared more unimpressed than anything else. Maybe she shouldn't be worried either. She still wanted to know, so she asked, "Why are you so relaxed?"
Luffy inhaled as much air as his lungs could hold.
It was Sabo who decided to reply to Bellemere. "Well, we're used to it," he said with a nonchalant shrug. "You see, our little brother has—"
"—a pet Sea King."
Once again, the sea moved and roiled. With a massive explosion of water, a Sea King burst through the waves. A long, deafening roar boomed across the land and sea for a few moments before it began to fade echoing out into the horizon. The snake-like body coiled around the startled sea cow, a terrifying maw of razor-sharp teeth poised to sink into Mohmoo's throat.
Mohmoo lurched back with a panicked yowl. One of his fins slapped the Sea King over his snout.
Kinto-un shook his head, but he didn't let up his hold over his prey. On the contrary, as the cow beast squirmed in an attempt to struggle free, his body wrapped around it even tighter. And then he struck again as fast as a snake on a hunt.
Mohmoo fell backward into the water in an attempt to avoid the bite and dragged the Sea King with it. Both giant beasts submerged, tails throwing water into the air. The fight continued under the surface as they thrashed against each other in a mess of tails, fins, and various growls, snarls, and grumbles.
Fishmen stared. Villagers stared. Arlong stared. Bellemere and her daughters stared.
Ace rubbed his chin. "Doesn't Kinto-un look bigger than the first time we met him?" he wondered.
"Now that you point it out, yeah," Sabo concurred. "He's definitely bigger."
"Ah! Luffy said that Kinto-un is very young and is still growing," Bepo supplied.
"Are you serious?" Law muttered. "How big is he going to grow?"
"I don't think even Luffy knows that."
The sea's surface became crimson. The cow surged out in another explosion of water. Kinto-un was wrapped tightly around its frame, pinning down flailing fins, teeth latched onto the side of its neck. He snarled, his muscles bunched and he wrenched his head in a ferocious shake. Mohmoo let out a miserable whine.
"Kinto-un, that's enough."
The Sea King froze, but he wasn't in a hurry to let go of the prey he had just hunted. Red eyes flicked to the straw-hatted boy, chest rumbling.
"The cow already lost and surrendered," Luffy said, not even looking at the two sea monsters anymore. "Right, Mohmoo?"
Eyes full of tears, the overgrown sea cow nodded his head so fast it must have made it dizzy.
"Just keep an eye on him now, Kinto-un."
Reluctantly, Kinto-un pulled back. His tongue darted out to lick at the blood along the edge of his mouth. Then he pulled his lips back as far as they went into a macabre bloody smile.
Mohmoo wasn't the only one who cowered at the horrifying display.
Luffy paid others no mind. He was staring sitting Arlong down again. "Get up," he repeated. It was a command and demand all at once, oozing with the intent that was a shade away from being murderous.
Arlong gnashed his teeth together, trembling in sheer rage. Something was very wrong here. No way could a group of human children do what they did with such obvious ease. His ship was destroyed, his crew beaten, his sea monster subdued, and he himself hesitated.
With a frenzied war cry, the fishman flung himself towards the kid, arm drawn back as far as it went for a full-powered punch.
Luffy mirrored his action.
Two fists collided in the middle, powerful enough to splinter the ground beneath and blow a cloud of dust up.
In the end, Arlong was the one who was forced to take a step back. He immediately retaliated by striking with his other arm.
Luffy followed suit and countered it with an equally strong punch. Their attacks met again, deepening the fissures underneath and sending yet another shockwave rippling across the field.
No. Not equally strong, a small traitorous voice whispered at the back of Arlong's mind. Stronger.
Before he could be pushed back, the fishman took a swing again. The boy cocked his head to the side and the attack passed a mere inch from his cheek. But a split-second distraction was exactly what Arlong wanted. He leaned forward and chomped down, aiming for the kid's throat. His jaws closed in on empty air with an audible click, because Luffy was gone from his spot.
