Trial by Error

BY : Demonized
Category: +M to R > One Piece
Dragon prints: 1975
Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece, nor do I make any money off of this work.

"Ace... Luffy...!!! We have to make it out to sea someday!"



It was nearly too much to bear, losing his Grandfather the way he did. Ace held on to him and rocked him as he cried, well until after he fell asleep. Jinbe, who had watched the whole thing from over on his boulder, came over and sat down next to Ace. The Fishman was at a loss for words, since he hadn't known Garp personally. He had only known him from when the old man had come to visit Ace in Impel Down.

"Garp had taken me in after my mother died and he took me to the Goa Kingdom. There was a group of bandits that lived up on Mount Corvo, Curly Dadan and her family. He left me in their care, and later on he brought Luffy to them as well. I was ten at the time, and Luffy was seven...

"Dadan!! Get out here!!!"

If there was one person Dadan feared, it was Monkey D. Garp. The large woman stepped out of her home, also her base of operations, a lit cigarette at the corner of her mouth and a nervous sweat visible on her exposed skin. "G...Garp-san!! You need to hurry up and give me a break already!! That Ace boy's already ten, you know!" Magra and Dogra appeared behind her, the taller Magra attempting to calm her nerves despite fearing Garp as well. "I'm not gonna be able to handle much more of this!! Take him back already, would you?!"

Unfortunately for Dadan, Garp had no such intention. "Ehhhh?! Who's that little rugrat?!" Garp had other things in mind for her and her bandits. "You're bringing me another!?" Things that Dadan wished he wouldn't do. "Garp's...ahh?! Garp-san's grandson!!?"

Garp could be very convincing. "Yup..." It was a sucker punch kind of convincing. "So choose, fellas. Live the rest of your lives behind bars, or raise this little guy." It knocked any arguments she had against the situation out of her. "I'm keeping all their eyes closed to your crimes, which number more than the stars, I might add...!!" Garp was a certified master of blackmail. He was also a bastard.

"Well... Yeah, we don't wanna be arrested, but I sometimes wonder if the slammer's really worse than this!" Anything was better than taking care of a brat like Ace. "I'm already at my wit's end with Ace alone, and now you want me to take care of your grandson?!" There was no telling what they were going to get into if they took Luffy in as well. "He's a little monster, isn't he?! Just like the other one!!"

Said monster was wandering around, minding his own business, while Garp was blackmailing the bandit into caring for him when something suddenly hit his cheek. "Gehhh!!" Luffy reached up to wipe the wet substance off of his cheek and he scowled at his hand when he examined it. "Spit!!! Gross!!" He glanced to his right, where the spit had come from, and saw a boy. "Hey!! Who did this?!"

Garp turned from Dadan, his blackmailing of the bandit on hold, so he could get a look at his adopted grandson. "Hey, Ace!"

Dadan's reaction to Ace's appearance was less enthusiastic and more surprised. "Whoaaa!! You came home, Ace?!?!"

Ace scowled at everyone from atop his slain buffalo, a bloodied pipe held in his right hand. The freckled child gave Luffy a weighted glare when his gaze landed on the seven year old, which Luffy returned.

"That's Ace. He's three years older than you. You're gonna live with him from forward, so you better get along, got it?!" Garp came to stand beside Luffy and smacked the straw hat covered head of his grandson. "Uuu!!"

"It's already decided?!?!"

"...whaddya want?!"

"I'm entrusting him to you!!!"



"We'll leave this country behind, and gain our freedom!"



"I hate..." Luffy glared at the family of bandits before him, memories of Higuma surfacing. "...mountain bandits!" All bandits were bad, so Dadan had to be bad too.

"Shut it brat, we're already tired with the likes of you!" Dadan wanted nothing more than to toss the kid out on his ass, but Garp would somehow find out if she ever did anything to Ace or to Luffy, so for the time being her threats could only be verbal. She had no choice but to raise Luffy, as well as Ace, no matter how ungrateful the brats were. Case in point when Luffy merely stuck his tongue out at her. "If you don't like it here, get out and starve to death!!"

