Hey guys, welcome to the last chapter, if you've read this far, thanks so much for sticking with me, I know it's not exactly perfect, but hopefully you're getting something out of it! This is just some quick 'thank you's and an even quicker reminder.
Reminder: Please leave a review as you run out of words to scroll through; there's a convenient little box down there so if you think this story needs more words you can add them yourself. I'd appreciate it a ton because I've kind of been working on this for several months now. Thanks so much.
And the thanks, oh who to thank first? Well my Dad helped we with an analogy back in chapter 4 the other day and he insists on getting credit for that, so there, thanks Dad!
Other than my parents and my Baba (grandmother) in particular I have online people to thank profusely. My dearest penpal/conversationalist/eye to the world/beta crazyrubsoff, who pointed out several points that I wouldn't have improved nor been able to improve without her assistance. Also, my second beta, (as neither were able to make it all the way through I had both looking at it) (yes it needed that much help) Ille Somnia deserves a copious thanks, both of them do! Thanks guys! *waves*
Finally, this is a Big Bang, so of course I must thank Bea for organizing this whole thing and my artist, Alex, who's art I will be posting a link to in both my profile and right here in this author's note the moment I am able to provide it. Thanks so much! It's been a great (trying/tiring/good-kind-of-exhausting-like-at-a-sleep-over) experience and I owe you guys a lot for that.
Please enjoy the final chapter, (if you've stuck around this long) and be kind should you choose to leave a review (not that I can really complain, beggars can't be choosers, hm?)
"Is it over yet?" Luffy moans.
"No." Zoro replies gruffly and Nami mutters something under her breath.
"Is it now?"
"Not yet!" Usopp sing-songs though irritation wears on his tone.
"No, for goodness sakes stop asking!" Nami seethes, taking out her anger out on the closest marine. Luffy shrinks away from her and mumbles to himself quietly, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.
"What's wrong with you anyway?" Franky queries and Luffy shrugs. "It's not very super to just sit on the sidelines bro."
"It's also rather unusual for you, you aren't mortally injured are you?"
"Ah! Robin don't joke like that, Luffy, let me check!"
"I'm not injured, well, I don't think…" Luffy evades the subject, pursing his lips and whistling nervously. "A little sore, but, I like watching you guys fight…"
After Luffy had joined them in the fight against the marines the direness of it seemed to fade considerably, besides, it was definitely a deal breaker on the marine's morale. Nothing like a come back by their trump card. But it hadn't lasted for more than fifteen minutes, at some point Luffy had withdrawn from the front lines, stretching his arms past his nakama to make his punches. The more time passed the less he contributed, slowly receding back to the center of the defensive circle where he now sat, slouched backwards and a little flushed from the brawl. He waves Chopper away as the little doctor bustles toward him, a roll of bandages impending.
"I'm okay…" He flinches as he shifts and Chopper's gaze sharpens with a new kind of ferocity.
"Sit still," The doctor commands and Luffy stiffens with a frown, remaining still as a statue as the reindeer shrinks down into his smallest form an unbuttons Luffy's shirt. He peels away the cloth that he now notices is wet with sweat and narrows his eyes as he inspects his captain's chest, jerking backward with a gasp of surprise after his initial glimpse. "Luffy…"
"What?" He asks, only slightly guarded, more of a forced chipperness.
"How… when did this happen?" Chopper's voice shakes and Nami peels away from the fight to inspect what put the young doctor in such a bewildered state.
"I don't really know, my chest just kind of started hurting a little while ago and I got really hot…" Luffy shrugs again, but you were in the middle of something so…"
"How much does it hurt?" Chopper presses, digging through his medical bag furiously, looking for something other than the pile of bandages that he's already stacked in a haphazard heap beside his patient. "What kind of hurt?"
"It burns," Luffy says plainly. "A lot."
"What bur- OH MY GOSH YOUR SCAR!" Nami screeches as she peers closer and gets her first sight of the enflamed, pinkish yellow skin that is stretched across Luffy's chest like a swath of desert wasteland.