The moment his feet touched the ground a few feet away, Luffy shot towards Arlong with his rubbery arms stretching behind him. In a blink, he was in front of his opponent, palms slamming into the latter's abdomen.
The fishman hunched over, mouth wide open and spittle flying from it, before he was launched backward. He wasn't allowed to get far, because Luffy appeared above him, a tiny fist burying itself into his stomach. Arlong's body hit the hard ground with shocking force and he wheezed, tasting copper from deep inside his throat.
Not even breathing hard, Luffy landed, and his quiet "Get up," in the silence that followed sounded like an execution sentence. There was a thick and heavy presence around the boy; raw power thrummed underneath his skin, pouring out and crackling around him, blooming in its intensity with every second that ticked by as Arlong struggled to heave his broken body up.
Luffy's head snapped up at his name being whispered. Nami stared at him, eyes wide and awed and slightly fearful, but she wasn't crying anymore. The taut lines of his face softened, muscles relaxed.
Nami was safe and sound with her sister and mother at her side. He was late, but not too late. Everything was fine now.
Arlong couldn't suppress a flinch when the boy suddenly moved, but his anger peaked and his pupils dilated when the ignorant little fool walked around him and turned his back to him. He summoned all his remaining strength, stood up, mouth set into a crooked grin, and—
Haki unfurled around Luffy like massive wings, dense and dark and terrifying. The air itself rattled with that raging, unchained, indomitable power.
—his eyes rolled back, froth spilled out of his mouth, and he collapsed out cold.
Luffy neither spared Arlong a glance nor broke his stride. No swagger in his step nor arrogance in his posture. The enemy fell like dolls with their strings cut off as he walked. None were left standing when he stopped in front of Nami. He reached up and behind, took his straw hat, and plopped it down on her head.
The girl blinked in surprise, gripping the edges of the hat's rim with both hands, then looked up, meeting those warm black eyes. Slowly, her face brightened up until she was all but beaming.
Just like that, Luffy's gloomy expression cleared, replaced by a wide D-shaped grin, rivaling the sun itself. And then he laughed, Nami followed, and everyone finally breathed out a sigh of relief.
The nightmare came to an end.
"Hey," one of the villagers elbowed another. "I might be imagining things, but… don't you think these kids look familiar?"
"What do you mean 'familiar'?"
"The story we heard from a passing merchant recently about those new bounty hunters?"
"Well…" The man scratched his head. "I don't see the wandering swordsman, but no one can confuse that electricity-using bear with anything else. There's also the kid who used fire to destroy things. And…" He gulped and his voice dropped into a hush as he spoke again, "I mean, that guy didn't behead anyone, but looks like he could do it easily. And the kid who just finished the fight…"
Both men looked at Luffy, then at an entire fishmen pirate crew unconscious, back at Luffy, at beaten Arlong, at the boy's wide, peppy smile up in all its megawatt glaring glory. They blanched.
Luffy dodged yet another head pat from a tipsy adult and ducked into the bush before the latter's friends could take notice of him. He was all for the impromptu celebration party, but these people became way too touchy-feely once they got some booze into their bellies.
Though, Luffy did have one complaint that bothered him more than that: he couldn't find Raw Ham Melon anywhere! And he searched for it too. Checked every single dish present at the party. Tasted all of them just to make sure. It was his second chance to eat it and it seemed that he wasn't getting any this time around either!
Luffy felt miffed. Cheated even. Nonetheless, he already spent way too much time scouring for this elusive food, it was time to take care of some issues.
He peeked out of the bush to make sure that the place was clear of any overly grateful people and only then jumped out. Fixing his straw hat on his head, Luffy strolled towards the dock.
The sun was dipping closer to the horizon and the first colors of sunset dyed the darkening sky. The Marines shouldn't take more than a few hours to arrive by now. And because Sabo made friends with the Marine Captain in Loguetown, she was coming here to settle this in person with no questions asked.
