A.N: Hey-o and Happy New Years! (If you are reading when I release this/are randomly reading on a New Years, years down the line)
As a bit of context for this one-shot (if you want), it's inspired by an old folklore story called "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow" there are a few versions out there, so you're welcome to go find it if it interests you. What's important to know from the folktale is the world's rules are a bit wonkier, nature can work in mysterious ways and karma is a bit of a theme. What important to know for the AU setting is Luffy, Ace and Sabo haven't met in this timeline and Luffy is a sort of 'child of the sea' who lives on his own.
Looks like my One Piece and ASL bros obsession are here to stay, and I hope you're all enjoying your own One Piece journeys. Take care of yourselves, and I hope you enjoy the story.
Luffy was hungry, or more accurately, starving. Several of his ribs could be seen poking out, even past the fabric of his t-shirt. The tidepool he sat at provided a little comfort. The chilled water helping ease the nauseous funk that tended to linger when he couldn't catch some food for the day, and this was the third.
Luffy ran his hand in the water, feeling his eyes droop slightly.
"I don't feel so good." Luffy murmured to the sea. "My head's all wobbly…"
The sea hummed under his skin, the current swirling around his hand, when the water died down a smooth shell rested on his hand. Luffy giggled at the gift, the world tilting a bit as he laughed.
"Thanks! I'll be sure to keep it safe." The ocean hummed again with an insistence that Luffy didn't usually hear.
"Alright, I'll go find some food, so don't worry about me."
After a quick glance at the forest Luffy sighed, no such luck with hunting lately. Instead, he started the unsteady trek to the trash heap known as Grey's Terminal, maybe there would be something in the scraps tossed by the nobles.
Scavenging in Grey's Terminal was always dangerous, so after wandering for a bit Luffy thought he was extremely lucky when he found a bag of rather fresh bread and a solid chunk of ham. Though like most things in Grey's Terminal, that luck was a lie.
"You shouldn't take what isn't yours boy."
When he glanced up, Luffy spotted a rather bulky man that had a captain's coat thrown over his shoulders and teeth that looked oddly jagged. He has never met the guy before, but he could tell from the hushed whispers around him that he was some crazy pirate named Bluejam. The name sounded familiar, though only to the extent that Luffy knew he was in trouble.
"If this was yours you shouldn't just leave it places." Luffy huffed.
Without warning, Bluejam's fist slammed into Luffy's stomach sending him spiraling a couple feet as he wheezed. The creep was a bit faster than he looked.
"Maybe you should learn where to stick your nose." Bluejam spat.
"I was hungry."
"Everyone is kid."
Luffy was just stumbling to his feet when Bluejam grabs him by the front on his shirt and hoists him up, holding a knife to his face.
"Maybe taking one of your eyes will help you keep your gaze from wandering to stuff that isn't yours." Luffy tried to pry the man's grip off, but his shaking hands didn't do much for him, so he settled for leveling a glare at the man.
"Kids these days never know when to mind their manners."
For a second Luffy didn't realize what happened. Bluejam moved, his knife now tinged red, and Luffy belatedly realized his face felt a bit slick.
Then came the pain. Bolts of agony shot through Luffy's face as he raised his hands to the injury in a futile attempt at relief. The vision in the one eye he could see from seemed to flash white and dim around the corners. He attempted to kick his legs out, but the movement caused another jolt of pain as he let out a startled gasp, the taste of copper seeping into his mouth as he did so.
The next move Luffy took was not his choice. Bluejam hoisted him even higher before tossing him several feet away like a rag doll. He felt the impact, but he must have missed something because the next moment of clarity was of Bluejam crouching next to him.
"Try to remember our lesson kid, don't take what's mine and we won't have any problems." Luffy geared up a retort but before he could even inhale for the first word his world faded to black.
The next thing he knew, Luffy was waking up to the sound of two boys chatting over him.
"I'm telling you Sabo, just leave him, he's gonna die anyway."
"Come on Ace, you don't know that." It was nice to know the names of whoever had found him, even if Luffy was more focused on trying to pry open his eyes, which currently felt like an impossible task.
"I heard it was Bluejam. The kid probably doesn't have anywhere to go."
"That psycho? Great. Also, no kid in Grey's Terminal has someone to go to."
"We had each other." Sabo stated. A brief silence hung in the air. Ace sighed.
"Fine, but you're changing the bandages."
Luffy took the break in the conversation to focus all his energy on opening his eyes and sitting up, groaning as his face throbbed at the effort. He glanced at the two boys, having to turn his head slightly to do so considering half his face seemed to be wrapped in something.