"Hush up, witch." Zoro growls behind her and Nami throws a hand over her mouth, sinking down into a kneel and staring straight at Luffy's chest which just seems more gruesome the more she looks at it. She shouldn't have screamed but she'd been surprised! That's the excuse she decides on anyway, because she'll probably need one, what a rookie mistake; advertising her crew mate's injury.
Not that those blundering goons stood a chance at getting a hit on Luffy right now, no chance in heck.
"A burn." Chopper repeats as he seems to find what he's been looking for, a sealed bag of dried up leaves, bottle of water and a shallow bowl. It's almost dizzying to watch him mix up a salve fast enough to make Luffy's second gear look slow, the paste takes on a gunky texture and a heavy green color, like the veggie shakes she sees advertised on some islands. "It's almost healed up already…" He murmurs to himself and Nami gapes at him.
"You call that almost healed?" She whispers, aghast. Chopper nods grimly.
"If I'm estimating what this looked like to start with, yeah, this is nothing short of a miracle." He reaches out and sets his hoof on Luffy's forehead, who startles out of staring at nothing and almost jerks away. "Hold still," Chopper commands and Luffy complies with a grumble. After a moment Chopper pulls his hoof back and adds another kind of leaf to the mix, pounding the dried up crinkly substance into the mush. "You've got a fever, this yellow here is probably infection, and obviously there's some sort of painkiller in your system because this should feel like more than a burn."
"But it is a burn, isn't it?" Nami asks and he nods after a moment.
"It is, but it's not just a burn, there's a puncture wound in it too, it's a deep wound, deep enough to burn thr-"
"Okay, that's good!" Nami holds up her hands and scooches away, still casting a worried glance at her captain who's gradually becoming torpid. He plays with the fingernails on one hand for a moment before glancing blearily up at them, a warm and fuzzy smile snuggling into his features.
"Hey, we're going back to Sunny soon, right? Na, Sunny's probably waiting for us." He moves to get up and Chopper catches his hand and scolds him while Nami sneaks a final glance at the raw skin on his chest before standing up and darting back into the brawl, she's not going to touch that right now.
They all know only roughly where the scar came from, the war. They all know that it's a burn, and they all know that it takes a heck of a lot to scar a rubber man.
The fact that it's appeared now, when Luffy's mind is still caught up in Saobody can only mean one thing, a thing she'd never even contemplated.
Marineford is coming.
None of them see it coming, that's the bad side of a battle like this, everyone gets wrapped up in the seconds that are passing like hours and all of a sudden things that were happening at a normal pace catch up to those who had been caught irrevocably in the clutches of adrenaline and the fear and the frenzy.
So yeah, none of them see it coming, it is unpredictable and it is sudden and it stops the fight in its tracks but it does not by any means stop the fighters, rather it spurs them on.
It sounds like a belch.
Heat and flames erupt without warning from the tip of the volcano and the sudden stench of sulfur and ashes sweeps downward with a thick billow of smoke. The mountain seems to surge as it bursts its insides outward, apparently a step past nauseous as it spews out lava and smoke and flame, blasting upward in a dramatic fountain of fire.
It has the same effect of a gun shot at the start of a race.
"Move!" Sanji darts forward and scoops up Luffy, Robin grabbing Chopper and Nami snatching the medical bag as the field hospital goes on the road.
"Whoa!" Luffy shouts in Sanji's ear, staring over his shoulder as the cook lengthens his stride into a distance runner's sprint. "That's! That's… A lot of fire...!"
"Here's your stuff Chopper," Nami hands the bag to Chopper as Franky reaches down and lifts Robin on to one of his huge shoulders.
"Thanks," He sighs, slipping the straps over his shoulders and yellling over at Sanji, "Be careful with Luffy!"
"I got it!" He growls in response even as Luffy seems to be trying his best to maneuver himself so that he's in front of Sanji's face, staring wide eyed at the explosion, a look of awe spreading over his face. "Would you move?" He snaps and pushes Luffy around until he's clinging to his back, neck twisted unnaturally so as to get the full picture.