Luffy perked up as he neared the dock. Seemed that he picked up a few tails on his way here. Oh, well. He dismissed that fact, unconcerned, and walked towards the fishmen. They were all tied up, half still out of it even after all this time, including two of the top officers. Luckily, the one who was still conscious was Hachi. A group of villagers stood guard together with one of the brothers.
It was Sabo's turn to keep watch over captives. "Sabo!" Luffy waved at him, ignoring how both villagers and fishmen tensed at his presence. "Ooh, Bepo! You're here too!"
"I don't like drunk humans," the mink said softly, Sabo frowning at his words. "Why are you here, Luffy?"
The boy hummed, turning his head to look at the fishmen. "I need to speak with them." Pirates glared and sneered at him, the closest even spat at his feet, but Luffy showed no reaction to any of it. "I want to set one of you free, so that—"
"WHAT?!" the villagers on guard chorused. At the same time, in a series of clumsy clamor, two pairs of eavesdroppers scrambled out of their hiding spot from two different sides of the forest.
"You can't!" Nami and Nojiko yelled in panic while Bellemere and Genzo sounded more shocked than alarmed, "Set them free?!"
Both pairs stared at each other, startled. It was clear that none of them realized that the other party was also eavesdropping. Sabo sniggered at their befuddled awkwardness. Luffy didn't bat an eye at their presence.
Bellemere put her healthy hand on her hip. "Girls, I told you not to come near the pirates," she scolded. "It's dangerous."
"It's fine!" Nami argued. "Luffy said he'll protect us from them!"
Luffy nodded. He did say it and he meant it. No one could hurt Nami or her family now, not with him around.
Bellemere clicked her tongue and bit down on her cigarette. "We'll talk about it later," she muttered, then turned to Luffy. "Why free any of them?"
"To avoid any possible misunderstandings," the boy replied before addressing the fishmen again, "One of you has to go back to Fishman Island and tell Jinbe what Arlong planned to do here in the East Blue and on this island specifically and why exactly you were beaten and arrested."
Genzo frowned. "Jinbe?"
"Jinbe is a Warlord and Arlong's former Captain."
"Are you saying that it was him who sicced this…" One of the villagers motioned to a limp form of Arlong, searching for the right word. Being the one who bore the brunt of the Pirate King's Conqueror's Haki, the shark fishman was still completely out of it. "…monster on us?"
Luffy scowled. This was exactly the misunderstanding he wanted to avoid. The fishmen also bristled at the name-calling, but Luffy spoke first before they could voice their indignation. "It's not like that. Jinbe has no idea what these guys are up to, that's why he needs to be informed," he explained. "If he heard that Arlong had been captured, he might think it was all because he's a fishman. There's enough bad blood between us and them for him to think that way." Luffy's gaze fell on the octopus fishman. "I'd like you to go, Hachi."
Hachi started, taken aback that the human knew his name, but he pushed it aside and glared. "You want me to betray my nakama!"
"Yeah! You want him to betray us!"
"How despicable of you, human!"
"That's just how humans are! Despicable and cruel!"
Various shouts of discontent and insults barraged Luffy and other humans.
"What a bunch of idiots…" Sabo sighed with a shake of his head. He couldn't believe how blinded they were by their hate and lack of any awareness of what Luffy tried to prevent here.
"But you tried to hurt us! You wanted to kill Bellemere-san!" Nojiko suddenly screamed. "You're cruel! Not us!"
Fishmen fell silent, looking at the blue-haired girl. She shrunk into herself, but the next moment she mustered her courage and straightened up, meeting their stares with a defiant glare.
"N-Not at all!" one of the pirates shot back. "We didn't—We just wanted…" He trailed off, because they did do that, didn't they?
"Humans are better off dead!"
One of the pirates growled, "Humans killed my little brother."
"Humans refused to give medicine to my father when he got sick on his trade trip to the surface," another said. "He died on his way back home!"
"Humans enslaved our friends!"
"And my sister!"