"Oh, you're up!" Based on the voice, that was Sabo. Luffy look a second to try a focus on his face before nodding his head, causing his face to throb slightly. Both looked a few years older than him but otherwise didn't seem to share any similarities. Sabo's blonde hair and fancy clothes starkly contrasting the Ace boy's windswept black hair and tank top.
They didn't seem to be in the terminal anymore. At least it seemed that way as Luffy looked around the wooden structure that appeared to be suspended in a tree, panels haphazardly nailed into place, a slight breeze flowing through the main area of the house from a lack of glass covered windows.
"Cool…" Luffy commented as he stared out the window over the treetops.
"Hey there, I'm Sabo, the guy brooding in the corner is my brother Ace. Don't mind him, he'll come around. We found you and took you to our place. I heard it was Bluejam that got to you, that had to be rough." Luffy turned his attention to Ace who frowned before looking away.
"Well, nice to meet you Luffy." Luffy smiled in response as he moved to stand up, quickly losing his balance, barely being caught by Sabo before hitting the ground.
"Maybe you should relax for a bit, I can't imagine you're feeling well." Sabo said.
"Try not to start bleeding on the floor." Ace put in. Luffy pouted a bit but gave in at the pounding of his head. Apparently, he was more exhausted than he thought because it only took a minute before he was drifting to sleep, lost in dreams of waves.
"Should we wake him?"
"I don't know, you're the one who wanted to take on a hospital patient." Some time must have passed because there was no longer light streaming from the windows, and there was a distinct scent of food. Luffy spared the two from making a choice by sitting up, his stomach growling loudly. Sabo laughed.
"That answers that, here, Ace made some soup for dinner." Luffy grabbed the bowl from Sabo but when his shaking hands made it apparent that he was struggling, Sabo kept his hands in place for support.
"Geez kid," Ace started. "When's the last time you ate something, you look like a twig."
Luffy took a second to think about it. "I had some berries I found a few days ago."
Ace startled at the answer, looking the kid over again, sharing a bewildered look with Sabo. "Oh, okay, well just, there's food here now." Luffy smiled and nodded his head.
"It's so good!"
"Thanks." Ace said, shuffling awkwardly. Sabo gave him a knowing look.
The next time Luffy woke up, he felt like he was melting and was overcome with the urge to puke. The moment he groaned and curled into himself he felt a cool hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, you okay there?" That was Ace right? It was hard to tell when everything was garbled. When he tried to answer, nothing but a painful groan escaped.
"Crap, um, I'm going to go grab Sabo." Luffy reached out and grabbed the hem of Ace's shorts before he could stand.
"Stay, please…" Ace looked conflicted before sitting down next to him and calling out Sabo's name. When the blonde appeared, he rested his hand gently on Luffy's forehead.
"I think he has an infection."
"Well, what are we supposed to do about it?"
"We could…" Luffy never caught the end of the conversation.
The next time awareness comes to him it seems like the middle of the day.
"Hey there Luffy, are you with us this time?" Sabo asks, and Luffy blinks at him in confusion.
"Was I ever not with you?" Sabo stares at him in a way Luffy can't quite decipher before letting out a heavy sigh. Did he look this tired last time they talked?
"I think your fever has broken. Take it easy for a couple days and you should be good for walking around, you scared us a bit." As if being summoned, Ace entered the treehouse from a panel on the floor.
"I got some boar, there was…" Ace met Luffy's eyes. "Holy crap, you're awake."
"Yea, I don't feel all wonky either." Ace nodded his head slightly disbelievingly.
Dinner was soup again, though a different kind, and Luffy had a hard time believing Sabo when he told him he had been asleep for four days.
"It's true, your fever got so high that we had to cool you with water a few times. You were a bit delirious."
"Oh…well, thanks." Luffy pipped in.
Luffy isn't sure when it happened, but something seemed to slot in place between him and the brothers. Within a couple days they had established a routine, telling stories, making meals. When Luffy could walk, they spent some time exploring the forest. Ace and Sabo learn of Luffy's penchant for running into trouble, and they learn just as quickly how to adapt to it. Luffy learns how gloomy the brothers are when they get in their own head, and he learns just as quickly how to make them laugh. They sometimes would even wander into Grey's Terminal though when either of the brothers' catch wind of Bluejam being in the area they make themselves scarce, the residents telling the brothers that for some reason Bluejam seems intent on finding the boy again.
When a couple weeks passed and Sabo removed his bandages for what he announced as the last time, he wasn't really sure how to feel. He hadn't regained sight in his eye, so that was a disappointment, a deep scar now running under his left eyelid, but more than anything he didn't want to say goodbye. Going back to scrounging in the forest on his own.
Luffy fidgets as the last of the bandages are tossed away. "I don't want to go. Being alone hurts."