"Calm down, Boss." Magra was doing his best to calm her down, the worrywart, but there wasn't much need for it. She wouldn't kill the brat herself. She'd let him get himself killed.

"This is too little. I want that meat too." Luffy held up his small bowl, empty of the meager amount of rice that had been given to him, and eyed the plate of meat that sat in front of Ace with jealousy. He was also drooling, the scent of the meat quite delicious. His stomach rumbled, as if to emphasize that he was still hungry.

"This meat is from the buffalo Ace captured!! He gives us some and that goes in our plates. Mountain bandits aren't in shape recently..." Dadan tore into a haunch of buffalo meat and leaned closer to Luffy, her eyes narrowed into a glare at the child. "You will have a lot of work tomorrow!! You will clean, do the laundry, polish our shoes and weapons! As well as rob, steal, swindle and murder people!" Luffy would surely learn his place if he was going to be staying under her roof. She would make sure of it. Just one thing though. "And you must not tell Garp what you are doing here!"

Luffy, having finished his food before everyone, sat there and endured the lack of a better meal. He had gone through much worse before. "A bowl of rice and a cup of water a day. That is all you can have..." Okay, so maybe not as bad as this. "Anything else you have to get or grow up on your own!" Now that wouldn't be so hard to do. "Okay."

He said it so calmly that Dadan fell over out of shock. She hadn't expected him to respond in such a way. If anything, she had expected him to complain. He should have been crying. "You agree? You were supposed to cry!" It probably would have been better if he did start crying. Instead, the brat was grinning.

"My Grandpa abandoned me in the jungle once before." Oh God... What had she gotten herself into? "I can eat worms, frogs, snakes and mushrooms as long as I want." There was no way this child was human. No possible way. "If I am going to become a pirate, I must be able to do that by myself." And that was when Luffy noticed Ace departing from the room. "Where is Ace going?" So Luffy got up and ran after him.

"Wait, where are you going?!!" Dadan was starting to panic, when it finally registered that he had said something else. "...did you just say pirates!?"

Ace had gone outside and was walking towards the forest, his pipe staff in hand. Luffy threw his sandals on and ran after the freckled boy to try and keep up. As Luffy made it out the door himself he heard Dadan declare, "Look at him!! He's too strong... That's why I don't want to take care of Garp's grandkids!!!" Magra, once again, was trying to calm the woman down as Luffy followed Ace into the forest. "Calm down, Boss!"



"How long are you going to carry on like that...?"



After a few minutes of walking, and with the sneaking suspicion he was being followed, Ace turned to silently glare at Luffy. The seven year old wasn't even phased by the look the freckled boy gave him and merely waved his arms at him as he yelled, "Hey!!! I am Luffy!! I am not angry about you spitting on me anymore!"

Ace kept silent and continued on his way with a glare occasionally tossed over a shoulder. Luffy was busy remembering the time when he had gotten mad at Shanks over the incident with the bandits, while the red-haired pirate had only laughed the situation off. Shanks had been right. It was stupid to get mad over something small like having sake poured on him. So he wouldn't be mad at Ace for the whole spit thing.

"It's not something to get angry about!! Let's be friends!" Luffy was persistent. He had to be. Ace was the only person he could be friends with. The older boy was by a tree now. Maybe he was too far away to hear what he was saying. "Where are you going?"

Ace kicked the tree. The tree completely shattered at the trunk, a testament to the brute strength the ten year old had. With the tree no longer stuck to its trunk it was sent careening towards Luffy.

"What?" It was so sudden, the tree coming at him, he barely had time to yell out in surprise as he was hit. "Aaaaagggghhh!" Thankfully, he was made out of rubber so the attack from the tree didn't hurt like it should have. "Aaaarrghhh!!" When he managed to crawl out from the wreckage of the tree Ace was well ahead of him. He ran until he was out of breath. He ran until he found Ace on a bridge crossing over a gorge.

Ace was shocked to see that Luffy, who was all bloodied up and had twigs in his hair, was still following him. His grip on the pipe staff tightened and he doubled back across the bridge to intercept the seven year old. Once he was close enough he leapt forward and knocked him off of the bridge.