"My father when I was just a small kid!"
Nojiko's fingers wrung themselves on the edge of her skirt. "Enslaved? Why would humans do such a thing?"
"Because we're stronger than they are! We're faster! We can swim to the bottom of the ocean and live there without needing to resurface for air!"
"Because they think we don't belong in their stupid world of humans!"
"Humans have stolen our children and our friends! They are evil! That is why we fight back and make them pay dearly for what they did to us!"
"They enslave us, because we exist! They know nothing of us!"
A few tears slipped down Nojiko's cheeks as she listened to what was being said. She didn't know what to say in response as more and more resentment and sorrow poured out of the fishmen.
"Less than a million for a human or a mink. More than a million for a fishman or male merfolk. 70 million for young female merfolk."
The straw hat's shadow split Luffy's face in half and all the others could see was his mouth drawing into a tight line after he spoke. Everyone felt a sudden edge bristling into existence, an eerie sensation, obscure yet overwhelming, settling along their skin.
Luffy didn't look angry, he looked dangerous.
Bellemere was the first one to shake the feeling off. "What are these numbers?"
"The minimum slave prices on Sabaody Archipelago."
"How do you know that?"
Luffy's features twisted into a sneer, hands balling into fists. "Because I also had friends taken from me. And if I have to punch those Celestial bastards to take them back, I'll do it. I'll burn down Mary Geoise if I have to." He looked up, gaze firm and dark. "There's nothing I won't do for my nakama."
The sheer conviction in that statement raised the hair on everyone's arms and necks. These weren't words coming from the ignorant child. No, this was the vow of a person who had witnessed the worst this world could offer.
It felt like a lifetime passed in silence. Finally, another pirate gulped and found his voice, albeit a shaky one, "Nakama, you say… So you wouldn't move a finger if it wasn't your nakama."
Luffy tilted his head. "I'm not gonna ignore someone getting hurt who doesn't deserve it. But I wouldn't go out of my way to find someone that I have nothing to do with so I could help them." He sounded a little incredulous. "I'm the Pirate King, not a hero."
"So why did you help this village?"
Luffy's eyes flicked to Genzo. "What do you mean, why? Because it's Nami's home. And she's my nakama," he replied to him in a 'well, duh' tone.
"Nakama?" Nami whispered, soft and unsure and praying for affirmation.
Luffy smiled. "You want to draw a map of the world, right?" She nodded. His smile widened into a grin, bright and ferocious, like a roaring inferno ready to swallow the whole world. "When I'm seventeen, I'm going to leave for the Grand Line and sail around the world to regain my title of the Pirate King. So become my navigator, Nami!"
A look of wonder took over the tension and unease on Nami's face. Her mouth opened, a happy agreement on the tip of her tongue—
"Hold that thought, Nami!" Bellemere interjected sternly, surprising the girl. "And you brat! Are you trying to drag my daughter into piracy?"
Luffy blinked. After a moment, his eyebrows drew together as he rolled that statement around his head. Well, technically, she wasn't wrong, but—
"That doesn't change anything!" a fishman yelled. "Humans will always hate anything that doesn't look like them!" He sneered at Luffy. "And you're the same!"
"Luffy's not like that!"
All eyes snapped to Bepo. Except for his brothers, everyone must have forgotten about the bear's presence, because they were visibly startled at his unexpected shout.
"Luffy's not like that at all," Bepo said, much calmer this time, but no less insistent. "Human pirates captured me after I lost my way home and treated me like a slave. I also thought that humans were horrible and cruel, but then Luffy and Law and Cora-san came and took me with them. No one treated me any differently and they… they even call me their brother!" Anger flitted across his narrowed eyes. A few sparks crackled around his fists. "There are humans who capture minks and sell them as slaves, but don't you dare say that my brothers are the same!"
Sabo spun his pipe, staring at the dumbfounded fishmen. "If we're throwing accusations around," he mused as his pipe came to a stop, its tip pointed at Arlong. "Isn't your Captain a lot more similar to those humans you speak of?"