Ace looks surprised and Sabo stares at him with this fond look that makes Luffy feel like he belongs somewhere.
"Luffy, if you want to stay, we're not going to make you leave." Sabo says gently. "Right Ace?"
Ace seems to stumble a bit, his mouth opening for words that don't seem to come to him as Luffy stares up at him. "You really want to stay here?"
The answer is an immediate nod from Luffy.
"Then you can stay here."
Luffy squeals in delight and immediately grabs Ace and Sabo beckoning them to follow him. The brothers shrug, letting themselves be dragged through the forest until they reach the shoreline. Luffy runs to a nearby tidepools where ocean waves crash slightly over the edge. He babbles excitedly, to the ocean, running his hands in the water. Ace gives Sabo a questioning glance to which he shrugs again, both of them turning their attention to Luffy.
"They've been so nice to me; can you help me get a gift to thank them?" There's a swirl in the ocean and Luffy grins as he pulls out a box that's about the size of his head, stamped with an unusual skull and crossbones.
Sabo and Ace look bewildered as Luffy bounces up to them with the box in hand, a wide grin filling his face.
"Luffy, where did you get that?" Sabo finally asks.
"I asked the ocean to help me get a gift, to say thank you." Both Ace and Sabo take a second to ponder what kind of odd stray they've picked up before Sabo sighs fondly, Ace grabbing the box from Luffy, ruffling his hair with the other hand."
"Thanks." When they go to open the box both Ace and Sabo startle at the gold coins that seem to fill it to the brim despite the box feeling as light as a feather.
Sabo picks up a couple of the coins running his finger over of the ridges.
"You're a bit strange Luffy." Sabo states, the only response is an unashamed laugh from said boy.
"Well, it looks like the boy who didn't know how to mind his manners found some playmates." All three boys stiffen at the new voice, and Ace steps in front of Luffy while Sabo pulls him back.
"What do you want Bluejam?" Ace spits.
"I heard some strange rumors about the boy who couldn't mind his manners, so I figured I'd pay a visit. And what do you know, he seems to have been hiding something interesting." Bluejam pulls out his sword and gives it a twirl. "If you would be so kind as to give me that box, the little runt won't have to learn what it's like to be stabbed twice in one month, they say kids don't tend to be as lucky the second time around." Ace fumed as he took a step forward.
"Ace." Sabo hissed as he grabbed his shoulder. "It's not worth it, even if we win Luffy might get hurt."
Ace growled but tossed over the box, landing with a soft thump at Bluejam's feet. In the distance, the sound of rolling thunder echoed.
"Now get out of here!" Ace shouted. Bluejam smiled, slowly bending down to flick open the box. When his face twisted to one of confusion, neither Ace nor Sabo knew what to think.
"What kind of treasure is this?" The pirate remarked pulling out what appeared to be a distorted fruit, swirls forming ominous shapes on the skin. "Where is the gold?!"
The fruit began to glow, and the sound of thunder picked up to a loud roar, the ocean waves showing battering heavily on the shore. A growl distinct from the thunder could be heard and from the waves a sea serpent the size of a building emerged. All eyes on the beach fell on the creature as it let out a deafening screech, turning its eyes towards Bluejam. In one swift move the serpent lunged forward, chomping its jaws over the pirate, it's tail flicking distantly. When its eyes fell on the remaining group of boys Ace took a defensive stance, Sabo pushing Luffy further behind them, while Luffy looked up at the serpent in awe. After a second more of staring the creature let out a low comforting growl before slowly turning away and sinking into the sea.
"That was so cool!" Luffy cheered as Ace and Sabo attempted to regain their bearings.
"I think that was enough adrenaline for a lifetime." Sabo commented, still breathing heavily.
"Yeah." Ace muttered, taking a seat on the sand. After taking a second to retrieve the box, Luffy made his way back over to Ace and Sabo, placing the box between them. Ace hesitantly reached for the box, resting his hand on top.
"Are you sure about opening that again?" Sabo asked. Ace considered it a second before shrugging, causing Sabo to mumble about curiosity killing the cat.
In the box was the gold coins they saw previously, along with a note on top that wasn't there previously. Sabo glanced over Ace's shoulder at the paper that only had a short note.
"It says, thank you." Sabo stated curiously. Both Ace and Sabo turned towards Luffy standing a couple steps away.
"You're a bit strange Luffy." Ace said, causing Luffy to laugh once again, tugging at both Ace and Sabo's sleeves.
"Can we go home now?" Luffy pleaded. "I'm getting hungry."
Both Ace and Sabo looked at each other before grinning.
"Yeah," Sabo said. "Let's go home."