"This way Zoro!" Usopp insists, gasping as they fall behind because he may be the fastest runner other than Sanji or Brook but he's also dragging some serious deadweight, or, misdirected weight. "You have to run away from things that burn, Zoro! Common sense!"
"Yohoho, I wonder, ivory is made from an elephant's tusk and an elephant's tusk is bone." Brook muses as he runs cheerily, darting through the stream of marines that are stampeding with much less success than the Straw Hats. "Ivory is inflammable, could I be? Fireproof? Oh but it would burn my skin! But I have no skin… Would it burn my bone?"
"Human bones don't have dentin in them Brook," Chopper answers absently, riffling through his bag again. "Dentin is what classifies something as ivory, so no, you're still very flammable… Your teeth have dentin in them."
"Alas! I have removed so much of me that burns! But I cannot remove enough!" Brook chokes out tearfully and Usopp shakes his arm as he passes, yelling:
"Not now Brook!"
"I thought the volcano was pretty much safe?" Nami wails and Robin looks back to observe the explosion, the lava is now coursing down the hillside towards them, as well as flying through the air.
"Is it not very similar to the Smilies on Punk Hazard?" She observes "though these likely have no consciousness, unless the volcano ate a devil fruit and we've angered it?" She puts a hand to her cheek as she watches the disaster roll out. "In which case I suppose we'll all either be consumed by fire or encased in a solid layer of ash. I read once of a city that succumbed to such a fate. Their faces are preserved in eternal expressions of anguish." She laughs and Usopp rages at her for a second while Brook begins to cry again.
"I don't want to die! Ah! But I am already dead." He thinks for a moment. "My, I wonder if the afterlife has changed much since I last visited, more ice perhaps?"
"Don't say creepy things like that, both of you!" Usopp screams and Luffy laughs at them, though it's a bit wheezy, the smoke is around them, clouding in billowing smoggy curtains of ash. Luffy begins to hack and Chopper makes a nervous noise, Zoro curses.
"You don't really think the volcano ate a devil fruit, do you?" Nami asks anxiously and Robin shakes her head marginally.
"More likely nature is simply taking its course, lava has been carving down the sides of this mountain for millenia, I imagine a part of the rock simply gave way and a new path is being forged."
"Just our luck." Usopp grumbles.
"More like misfortune." Robin smiles and he hisses.
"I hope you're happy, Luffy, you get to see the volcano explode after all!" Usopp throws up his arms in exasperation, "You just always get what you want!"
"Not always," Luffy murmurs, seeming to fade as he lets his face twist back around and pillows his head and Sanji's shoulder blade.
And somewhere deeper inside himself he feels the truth of that statement.
Images swirl and Luffy sways on his feet, the smell is putrid, the heat pulsing; his body aches and burns. Ace, there is a lot of Ace, Ace running, Ace kneeling, Ace yelling, Ace bloodied and falling and Luffy reaching forward and catching him. With a jolt the perspective shifts and Luffy is lost for a moment as his hands brush over Ace's skin and around his back, where there wasn't any skin. He lifts his hand away for a moment, confused as to why he couldn't feel the warmth of his brother's back, and his gaze slides awkwardly over the crimson color that coated his hand like a slimy glove, oily liquid dripping off his palm.
"Ace…" He stutters and clutches at his brother's shoulders, speaking on the edge of hs breath.
"Sorry Luffy…" He gasps, cringes and coughs a wet sound, Luffy feels the heat as more blood falls away.
"I can't speak loud enough for the others to hear it," He interrupts, plows forward doggedly and some part of Luffy is screaming, shaking and pulling away and trying not to listen. Some part of him understands that these are Ace's last words. "But… Old man… Everyone… and you, Luffy…"
"Even though, I'm so worthless…" Worthless? Luffy wants to scream, You're not! I would have been alone without you! I needed you, I still need you. You're worth so much… "Even though I carry the blood of a demon…" So what? You think I care? You think anyone that matters cares? You can't leave like this, you can't- "Thank you." No. No no no no! Stop, stop it right now. "For loving-" STOP. "Me."