"What do you mean?!"
"Don't talk nonsense!"
"He's not like those humans!"
Sabo wasn't intimidated by the series of outbursts in the slightest. "Really?" He crossed his arms. "Nobles, especially World Nobles, the so-called Celestial Dragons, think of anyone who is not of the same upbringing pathetic, inferior, useless beings—be it humans, minks, or fishmen—and kill them as if they are merely some trash to be disposed of." He paused, pinning the pirates with a hardened stare. "You all came into this peaceful village and attacked humans who had done nothing to you just because you believe that they are pathetic, inferior, useless beings, and killing them is merely disposing of some trash." Sabo let those words sink in and put forward a question, "How is that any different?"
Luffy decided to put the final nail in the coffin of their doubts. "What would Fisher Tiger think about what you're doing here? How would Koala react witnessing you all acting like that?"
Fishmen froze, eyes bulging and mouths falling open. "H-How do you know them?"
"Does it matter how I know?" Luffy deflected the question. "What matters is what would they say if they saw you now."
Some fishmen shifted, some lowered their eyes, yet others grimaced, but none spoke. No more insults were thrown, no more accusations. No rebuttals either.
"I…" one of them finally uttered. "I think you should take his offer, Hachi."
"He's right," another agreed. "Boss Jinbe needs to know."
"Yeah…. He might misunderstand otherwise, and we can't drag him or… these humans into this."
Hachi hesitated, "But…"
"No, Hatchan," one of his friends shook his head. "Koala liked you the most after Boss Ti, because you were always good to her. If anyone deserves the chance, it's you."
"Tell Boss Jinbe that we… regret not listening to him."
After seeing them making a decision, Luffy turned to the Cocoyashi citizens. "No one has any objections, right?"
Villagers shared a glance between each other and then all together looked at Genzo and Bellemere.
"It's fine by me," Bellemere sighed. "Seems like there's more to this than just pirates raiding a village."
"Fine by me as well," Genzo muttered with a thoughtful frown. "You were the one who captured them in the first place."
Luffy flashed a grin. When the same smile got directed to Hachi, it lit up even more. Soon, the octopus fishman was free of his bounds and followed the straw-hatted boy to the dock.
After a few steps, Hachi stopped. Taking a breath to fuel his courage, he spun around and bowed. "I'm sorry," he said, but dared not to lift his head and look at the expressions of humans. He didn't wait for their verbal reactions either, simply turned away and rushed after Luffy.
Nojiko brushed across her eyes. She didn't even notice when tears started falling down.
"Are you okay, Nojiko?" Nami worried.
"Yeah, I just…" She sniffled, rubbing her nose. She stared at fishmen, taking note of their colored skins, additional body parts, and how truly different they were from her and other humans. 'They enslave us, because we exist! They know nothing of us!' "Hey," she called out. Her voice was quiet, but in the relative silence that fell after Hachi's apology, everyone had heard her. "Tell me about yourself."
The fishmen fidgeted, awkward and slightly uncomfortable. The girl was looking at them, so she was obviously addressing them. "Tell what?" one finally asked.
Sabo chimed in with a suggestion, "How about telling her about Fishman Island?"
That piqued Nami's interest too. "Fishman Island?"
"Well…" The pirate took a glimpse at the human adults, gauging their reaction.
Bellemere gave him a go-ahead nod. She wasn't about to bar her girls the opportunity to learn more about the world, no matter how weird and dubious this situation was.
"Fishman Island is amazing!" Luffy bounced into conversation with an exuberant cheer. The dock was empty now, only a pair of red eyes gleamed in the darkness above the surface. "One day we'll all go there! Shishishishi!"
Bellemere smiled darkly. "Is now the right time to talk about this whole 'becoming the pirate' thing?"
"I'm gonna sail the world and draw a map of it!" Nami asserted with a burgeoning stubbornness. "I'm gonna leave with Luffy when he's seventeen!"