"All the treasure we hid in the forest was gone. Sabo didn't use it in the end... So... I think I'm... okay with that."



"Ace... Why are you back, alone?" Ace gave the bandits his usual silent treatment as he walked into Dadan's hideout, alone. "Weren't you with Luffy?" Hopefully lost somewhere in the gorge. Maybe getting eaten by one of the many animals of the mountain. "Where is he?"

"Who knows," Ace finally answered. Magra and Dogra were surprised at his response, and the shorter of the two turned to Dadan. "Hey Boss! He is missing since yesterday, this is not good!" This wasn't just any kid they had lost. This was Garp's grandson!

"Well... Who gives a damn! If he dies so be it, we can't do anything..." Dadan wasn't concerned about the well being of Garp's brat. The Marine shouldn't have dumped Luffy on them, or Ace for that matter. So what if the boy had run off? "We have already given up from looking after Ace." Now that would really solve all of her problems. "I don't care if he dies... If so we will just tell Garp it was an accident." That, of course, was becoming less likely the older Ace became. "Of course that won't happen. It's just like in the saying 'A hated child is successful in the world'."

Ace had left the room by then, and was now leaning against the wall of a room adjacent to the den. He could hear them clearly. They knew he was listening to their conversation, didn't they?

"Think of what will happen if the Government finds out! He is the son of the Devil after all!" Dadan was cruel with her words, like everyone else when they spoke of him. When they spoke of his lineage. "Do you know what they will do to us?" Execute them, maybe.

"Calm down, Boss."



"No use collecting treasure if we can't even protect it..."



A week passed by since that fateful day, and it was night out. Dogra woke the house up with, "Boss!! Dadan, Ma'am!!" What could have been so important that he had to wake everyone up? "Luffy came back alive!!"

Indeed, Luffy did find his way back to Dadan's hideout. He was bloodied up, his clothes torn and he looked exhausted.

"He's still alive!?" Dadan came to the door, and saw for herself that Garp's grandson was indeed alive. After she had written him off and everything. "Where the hell were you!?"






"Hey! Where have you been?" Dadan blocked the entryway to her hideout as she questioned Luffy.

"I was being chased by wolves and fell off of the cliff..."

"The cliff!? Why did you go there for!?" Dadan waited for an explanation, but when Luffy wasn't forthcoming with one she picked the brat up. She brought him into the house and started over to the room where Ace slept, only to toss him in once she was close enough to not risk damaging anything. "For now, sleep." The brat landed on the bedroll they had set out for him and didn't move. "From tomorrow on you're going to work hard for us!"

Luffy was asleep instantaneously, which was surprising given his condition. Ace, who hadn't been asleep, really, opened an eye, despite his back being turned to the younger boy. He couldn't fathom why Luffy hadn't ratted him out for knocking him off of the bridge. Hopefully he had learned his lesson by now.



"Ace... I..."



Morning came, and Ace went right outside with it. He had barely walked ten feet when he heard, "Hey Ace!!! You're going somewhere again!?" Luffy was cleaned up and bandaged, courtesy of Magra, and so very enthusiastic. Why wasn't he angry? He should have been angry!

"Take me with you!" Well, the answer to that was simple. Ace wanted nothing to do with Luffy. The seven year old would only get in the way. "Come on! Let's be friends!" That was a definite no. Ace just glared and walked off into the forest. "Hey, wait for me!" He took that as his cue to speed up a bit. "This time, I'm not going to lose you!"

Eight days passed in this manner. Then ten days passed. Every day he followed after Ace, and every day he lost track of him. A month went by, and then another. Through the rain and the wind he chased after Ace as though his life depended upon it.

This ever perilous chase had soon been going on for over three months, and finally... "Huh? This is the end of the forest?" He had made it out of the forest north of Mount Corvo, where Dadan and her thieves lived, to a strange place. "What the hell is this place!? Oh god it stinks..." There were mountains of trash here, and they smelled so very terrible. Grey smoke rose from the piles of trash that spontaneously combusted, wreathing the area in a blanket of haze.