He feels the heat fleet, feels it roiling beneath his touch because his brother is on fire. He knows though, the same way Nami knows when it's going to rain, he knows that something is gone from him, something has been taken. He's lost something precious. And because what he values is no longer there he drops it, because now, what is it? A burning body, without any will or ability of its own. Ace is dead, he's not there anymore.
And a moment later neither is Luffy.
His mind is at war, his brain is broiling, thoughts bubbling uncontrollably, time passing in an endless downward spiraling reel.
Ji-Ji, Iva-chan, Whitebeard, Akainu.
Marco, Buggy, Aokiji, Shanks?
Traffy, Hancock, Jinbe, Rayleigh?
Places and scenes roll by, never ending, words merge into one another and sentences switch voices halfway through. "Count what you have left!" Nothing, I have nothing left. He wants to say, but he's not a liar and he won't pretend to be. He can't say something either because that's not what they are anymore, and he doesn't have them anymore anyway. They're somewhere, but he doesn't have them, they're all broken apart. Broken because he let them all shatter. He doesn't deserve to hold something so precious if he can't take care of it, heck, he can't protect his brother, he can't even protect himself.
He thinks of them and he's so lost, he can't help himself, he wants them, needs them. He doesn't deserve them but he'll take them because they'll come and because everything is so dark and they're the only he things he can see that shine.
They deserve more but he's so selfish and he'll take them and he cries as he counts his meager but oh so valuable remaining sources of happiness.
"I want to see them!" He cries, though the words feel distantly spoken, raw and too true to have close. He wants to see them, he has to apologize, explain, find a way to make things right. "I want to see them right now!" He wants to hold what he has left.
And somehow, he does.
In a swirl of heat turned warmth and tears turned sweat and a blur of images that he suddenly realizes is him moving, or his body being moved, because the world is passing in swipes of images that are slower than they had been a moment ago but somehow are more nauseating.
"Ng," He says and his mouth feels like a hollow cave getting a breath of fresh air, but he'd been breathing, hadn't he? He feels the warmth shift underneath him and he realizes he's riding something, no, being carried by something. The next breath clarifies the world and he tightens every muscle in his worn and broken body to try and cling to one of the eight things he has to live for.
The air is full of putrid natural smoke, but much more important is the thready sultry smoke of Sanji's cigarettes.
"Oi, Luffy, loosen up, I can't run right." Sanji grumbles and Luffy forces the knot in his stomach to uncoil, and when those bonds lose their rock hard tension so does the rest of his body in an all consuming sense of relief.
"Sanji…" He can't quite keep himself still, fidgeting on his back as he tries to see and hear and feel his nakama. He wants to know how Sanji got here, but he also just wants to revel in his presence. Luffy buries his face in the back of Sanji's coat, it smells like the laundry detergent Nami picked up on the last island, posy scented, he thinks she said.
"Doin okay back there?" Sanji asks and after a moment Luffy nods in response. No, he's really not, but even not okay feels so much better than what he's been feeling (lost in the dark) that this new feeling (lost in the dark with someone holding his hand) is something like heaven.
"Good," Sanji grunts and Luffy feels his shoulders loosen.
"Sanji, where are we going?"
"Back to the Sunny."
"Sunny's here?" He jolts backward and the world spins, he feels only slightly sick. Hey, was Jinbe still here? "Is Jinbe here?"
"No, why would Jinbe be here?" He twists rapidly, his heart in his throat as he looks behind him and he realizes that Sanji isn't the only one here. They're all here. Nami is the one asking the question and he focuses on her first because he's got to answer the question right? He does. Her hair is longer than usual, but she's been growing it out for a while…
"'Cause he was a second ago." He manages and she looks at him strangely before something like understanding comes over her face.
"Luffy you look like death," Usopp gasps and comes closer, his nose almost poking Luffy in the face as he bobs up and down, they're all running, what are they running from?
"What are we running from?"
"Lava." Sanji grunts and Luffy freezes in place, feeling an inferno flare up inside and begin to slowly singe his insides, soon he would be alight, he knows this, he knows this and there is nothing he can do to prevent it. Nothing at all.
"L-Lava?" He repeats and with the word memories filter through his mind on endless repeat. A long coat, a fight doused in flames and heat, a drifting card, a rolling red bead.