"She's your daughter, alright," Genzo chuckled. "The same headstrong attitude." He shut his mouth when Bellemere shot him a heated glare.
Bellemere tsked. "And if I say no?" she challenged her daughter.
"You said that I should chase my dream!" Nami reminded. "I want to be Luffy's navigator!"
"And become a pirate?"
"If I have to!"
"Oh, yeah?" Bellemere brandished her fist. "How about I knock those thoughts out of your head?"
Nami ducked behind Luffy, holding him in front of her as a shield.
Luffy wouldn't have minded, except… Bellemere standing there with her fist raised in a threatening manner reminded him so much of his grandfather just about to launch one of his Fists of Love, he broke into a cold sweat. "H-Hey," he stammered to Nami. "She's your mom, you should deal with this by yourself."
"What?!" Nami squeaked, her voice pitching higher at the prospect of 'dealing with it by herself'. "Aren't you supposed to be my Captain? Protect me!"
"But that fist looks like it'd hurt a lot."
A burst of nervous laughter tumbled out of Nami's mouth. "It definitely would." A pause. "Let's run?"
Luffy gave a sharp nod. "Let's run."
Nami eeped when the boy suddenly threw her on his back and managed to wrap her arms around his neck a second before he took off.
Abruptly, Luffy braked, skidding across the dirt. He faced the others again, all serious and intense. The straw hat shadowed his eyes and no one could read his expression or motives.
"Luffy…?" Nami tried softly.
"I have a question before we go," Luffy said, a hint of steel in his voice.
The boy's demeanor change at the drop of a hat was nerve-racking.
Bellemere cracked a tight smile around her cigarette and asked, "A question?"
Luffy looked up, black eyes drilling into her and pinning her down without effort.
Bellemere tensed. Sure, he was just a kid and she did just kinda threaten him, but she never forgot that this was the kid who took down the Grand Line pirate captain and a fishman to boot without seemingly any effort. She had no idea what was going on in his head and what he could want now.
"Do you know where can I find Raw Ham Melon?"
Bellemere's mind stuttered to a halt. Just… what? "…What?"
"…What?" Genzo echoed.
"…What?" the rest of the villagers chorused.
Luffy pouted. "Raw Ham Melon. I want to eat it!"
"Oh. Well, uh…" Genzo floundered. "Wasn't it Granny Niwa who liked to make those?"
"I know her!" Nami exclaimed.
"Alright!" Luffy rejoiced. "Let's go!" He zipped off into the village, Nami's delighted laughter trailing after them.
Bellemere pinched the bridge of her nose. She was reaching a limit of how much ridiculousness she could handle in a day. Her daughters hit it off with these unfamiliar boys in an instant. Which was odd in and of itself, considering that they didn't get along with other kids from Cocoyashi or neighboring villages. Even now, Nami teamed up with the most dangerous of them to flee and she could hear Nojiko chatting freely with the blond brat, the talking bear, and the fishmen.
Bellemere let out a frustrated noise and marched forward.
"Where are you going, Bellemere?" Genzo called out from behind.
"To find the father of these kids. I need to get to the bottom of this," she replied. Because she was clearly not getting any answers from the brats themselves.
Bellemere roamed around the village, dodging invites to dance and drink until she spotted the man. He was sitting at one of the more out-of-the-way picnic tables and stared at something at the end of the street. She followed his gaze.
Nami and Luffy, both watching Granny Niwa preparing to cut melon with equally fascinated expressions. Two other boys who were missing from the talks with pirates joined them, but seemed to be busy bickering with each other more than anything else.
Bellemere snatched a sake bottle and two glasses from the nearby table and brought it to where the giant man was lounging. "Cora, right?" she asked as she approached. When he looked at her, she flashed him a grin. "Do you mind if I join you? I brought a drink."
"Not at all." Cora motioned to the empty seat to show that she was welcomed here. When Bellemere sat down, he added, "I was expecting you, actually."