Luffy carefully picked his way through the mountains of trash, and kept his distance from the people that were wandering around as he continued his search for Ace. As he would soon learn, this place of trash was Gray Terminal.



"I want to..."



"Luffy-kun was very persistent," Jinbe mused when Ace paused, and the Fire Fist smiled faintly. The Fishman took a closer look at Ace and saw the sadness in his expression. "Ne, Ace-kun, is everything all right?"

Ace ran his fingers through Luffy's unruly black hair, the younger pirate still sound asleep and his head resting in the Logia User's lap. "Just remembering Sabo..."

He carefully picked his way through the Gray Terminal back towards the forest, a large bag under his right arm. Once he reached the edge of the forest he glanced around to make sure he hadn't been followed, and that no one was in earshot. "Sabo!" He went a little further in and looked up at the tree branches. "Sabo!" Ace cupped his free hand to his mouth as he called out again, "Sabo, are you here?!"

"Ah." A short, shadowed figure appeared in a small grouping of branches. "Hey Ace." The voice was distinctly male, and young, and it appeared as if the boy wore a top hat.

"Sorry for the lateness!" Ace lowered the bag to the ground and leaned his pipe staff against a tree. Ditching Luffy had been a chore, but he was positive the seven year old was well on his way back to the bandits.

"With you being late, I already did the job in town." Sabo grinned down at Ace, his form still covered in shadows.

"Hm, I see... Well guess what, so did I!" Ace hefted the bag back up and lifted it for Sabo to see. Even with Luffy being a nuisance and trying to follow him he had managed to still complete a job. Now it was only a matter of who had made more. Ace quickly joined Sabo up in the tree where their money was stashed away, and dropped the bag in front of the blond.

Sabo opened the bag while Ace went to retrieve his weapon, and a grin lit up his face when he saw how much money Ace had gotten. "Awesome! You got more than me!" The top-hatted boy opened up their cache of money and started transferring the stacks of Beri. "This is a lot of cash, how did you do it!?"

"I took it from a bunch of people near the gate!" Ace sat down on the tree branch and watched as the money was put away. "They might have been carriers for some merchant ship." It didn't really matter where the money came from, it all went into the same place.

"Damn it!! You beat me again!" Sabo mentally tallied another win for Ace, even though their competition was a friendly one. Regardless, this money was bringing them closer and closer to their dream.

"Who cares about winning... It's our stash of pirate savings which we're gonna use one day." Ace peered into the cache and took in the sight of a hoard of treasure that would make a lot of people in the Goa Kingdom envious. They would also kill for this money. "It's been five years since we started saving... We went through hell to gather this much..."

"Yeah! I wonder how much we need to buy a pirate ship." Sabo dropped the last stack of Beri into the cache and put his hand on the edge of lid. The blond glanced up at Ace and waited for him to answer.

"Who knows... But, we still have a long way to go!" There was no telling how much a good ship would cost them. It would have to be a sturdy one too. "Hurry and close it, who knows who will see us..."

"Pirate ship!?" a voice shouted from below. The two boys flinched and looked down to see Luffy. How had he found them? "You guys want to be pirates!?" Ace was glaring at the seven year old, his teeth bared menacingly, while Sabo was staring in open-mouthed shock. "Me too!"



"I want to get stronger!"



"So Ace, this is where you come to every day!?"

"Shut it!"

"So this is the Luffy guy you were telling me about..." Sabo had his arms crossed over his chest as both he and Ace glared down at Luffy. Ace had his hands on his hips, and they both carried a pipe staff. "So you finally came all the way here... And you did it by using a path that even a human couldn't walk through."

"Hey! Are you a friend of Ace!? Let's be friends!" Luffy was grinning widely, despite being tied to a tree. He was happy to see Ace, and even more happy to see that Ace had a friend!

"Shut it!" Ace's tone was chilly, but it did nothing to deter Luffy's cheerfulness. Sabo glanced over to his friend and scowled. "And this is the reason I told you to live here with me! That so called Mounyain Path Training really bit you in the ass... What should we do?"

