Trial by Error

BY : Demonized
Category: +M to R > One Piece
Dragon prints: 1819
Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece, nor do I make any money off of this work.

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

 


 


Once Ace had deemed Luffy comfortably asleep in the bed provided to him on Law's ship he sat at the edge of it. Jinbe occupied the chair adjacent to the bed, a look of patience on his face. There had been no further questioning on the Fishman's part, and Ace sat in silence for a moment as he attempted to form the words necessary. "I was a stupid kid...and even though I had my reasons for trying to keep Luffy, and anyone else for that matter, away... They weren't good reasons. It nearly cost him his life, how he defended the secret of our treasure from Bluejam's minions...


"Let me go!!!" Luffy was loud, and angry. The stupid pirates, if they could even be called that, had brought him to a capsized and abandoned ship in Gray Terminal and tied him up. No one paid attention to the pirates with a boy. They got to keep their lives for not interfering.


"I'm not saying anything!!!" He had been unceremoniously tossed against a post holding up the structure, and his continual defiance was starting to grate on Porchemy's nerves.


"Little shit...!!" Porchemy grabbed a large wooden mallet and swung it down on Luffy without warning. The other three pirates with him stared in shock at the boy's almost completely flattened body. They were even more shocked when the hammer was lifted away from the boy.


"Uuu...!!" He sat there, completely unfazed by the attack, a bland look on his face. "Like I already told you, I ate the Gomu Gomu--"


"GYAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" Porchemy gave a shout of frustration, effectively interrupting Luffy's explanation, and tossed the mallet down. After a moment he calmed down, a strange gleam in his eyes. "A Devil's Fruit, huh... Looks like he's telling the truth." He started toward Luffy, a hand held out for something. "Bring me my gloves."


His fellow crew members looked startled at the demand, and they had to wonder if Porchemy's gloves would even work on the rubber brat. "Listen up, you little shit. What your friend Ace stole from us was an important sum of money for our crew..." The tall pirate tugged on his gloves once they were handed to him. One of the others hoisted Luffy up so that he hung in front of Porchemy. "You know where it is, so go on and tell us already...!!"


Luffy gave Porchemy a defiant glare, to which the man cocked his arm back and swung. The boy steadfastly remained silent, not even a cry of pain coming from him, as his blood splattered on the ground. In truth, he was stunned by the blow.


"It worked!!" Porchemy's crew mates seemed surprised that the spiked gloves worked on the boy. "You shouldn't make pirates angry..." He inspected his gloved right hand for a brief moment, and noted the blood droplets on its surface. "Especially our Captain Bluejam. He's a bit of a brute..."


Tears welled up in Luffy's eyes as his body trembled. It hurt so much. "GYAAAAAAAHHH!!! THIS HUUUUUURTS!!" It had only been one punch, and it wasn't anything like Garp's 'Fist of Love', but it hurt all the same. "I'M SCAAAAAAARED!!! HELP MEEEEEEE!!!"


"You guys go search for Ace and Sabo," Porchemy instructed and readied to punch the brat again.


"Y... Yes sir!!"

 


 


"And then even stronger still!!!"

 


 


In the Midway Forest, between Gray Terminal and Mount Corvo, Ace and Sabo rushed to move their cache of treasure. "Hurry, hurry!! If Porchemy and his men get here, it's all over!!" Ace had been the first one to reach their cache, and had immediately started to pile as much treasure as he could in an old empty box. "We need to hurry up and move the treasure somewhere else! It's only a matter of time before that idiot Luffy breaks his silence!!"


"If they make it here, not only our loot this time, but everything we've worked up to save over these past five years will all be stolen!" They kept filling the box until it could barely hold anything more before they finally took it to a new hiding spot.


Meanwhile, Porchemy's crew mates were going around the Gray Terminal, asking around about the two troublemakers. They were met with warnings against the children, and even threatened by the residents of Gray Terminal. This kept on well until sunset, and they knew that Bluejam was expecting them. Their captain, who was a cruel man, was more likely to kill them over this, than to hear them out, so they feared returning to him empty-handed.