"How to say it…" The man rubbed the back of his head, straining to find a combination of words that would help to put a reason behind this chaos. "This is the first time Luffy claimed a nakama in this kind of dangerous situation that also involved a parent." He took the glass of sake that the woman pushed to him with a quiet thank-you. "There was Usopp and Kuina, of course, but their parents weren't in any danger of dying."
Bellemere grimaced. "Yeah…" she breathed out and took a long gulp from her glass. She focused on the sake burning her throat rather than the fact that she almost got killed and her girls would have been forced to witness it. "So, not the first time he did it, huh."
Cora's low chuckle sounded equally amused and exasperated. "Definitely not."
Her glass hit the table with a bit more strength than necessary. Cora winced. Bellemere heaved a sigh. "I'm grateful for what they did, don't get me wrong, but…" Laughter from Nami, loud enough even for them to hear, distracted her for a brief moment. "But your kid is about to drag my daughter into piracy."
"Look," the man angled his body to look her in the eyes. "I know you're worried. I'd be worried as well. Heck, I am worried… They're good kids and I've no doubts that they'll grow into good people." His gaze dropped to his glass, lips twitching down into a frown. "The world we live in can be a very cruel and unforgiving place and sometimes even good people can be deemed as dangerous existences that need to be erased." Cora glanced up again, brown eyes hard and deeply concerned—the eyes of a fierce protector. "Let's just say, while those kids have their own reasons to become pirates, with the burden they're carrying, the World Government might not leave them with any other option anyway."
No wonder he looked and sounded so apprehensive. Bellemere had heard horror stories about the deeds of the World Government whispered in the shadows. She had been a Marine, but she never allowed herself to be blinded by the justice they preached and always followed her own beliefs no matter who was telling her otherwise. Reason of why the World Government might target the children, she could think of only one—they were the children of someone deemed a threat to this global regime.
Which was absolute bullshit in Bellemere's opinion.
She kept it to herself, however, and instead muttered, "Sounds like a story," as she filled Cora's empty glass and then her own. "You do what you have to do to protect yourself and your own."
Cora's shoulders relaxed at the subtle hint that he didn't need to disclose more details. It wasn't his story to tell. He could, however, try to ease this woman's worries. "I've known Luffy for three years now since he saved Law and me from… from a madman of a pirate. I've tried to make sense out of most of his actions from the day I met him, but that brat doesn't make it easy." His mouth shifted to a resigned smile before continuing, "But I'm completely certain of one thing: Luffy deeply cares for his nakama. Whenever things have been dangerous for any of them, he's been there to protect them. I promise you that he'd treat your daughter with love, and if anyone tried to hurt her... well, that much you've seen for yourself."
Bellemere took a good swig. "I sure did." No way could she ever forget that feeling of awe and disbelief as she watched that kid in action. Or the weight of that unusually heavy air nailing her body to the spot as those who the boy considered his enemies dropped unconscious one after another.
"I also, uh, have a theory. Have you ever heard of the Voice of All Things?"
"No, I don't think I have."
"It's a power shrouded in mystery that only a handful of people possess. Rumors say that they can hear and communicate with other creatures and inanimate objects," Cora explained. "You probably won't believe me, but we came here because the sea warned Luffy about Arlong's arrival to the East Blue." When he wasn't immediately yelled at for making things up, he murmured, "Who knows what else the world tells him."
Her capacity to process bizarre things must have gone over the limit and out of order, because, somehow, this bit of information didn't even faze her at this point.
Bellemere looked down the street where she could see her daughters and all five boys now gathered around Granny Niwa. After what happened, after thinking that she would never see her girls again, watching them chat and grin and laugh felt like a blessing and a miracle. And it was all thanks to this weird bunch and even weirder little boy—a child with the eyes that spoke of willpower rarely seen in this world, who claimed to be the Pirate King.
Bellemere sighed. There was no use turning these thoughts over in her mind forever. "I guess I have no other choice, but to judge it for myself as we move on." She chugged down the remaining sake she still had left in one go and shivered at the burn. "Thank you for telling me what you could. Those boys are lucky to have a father like you."