"He knows our secret..." They had no other choice, because Luffy would surely blab about their treasure cache. "If we leave him, he'll tell someone." He and Sabo couldn't risk that. It was five years worth of stolen money. "...let's kill him." It was their only option. "I agree."

"WHAAAAAAT?!" Luffy's yell was loud. Sabo was the one to react by slamming his palm under Luffy's chin. "Don't yell, you idiot!!!" He kept his hand there in an attempt to shut the seven year old up. "I didn't think you guys were gonna kill me!!! Help me, I don't wanna die!!!"

"Sabo!! Do it!!" Ace urged, which caused Sabo to turn to him. "What are you talking about, you do it!" It was Ace's idea, so he should have been the one to do it. "I've never killed a person!!!" And therein was the problem. "Same here! I don't know how to do it!"


"SHUT UP!!!"

"Hey, I heard voices from here! Childrens' voices!!" Ace and Sabo seemed to freeze up at the sudden voices of adults. They were heading towards the three children.

"Crap! Someone is coming!" Sabo looked over his shoulder in the direction of the voices and tightened his hold on his pipe staff. This wasn't good. First Luffy had found them, knew about their treasure, and now this. Today wasn't turning out so well.

"First take the ropes off of him! We have to get away from here, or they'll find our treasure!" Ace cast a quick glance over his shoulder as well then quickly started to untie the ropes that held Luffy in place. Once the kid was free he dragged him into the nearby bushes, with Sabo hot on their heels.

A very large man, at least twice the size of the beat up men trailing him, came into view. "Those children Ace and Sabo you're telling me about are famous around here." They recognized him as Porchemy of the Bluejam Pirates. "You're sure it's Ace that took your money, right?"

"Yes... I'm ashamed, but he got me by surprise." The more banged up of the three men following Porchemy was the one who answered. Ace had done quite a number on all of them, but this one was sporting a sling for a supposedly broken arm.

"What a stupid child. To take money from our crew...!!" Porchemy looked absolutely pissed. "If Captain Bluejam hears about this, he'll kill all of us!"

"Damn... That guy was a trader for Bluejam..." Ace paled quite noticeably, and ducked lower behind the bush. "I got some dangerous cash here...!!"

"He's got a real sword! That's Porchemy!" Ace had really messed things up for them now. Luffy was no longer an issue, or a problem, and Sabo wasn't sure they would make it out alive if they were caught. "Have you heard of him!? He is crazy!" It was mostly rumor and speculation, but there had to be some merit behind it all. "He skins the heads of his opponents!"

And then they noticed something wrong. It was disastrous, mostly for them. "What... Where is he?" Ace had dragged Luffy into the bushes with them, so unless Sabo was mistaken, that annoying seven year old should have been with them. "Ah..."

"LET GET OF ME! DAMN YOU~!" Luffy screamed from Porchemy's grasp. Ace and Sabo promptly panicked and both thought, 'Why did he go to the enemies?!'

"Who's this brat?" Porchemy lifted Luffy up to get a good look at him. The kid was kicking and screaming for all he was worth.

"HELP ME, ACE!" Sabo and Ace ducked lower behind the bush and Ace glared in Luffy's direction. "He said my name..." he hissed out as he and Sabo did their best to pretend they were anywhere else but there. "He is such an idiot!"

"Did you just say Ace?" Porchemy eyed the brat with a look of uncertainty. "Do you know him?"

"He's my friend!" Luffy tried kicking and squirming some more, but Porchemy's hand was too tight on his shirt. "Oh, but he did try to kill me just now..."

"Damn him, he keeps talking!" Ace peeked over the bush at the pirates and Luffy, his eyes narrowed dangerously.

"I'm going to ask you one thing. Today, he took our money and ran away..." Luffy had stopped struggling by now and was glaring at Porchemy. His hands were balled up as he kept silent. "Do you happen to know where it is?"

"No! They will find our treasure!" Sabo joined Ace in peeking over the top of the bush once more. "That idiot better not say a word!!" There was no telling how much they had truly saved up in the past five years, and now they were so close to losing it all.