Back with Ace, the ten year old had finished moving the last of the treasure, and he was looking out at the setting sun from their new hiding place. "Evening sure came in a flash..." It had taken nearly all day. "...alright, finished!! All the treasure's been moved!!" He could announce it without fear now, for they had chosen a spot much deeper in the forest. It was probably closer to Mount Corvo.


Sabo came running up, a look of panic on his face, and he was panting from exertion as if he had ran without stopping or pacing himself. "ACE!!" He was a bit winded, but his voice was strong enough to carry up to Ace from where he had stopped at the base of the incline. They had found a tree overlooking a cliff, and their treasure was hidden among its roots, but it was a slight climb up to get to the tree itself.


"Sabo! How'd it go? Did they come searching for the money over there?!" Ace would have assumed by Sabo's panicked state that Bluejam's pirates had found their old hiding spot. The expression that was on Sabo's face said otherwise.


"Haa... Haa... No, they didn't!! There's no way in hell they would now!!" A knot of cold dread twisted in Ace's stomach as he tried to understand what Sabo was saying. "...it's Luffy, that son of a bitch...!!! Haa...!! He still hasn't cracked yet!!!" And then he understood. That little brat really hadn't told on them, just like when he hadn't told on Ace for knocking him into the gorge from the bridge that one time long ago. "Eh?!"

 


 


"Then I'll be able... To protect anything! I won't lose to anyone any more......!!!"

 


 


"Damn, what's taking so long..." In the cove off of Gray Terminal sat a simple pirate ship. It was the ship of the Bluejam Pirates. "Who's in charge today." Nobody went near the ship, save for its own crew. The residents of Gray Terminal had learned some time ago to stay away from Bluejam and his crew.


"That mangy dog Porchemy, Captain Bluejam!" Bluejam was well known for killing his own crew over something most would find trivial, though the current situation was anything but. Porchemy had been tasked with an important transaction today, and his tardiness was as good as defection.


"The sun'll go down soon..." Everyone knew what it meant for Porchemy should he not show up soon. "No matter what the circumstances, they shoulda got the money by now...!!" They weren't sure what would happen if their fellow crew mate showed up late. Bluejam seemed to be getting more irritable with each passing minute. "That bilge-sucker wouldn't try to take the money and run, would he...?"


"Naw, there's no way..." Porchemy was probably delayed, or something might have happened. There was no telling since no one from his group had returned.


At that very moment Porchemy was still torturing the rubber brat, his fellow crew mates looking on. "Cough it up, dammit!!!" The tall pirate swung his fist again and sent more blood flying. "Po... Po... Po... Porchemy-san...!! It's no use, sir...!!!" The boy was damn near unconscious, if not close to dead, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to talk. "He... No longer has the strength to even scream!" The boy sniffled, hiccuped and sobbed, but he hadn't screamed for a while. "I doubt he'll be saying anything from this point on... To be honest, this is turning out to be too brutal for me to watch...!!"


"If you've got the energy to stand around and stick up for some damn kid, then go and find Ace and Sabo already!!" Porchemy turned and punched his crew mate for his cowardice. "We're the ones whose lives are in danger here!!"


Outside, a small group of old men who lived in the trash mountains of Gray Terminal were discussing the situation. There wasn't anything they could do, unfortunately, as there were no laws in the trash heaps and Bluejam's crew had the aristocracy of the Goa Kingdom on their side. The pirates had permission to do as they pleased, and the people inhabiting the Gray Terminal were no better than the trash thrown there.


Back inside the overturned ship Porchemy was at the end of his rope. He leaned in close to Luffy's dangling body and shouted, "Answer me!!!"


"...I won't say..." His voice was hoarse from all of his screaming, even with his body being made of rubber. Blood, his own, covered him from head to toe. His hair was matted with it. The clothes he wore and the ropes holding him were soaked with it.


Despite all of that Porchemy punched him again. "Stupid brat, uou think you're grown up just because you can protect some fucking secret, huh?!!"