"-hey, hey Luffy are you listening."
"-yeah." He coughs and he suddenly realizes that the smoke is getting thicker, he's suddenly having trouble breathing.
"-ffy look at me!" He starts and looks up, his head had been dipping, Chopper's here now, that's good. "Luffy, how many fingers am I holding up?" Chopper holds up a quavering hoof and Luffy frowns at him, confusion warring with his desperation.
"None, Chopper, you don't have fingers."
"Oh, right. Usopp, hold up some fingers."
"I'm running right now! And carrying you! He can't get a concussion anyway, he's rubber!"
"Well, something's wrong."
Oh, they're worried.
"I'm scared." He tells them bluntly and Chopper's worried expression disappears, along with the rest of Chopper because Usopp has tripped over his own feet and their both rolling down the hill that Sanji is carrying him down.
"What did you just say?" Sanji sputters, and Luffy lays his head down on Sanji's back again and shuts his eyes.
"I said I'm scared. 'Cause I am. Sorry."
"WOULD YOU STOP APOLOGIZING!" Usopp screeches from somewhere below them and Luffy kind of wants to laugh, but not really.
"Sanji, hand him up here," Robin's arms are around him, duplicates, not her own. But they're passing him upward and Sanji is taking off down the hill to pick up Usopp from the bottom and suddenly Luffy is next to Robin and she's helping him as he scrambles up onto Franky's other shoulder.
"I'm not a bus you know," Franky grumbles but Robin just pats his head fondly and leans over it, reaching out and angling Luffy's face to look at her, he holds still and lets her look.
"You said you were scared." She says and he shuts his eyes with a wince, the fire, both good and bad, the ice, poison, burning rubber. That one is so faint, burning rubber, and it doesn't scare him as much as the others but it's so pungent, he hopes he never gets burned again because the scent is irrevocably joined with these memories. He is irrevocably tied to these events. No matter what he does they won't go awa-
"Luffy, don't think about that." He starts again and meets Robin's eyes, then realizes that he'd never looked away, just forgotten that he was doing it. "Luffy you trust me, don't you?"
"Yeah," He says, and he means it, he does. He's just not sure which part of him does, his mind or his body or his heart. Ha, maybe it's his bones. Skull joke.
"And you trust all of us, correct?"
"Definitely." Because he does, really. He's decided now, he does.
"I want you to trust us, trust me. Whatever you think is happening, whatever you thought was going on is very far in the past, do you understand?" He can't make his head wobble a yes because, it just couldn't have been. It couldn't have. Just before, Jinbe, and before that, before that Ace andheatandflamesandlogiasthatburnoneanotherandnooneseemstocarebecausehis brotherisademonbutdoesthatmatterbecausehe'sburning.
"Luffy, Luffy look at me, what are you thinking about?"
"Ace." He opens his eyes, though he doesn't remember closing them, Robin is watching him, she doesn't blink. The world moves around her, around them, not the other way around. It's all very solid in this little bubble. He coughs.
"You shouldn't, Luffy. Think about something better."
"There isn't anything better." He answers and she blinks, frowning at him.
"Ace died in front of me." He tells her and he sees the slightest flinch in her expression, he feels bad, but he can't stop anymore. "He died, right here." He holds out his arms, light flashes and he can see the oily red rivulets running down his arms. "It was my fault, he protected me. I'm too weak to protect him and he was only strong enough to protect one of us and he protected me because I couldn't protect myself." He raises his chin and looks out over all of them, they can't hear him very well, that's alright, he's talking to Robin. "There are nine of us. I can't protect one. Not one. I can't bear to think, I can't-" He chokes on something and he realizes it's emotion, he's crying, again. It's all he seems to do, lately. He's still a crybaby. Stupid. "There's nothing better than only one of us dying. It'll only get worse. I should stop, everyone tells me I should stop but I don't want to. I want to sail and be free and be a pirate like I've always wanted to be, but how can I?" He's raising his voice now, he probably shouldn't, he can't find a way to control the volume. "But I don't think I can, I don't think I can put you guys in that. I can't lose you guys too, I can't lose anyone else. No one. I can't. I need you, everyone." He's shaking, Robin reaches out and holds his hand, he clutches it tightly. He looks up at her, her expression is hard like a shield but soft like a hug.