"…Father?" Cora's eyes widened. "No, no, you misunderstand. We're not related." He waved his hand as if trying to shoo away her assumption. "I do love them and they do call themselves brothers, but some of them have deep-seated issues with their parentage, so I doubt they'd ever think that way about me."
Bellemere raised an eyebrow. Yeah, she figured that he was an adoptive father, but who cared about blood relations. There was nothing special about it. Family was a family no matter if they were connected by blood or not.
Before she could question it, Luffy appeared in a flash, two full plates in his hands with what Bellemere recognized as Granny Niwa's specialty—Raw Ham Melon.
"Cora-san! Cora-san!" the boy chanted, his grin so wide that it threatened to break off his face. "You have to taste this! It's so great!"
Cora took one plate with a gentle pat on the kid's head and a warm, "Thank you."
"Shishishishi…" Luffy slid the second plate across the table to Bellemere. "This one's for you, Obachan!"
Bellemere's eyebrow twitched. "Who are you calling obachan!" She would have bonked the brat over his head if he had been standing at her arm's reach. She was still in her thirties! Too young to be called 'obachan'! "Call me Bellemere!"
"Okay!" Luffy agreed happily. "Bell-san then!"
Bellemere groaned, "Whatever." He was lucky that he was such a cute kid. "Oh! Hey, brat!" Luffy slid to a stop and looked at her, tilting his head like a curious little bird. He really was a cute kid when he didn't pound bloodthirsty pirates into the ground. "Do you think of Cora as your dad?"
"Of course! We all do!" was the instant reply. And with that, Luffy was gone.
Bellemere rested her chin in her palm, a teasing smirk toying with a corner of her mouth. "Not a father, you say."
A reply never came. Cora's eyes rolled back and he passed out.
Bellemere blinked. "Ah."
-around a month later-
"Ta-da!" Luffy exclaimed, motioning to a small yellow craft lying on the shore and being washed by the waves. A very smug-looking Kinto-un towered over it.
Four boys and two girls stared at it. Honestly, it looked more like someone flipped a rowing boat around and put it on top of another.
"Is that a coffin?" Nojiko wondered.
Or a coffin.
Luffy huffed and crossed his arms. Kinto-un seemed to do his best to mimic his pout and it sent Nami into a peal of giggles.
"It's something I asked the shipbuilders from Neal Key Island to build," Luffy explained. "A submarine so I can travel underwater better!"
Law seemed intrigued. "A submarine?"
"How does it move?" Sabo questioned.
"Kinto-un will carry it!"
The Sea King puffed his chest and cocked his nose to the sky—a picture of glowing pride.
"You're going somewhere?" Nami asked.
"For a bit," Luffy replied, completely serious all of the sudden. "I have a few things I want to take care of, and a few other nakama who need help."
"Can this submarine hold more than one person?"
Luffy turned to Law. "You want to come with me?"
Ace wasn't far behind. "I want to join too!"
"Okay!" Luffy cheered. "Me, Traffy, and Ace!" He paused. "Team D! This is gonna be fun!"
"Team D," Sabo repeated in a deadpan. "Team Drowners indeed."
"That thing still looks like a coffin to me," Nojiko muttered next to him.
"Team Drowners in a coffin. What could go wrong?"
I wanted to apologize for neglecting replying to the comments. I still won't be replying to all of them, but I'll try to do better from now on. Just know that I definitely read them all, multiple times, especially when I'm writing a chapter and hit a wall and I need to hype myself to not just flip my table and be done with it.
This chapter and I in particular have love-hate relationship. Your comments and expectations and The Patient One's suggestions and patience by letting me vent and ramble in his PM were what kept me going.
So, thank you all! And, hey, tell me what's your favorite scene in this chapter. Quite a lot to choose from! ^^
Join me and the others on my discord channel! discord. gg/a7tQPPa