"I won't say...!!" Louder. "I won't saaay...!!" And louder still. Luffy would take the secret to his grave, it meant so much to him.


Porchemy looked surprised at first, then discarded the spiked gloves in favor of a sword. "Fine, then!! ...die." He stepped in to end Luffy's life, just as the hull of the overturned boat was smashed in by two very angry children.


"STOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!!" Ace lead the attack, with Sabo closely flanking his left, and both of them had their pipe staves with them. They took out one of pirates that had been watching the proceedings and jumped over his body to get at Porchemy.


"It's him!!! Porchemy-san!!!" The pirates, all save for Porchemy were panicking. They hadn't expected for the brats to show up. "He's the one who stole our money!! Damn it!!!" Porchemy eyed Ace and Sabo, a possessed look in his eyes, while Luffy wailed for Ace. "They came straight to us? That makes things easier!!!" The pirate caught Ace by his neck and started to squeeze. "This shithead friend of yours' mouth is so tight, I was starting to get worried!!!"


"Sabo!!!" Ace's shout startled Porchemy, giving Sabo the perfect opportunity to bring the pipe staff down on the pirate's head. Ace jumped back, now that he was freed from Porchemy's grasp, as the other pirates looked on. The blond boy leapt past one of the pirates and snatched the knife from him.


"Ah!! My knife!!"


Sabo used it to cut Luffy down and dropped it to catch the seven year old. "Let's run, Ace!!!" He started to haul Luffy away as Porchemy got up. Ace jumped between the retreating Sabo and recovering pirate to give the blond more time to get away. "Go ahead of me!!!" Sabo paused and glanced back in shock as Ace stood his ground. "You idiot...!!" They had beaten up the small fry easily, but Porchemy had a sword.


"Once I've faced an enemy, I never run...!!!" Ace was prepared to take Porchemy on. He glared at the pirate and gripped his pipe staff harder until his knuckles were white. "Stop!!! He has a sword!!" Ace didn't budge. "He's different from the punks in town!!!"


"Hey... Don't you think you're giving in to your urges a little too much?" Porchemy towered over Ace, a trickle of blood going down the left side of his face. "Just hand over the money nice and easy, you little dirtbag."


"We can use this money for a better cause than you!"


"Enough with the bullshit!!!" Porchemy brought the sword up and swung. He sliced the pipe staff in half as Sabo set Luffy down and ordered him to stay still. "If I lose to a kid..." Porchemy grinned dangerously. "I'll give up piracy!!!" Luffy watched on as Ace and Sabo proceeded to fight the pirate.

 


 


"........."

 


 


Night fell and Bluejam led his crew to the overturned ship where they found a badly beaten Porchemy. On the way there they learned of what had transpired and Bluejam was beyond furious. "I've heard the details. Porchemy, you pathetic waste..."


"My apologies, Captain Bluejam... The money was..." He tried to move, and could only shift enough to look up at Bluejam.


Bluejam pulled out a flintlock pistol and aimed it at Porchemy. "Don't you look up! I don't wanna see your face..." He pulled the trigger, and none of his crew flinched Porchemy took a point blank round.

 


 


"You've got to promise me...!!"

 


 


Luffy was crying, quite loudly and annoyingly. They had bandaged him up first and tended to themselves afterwards. The older boys sat a few feet away from Luffy, Ace with the higher ground out of all three of them. Sabo was scowling up at his friend as he did his best to ignore Luffy's bawling. "Man...that's really one bad habit you have there, Ace!! Saying I'm not gonna run to a real pirate like that!!!" That could have been the end of his life and theirs out there. "Why do you wanna die so much?!?!" The blond sighed after a moment of stubborn silence on Ace's end. "....haah. Now that you've gone and done what you did... There's no way Bluejam's men will ever forgive us! We're gonna be chased now...!!"


"That was shcary... I fwought I was gunna diiiie..." Luffy was still crying, his face an unsightly mess of tears and snot.


"Shuddap!" Ace snapped out. "Just how long are you gonna cry for, anyway?! I hate weaklings and crybabies!!" Whether his anger was renewed, or still there from the fight, Sabo couldn't tell. Still, Ace had a point about Luffy's crying. "You really piss me off!!"