"Luffy you trust me?" She asks again.
She smiles at him warmly, he does his best to copy, it feels like he's taking his first steps all over again.
"Luffy, we can each protect two."
"Oh." He says. "Okay, that's good." She smiles and he coughs again, things are getting hazy, his chest burns, does he smell burning rubber? "That's good" he repeats and after a wavering moment it all falls away.
"I can't believe that just happened."
"Really? You aren't used to it yet?"
"Shut up, Sanji."
"Shut up, both of you! We're not doing this right now, am I clear? We. Are. Not."
"Anything you desire! Nami, my sweetest flower!"
"Oi, now is not the time."
"It's always the time for a man to have the joy of making a woman happy."
"Let's not." They've made it down the mountain now and the town is outright abandoned. That's a good thing because none of them have the energy to run a rescue operation right now and the marines certainly aren't going to do it, they're sailing as far as they can as fast as they can. Cowards, the whole lot.
"Let's just hurry back," Chopper says anxiously "I don't want Luffy breathing any more of this smoke."
"Agreed," Robin says grimly. She'd been most quiet of all of them since Luffy had made his disheartening speech. I want to sail and be free and be a pirate like I've always wanted to be, but how can I? Never had any of them heard words like that from him. Never. They wish they could live for another thirty years and still say never, but they can't anymore.
"I've got two needles pointing to different islands, so it's okay that we haven't been here long enough for this one to set." Nami explains "We can set sail anytime."
"I think Luffy-bro should finish growing up back on the ship," Franky sobs quietly "This islands is bringing us nothing but heartache!"
"Yohoho… I will not miss the idea of my bones burning…" Brook chuckled sadly in a sad attempt to lighten the mood. "As I am entirely bone and losing my bones would not be very good… I would cease to exist, perhaps…"
Zoro stays silent, running solidly behind Nami because she grabbed his coat sleeve a little bit ago and she hasn't let go. They're close so he can hear how ragged her breathing is and the tenuous quality of her voice. It's not because she's running.
"We'll have to tell him." He decides. "That all this happened, he probably won't know."
"Presumably he won't," Robin agrees, "But nothing about this is very predictable. Did we tell you our theory?" She asks and those who don't know what she's talking about shake their heads.
"We've decided it's because he's rubber." Chopper explains "Because rubber is different and useful because it shrinks and expands under pressure…"
"Under pressure?" Usopp repeats, than his eyes widen and he slaps his face. "Pressure. Well crap."
"Are you joking? That's like some kind of cheesy pun! Why would it be so literal!" Nami snaps.
"Luffy-san is very literal himself, I find it fitting!" Brook says cheerily and Robin's second long smile reappears for an instant.
"Would you ever consider the flower-flower fruit to allow me to make my body parts grow like flowers?" Robin teases, "Devil fruits are notoriously unpredictable. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this whole fiasco is some sort of self defense mechanism. Luffy takes on a lot of pressure because he can withstand it, than, all at once, his fruit can't handle it anymore and he shrinks underneath it. As you relieve the pressure he returns to his normal size. It's not too hard to see."
"Not on this sea it's not, but I grew up in East Blue!" Nami groans, but there's a slight smile under her frustration. "That fruit has saved his butt so many times, I guess we're just adding to the list?"
"It almost got him killed!" Usopp argues, "Shrinking a person down to age seven is not saving them."
"Well it certainly saved him a lot of grief over the years." Sanji interjects and Usopp starts counting off circumstances where the fruit was a nuisance. Most had something to do with either drowning or seastone but there was that time he'd gotten stuck between buildings in Water Seven and a few other unusual instances.
"The bottom line is that we can't just let him go on thinking this never happened. It did and we're going to have to tell him."
"I guess," Nami sighs, "But he's been in such a rush for the past few days, it's going to be completely different talking to him about it."