Luffy seemed to give Porchemy a pensive stare that he held for a long moment, then he glanced off to the left as he nervously whistled, "I... I... I do not know...."

Porchemy's shock was apparent as everyone shared the single thought, 'Wow, you suck at lying!' The large pirate was quick to recover and laughed maniacally. "Hehe.... You leave me no choice then!" The brat was obviously covering up for the older boys. "Heh heh, I'll make you tell us." That sentence was ominous. Ace and Sabo didn't like how it sounded, and it wasn't even finished. "Don't worry...!"

"HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? LET GO! WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME?" Luffy renewed his struggles as Porchemy carried him off, the following pirates laughing darkly. Ace and Sabo could only stare in shock. Luffy hadn't told on them, but no doubt he would speak after subjected to torture.



"...stronger... And stronger!! And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger...!!!"



Jinbe was surprised, to say the least, and he tried not to show it. Ace noticed the Fishman's shock, however, and sighed. "I've never forgiven myself for how horrible I was to him back then, and I still blame myself for what happened to him. We could have prevented it."

"What happened Ace-kun?" It must have been taking a lot for Ace to bare this much of himself to someone else. Jinbe couldn't fathom just what Luffy had gone through.

Ace paused and looked down at Luffy. It was dark now, and the younger pirate was still recovering. "Let's take Luffy inside first. I don't want him catching a chill." Despite him being empowered with the Mera Mera no Mi, his heat wouldn't be substantial enough for Luffy in his current condition. He was better off wrapped up in a nice warm blanket. A bed would do him good too.

He carefully scooped his brother up into his arms and cradled him to his chest as he stood. Jinbe joined him and they walked back to Law's submersible.



Elsewhere, on the island of Baltigo, home to the Revolutionary Army, a young man swept the feet of his opponent from under them with his lightweight metal staff. He was frustrated with the lack of news concerning the War at Marineford. It was safe to say that he'd been like this since the news of Portgas D. Ace's imprisonment and impending execution, but Dragon himself had explicitly given the order for him to not interfere. Fate would do as it pleased.

The man's own son had been reported to have taken part in the war as well, but there had been no news other than their abrupt disappearance. He and Ace both were presumed dead, and so here he was taking his anger and fury out on anyone who would accept his challenge.

Another stepped up to face him and this time he dropped his staff to transform. His body grew as brilliant azure scales replaced skin and clothes. Sharp, curved talons replaced his nails as his form became serpentine, a soft mane of gold going from his draconic head down his slender body and to the tip of his long tail.

He had assumed the full animal form of his fruit, the Ryuu Ryuu no Mi: Model Higashi no Ryuu. His challenger hesitated at the sight one of the rare mythical zoan users and he took that as a chance to surge forward. He opened his jowls and prepared to douse his opponent in burning scarlet flames when a sudden wind knocked him back. He lifted his head from the ground where he had been casted away like a rag doll and was met with the imposing figure of Monkey D. Dragon himself.

Dragon's stare felt weighted, and shame flooded him at his violent outbursts. He slowly shifted back to his human form, his attire nearly identical to what he had worn as a child, but far less tattered than what his clothes had been back then. It was one of the things he himself had insisted upon, so that he would never forget why he was now with the Revolutionary Army.

"Do not apologize," Dragon commanded as he started to open his mouth. He snapped it shut and stared at the man. There was no choice but to listen to him. "I have received word from Ivankov that they are alive and well..."

He fixated on those words, and effectively blocked out the rest of what Dragon had to say. Relief washed through him and he found himself smiling as tears sprang to his eyes. Dragon paused in whatever it was he was saying, as if he had noticed the change in the young man's mood, and gave a faint smile himself. He too was relieved that Luffy had made it out alive, with Ace no less, but he had sworn that he would let Luffy forge his own path now.

"Is Iva-chan coming here?" He picked up his top hat, goggles fitted around it in place of the ribbon usually found on one, and returned it to its rightful place on his head. Dragon nodded and there was a deafening cry from the onlookers that had gathered for his fights. One of their own would be returning to them and soon he would be returning to his brothers. Hopefully.

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