Luffy immediately stopped his bawling, having sucked his lips into his mouth. Ace calmed down slightly, but watched the younger boy with a wary look. The rubberboy's boy shook slightly as he bowed at the waist and gave a soft, "...Shank you." The tears started again. "F...fur... Shaving me... Uuu..."


"Goddamn you!!" Ace started to get up to beat Luffy into a pulp, only to be stopped by Sabo with a hand on his arm. "Hey, hey!! He's just thanking you." Ace glared at the younger boy and breathed for a moment. It did little to help. "...I don't get it... Why didn't you spill the secret!!? Those men are criminals who easily kill women and children!!!" Ace hopped down from where he had been sitting and Sabo got up to join him, an expectant look on his face.


"...but if I told them, then we couldn't be friends anymore...!!" Luffy stated it like it was a fact, his tone serious. Ace was still quite angry, even with Luffy's answer. "But it'd still be better than dying, wouldn't it?!?! Why do you want to be friends so much... With me?!" It seriously baffled him with the want to be his friend. He had been downright horrible to the younger boy. "Do you know how much shit you've put me through?! After finally following me all the way here?!"

 

"BUT I HAVE NO ONE ELSE TO RELY ON!!!" Ace was stunned into silence as Luffy yelled out his answer. "I can't go back to Fuusha Village... And I hate the mountain bandits...!! If I didn't chase after you..." Luffy's voice dropped for a few seconds and he seemed to choose his words carefully. "Then I'd be alone... And being alone hurts worse than pain!!!"

 

"What about your parents?" Ace was reluctant to ask that question, but the peculiarity of why Luffy had been so persistent in following him was starting to make sense.

 

"My Grandpa's all I have."


Now it really made sense. With a man like Garp and how often he was known to visit, which wasn't very often, Luffy truly had nobody in his life, that he wanted to be around anyways. "...so if I'm with you, then it doesn't hurt..." Ace was given a prompt yes by way of head nod. "...and if I'm gone...it'd be a problem for you, huh?"


"Yup." There wasn't an ounce of hesitation in Luffy's answer.


Now would come the ultimate test. Remembering all the times he had heard others discussing if Gol D. Roger ever had a kid and how horrible it would be, how the kid shouldn't even be born, he asked the most important question. "You want me to live...?"


"Of course!!" Again, there was no hesitation.


"...huh. --but I hate spoiled brats like you, y'know." Ace sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he looked away from Luffy.


"I'm not a spoiled brat!! I'm strong!!"


"Strong? What's strong about you? You are a boy, but you cry like a little girl!!"


That made Luffy angry. "You ever been punched by spikes?!?! I'm seven years old!! When I get to be ten like you, you can bet I won't ever cry, and I'll be even stronger!!!" And it was reduced to a shouting match between the two of them.


"I never cried even when I was seven!! Dumbass!! Don't compare me with you!!" They were in each other's face now with no signs of either boy backing down.


"I'm gonna become stronger than anyone!!!" As hilarious as that sounded coming from Luffy, he sounded dead serious about his declaration. "Because I promised Shanks that I'd become a great pirate!!!"

 


 


Jinbe stared at Ace with a confused look on his face at the mention of Shanks, which made the logia user pause in his recollection of their childhood. "Shanks... You mean Akagami?" There was only one Shanks in the world, and that Shanks was a Yonkou. The same Yonkou that had showed up right before Akainu tried to kill that pink-haired Marine boy. The Fishman hadn't thought much of Akagami showing up back then, since he supposedly got along with Whitebeard.


"Hai. He was the one who gave Luffy his straw hat." Ace grinned at Luffy over his shoulder, the younger pirate mumbling in his sleep. "He always had the hat with him wherever he went. Said he promised Shanks he'd become Pirate King."


That Luffy had known Shanks from his childhood years, and had received the straw hat from him... "He's gonna make good on his promise." With Luffy, anything was possible. The young pirate had accomplished several impossible feats already, and there was no telling how many more he had accomplished as well.