"We've already talked to him about it," Sanji disagrees, "We just have to let him know it happened. We've been talking to him this whole darn time. If you're going to believe the rubber theory than you have to relieve pressure to let rubber expand again, so something that's been happening has been making him feel better. All this stuff we've been seeing? It's honestly in the past now, probably."
"The bright side of all this is that I imagine his blood pressure is lower now," Robin comments "So he's not as close to bursting a blood vessel as you've been fearing, Chopper."
"You're right!" Chopper brightens, "That's a good thing out of all this! I bet Second Gear will work a lot smoother now!"
"Yeah, at least something SUPER came out of this totally not super situation!" Franky is still crying but less now, and he's been shooting around angry and random 'I'm not crying you jerk's around at every one of them.
"Yeah, something good will come out of this," Nami sighs "And after Ace… I'm not sure there's anything left for him to go to."
"I think it's like many of his battles, he's made it to the largest fight after all the lackeys have tried their luck, and like always he's prevailed." Robin runs a feathery touch through Luffy's hair to keep it off his face, it's been getting a little long, she's thinking they'll have to force him into a hair cut soon enough. Things will be returning to their own quirky brand of order very soon, she's quite sure.
They set sail as soon as every crew member is aboard. They don't even bother packing Luffy away in the infirmary or his hammock, opting instead to lean him against the mast where they can all keep an eye on him, in case the latest development of his predicament isn't quite over yet.
Chopper seems to think it's gone, the X scar is normal, red and tough and two years old, Luffy's face twitches as he sleeps, always upward into smiles and half laughs. They all keep a little more than a quarter of their attention trained on the center deck as they sip out and curl the sails in preparation for a Coup de Burst, just in case.
It's not till a couple of hours later, after he's begun to roll around and has splayed himself over the grass and is snoring loudly, that he lets out a lengthy yawn and opens his eyes and sits up, lazy hand groping around for his hat somewhere on his person.
"Here," Zoro reaches over from his seat leaned against the railing and sets the hat onto Luffy's head who perks up and touches it's brim in confirmation of its presence.
"Shishishi, thanks Zoro!" He sniggers and then raises his head further, looking at the sky and the ship as the crew absently wanders closer. He notices them and beams, "Morning!" He chirps and Nami's face goes deadpan.
"Of course." Luffy frowns at her, tilting his head and then his expression turns stricken.
"Wait, morning?" Luffy scrambles to his feet and looks around wildly. "It's morning! I slept all night?" He stares at the sun, than cries out. "Afternoon! I slept all day! But I was on watch! Oh, Nam- Nami!" He turns around, ramrod straight and watching her cautiously, like a prey animal caught in a predator's den. "I-I didn't sleep all night…" He whistles nervously.
Nami stares at him for another moment before rubbing at her eyes, sighing loudly.
"I know you didn't sleep all night Luffy, it's okay."
"Really! That's great!" He cheers but then goes defensive again. "Is it really? I don't have to pay you or anything right? Cause if I do it was Zoro's fault."
"No, no you don't have to pay anything, it's just… Zoro do we have to do this now?" She turns abruptly and he shrugs, shutting his eyes again.
"I guess not, so long as it happens, and I get a chance to beat his head in for trying to pin this on me." Usopp snickers as Luffy wilts.
"Yeah, we can take care of this discussion later Nami-san," Sanji cuts in smoothly and takes her elbow. "We've all had a busy time of it, we don't have to open this can of worms just now."
"What?" Luffy asks, looking around at all of them, seemingly puzzled as to what has them all so touchy. "Did something happen? Did I miss something? Sorry!" He holds up a hand in apology and smiles bashfully, clinging to his hat. "I don't mean to fall asleep, it's just boring up there, all alone!" He pouts but the smile is back quickly. He watches them for a second and seems to sense that they are still stressing about something, something more serious. "Guys?"
"Nothing, it's just..."
"What?" Luffy presses as Nami trails off.
"You never change." Zoro grunts and Luffy beams up at him, chuckling.
"Good! I like being me!"
"Yep." Zoro offers a sharkish grin in return and Robin gives another second-long smile.
"And we like that too, Captain."