"Yes, he will."

 


 


"A pirate!? You??" The idea that Luffy was going to become a pirate was laughable. He was nothing but a crybaby.


"Hey, by the way, you two," Sabo interrupted. "I have a little problem here." Ace and Luffy were forehead to forehead now, both looking ready to beat the hell out of each other. "I've lived in this trash heap all my life... But from this day forward, the three of us are going to have our lives completely targeted by pirates..." While this wasn't a problem for the other two, it was for him.


Fortunately for Sabo, Ace and Luffy had an idea on what to do. "What in the hell is the meaning of thiiiiis?!" Dadan, however, wasn't very agreeable to the idea. "Ace!! Luffy!!! Who is that!!?" She wasn't given a choice in the matter, though, because the boys would not listen to her. "Why is there another one of you pissants here?!"


"Yo! You're Dadan, right? I'm Sabo." The blond was all smiles even in the face of Dadan's surly mood.


"Sabo!!? I know that name!" It was no surprise that the mountain bandits had heard of Sabo. News traveled around. "I've heard you're quite the shitty little pipsqueak!"


"Oh really... Well I've heard that you're quite the shitty old bag!!" He said it calmly, like he was discussing the weather with her, and his smile stayed in place.


"Don't bother collecting information you don't need, dammit!!"


And so Sabo came to live with Ace and Luffy at the hideout of the Curly Dadan Bandits on Mount Corvo, between Fuusha Village and the Gray Terminal of the Goa Kingdom. Every day Dadan demanded they earn their keep, and every day the boys fought their way through the forest to Gray Terminal, and the punks inhabiting the garbage heaps, and the pirates of the cove. They fought until their names were well known, even in the inner reaches of the Kingdom.


"Dogra!! Magra!! Goa... Where is that place, again?" It was quiet in the hideout with the brats constantly off making trouble.


"Might you be speaking of the Goa Kingdom that lies beyond Mount Corvo, the Trash Heap, and also Fuusha village?" Dogra spoke up from Dadan's left as she read through a paper.


"--yeah, that's what I thought..." The bandit woman seemed concerned for some reason, and Magra was picking up on this. They all were. "Now, now, Boss!! Reading a newspaper is such a rare thing to see you do... Might you be interested in swinging around the ol' spear today?" Dadan ignored him and kept reading through the paper. "Apparently there's some guests coming to this Kingdom or something? Seems like its really serious news... What's the big deal? Are these people that important?" Dadan put the paper down so everyone could see the cover page. "These Tenryuubito folks."

 


 


"I don't blame Ace for what happened back then." Luffy's sudden statement startled the two older pirates and Ace was quick to turn around. The young Captain was laying down still, his eyes half-lidded and his gaze fixed on Ace's face now that he was turned around. "And I'm glad that Ace is alive."


Ace was stunned into silence, his emotions as clear as day. There was a deep guilt, pain and sorrow in his expression that he had been harboring for years and years. All of it for something Luffy did not blame him for.


Jinbe, who was watching this, decided it was best to leave the two alone for the time being. It was obvious that Ace wouldn't be so forgiving of himself, but he wasn't going to stick around for the conversation to come. He could understand why Ace felt so guilty, and though it was partially his fault that Luffy had suffered in such a way he had still gone to save him.


They didn't notice the Fishman's exit, the two of them too absorbed in a stare down. Ace was staring more out of confusion and shock and Luffy just stared back, his own gaze slightly puzzled. The younger pirate had sat up since his statements so they were face to face.


Ace finally blinked and Luffy broke out into a grin, taking it that he had won their stare down. The logia user couldn't help but to smile back, Luffy's cheerfulness infectious. How could he not accept Luffy's forgiveness, even though he felt he didn't deserve it or someone like Luffy. "Lu, thank you." He ruffled the younger pirate's hair and felt some of the weight on his heart lift.


The young captain laughed softly and hugged his brother. He gave him an affectionate nuzzle and closed his eyes as Ace hugged him back a little hesitantly. "I love Ace, very much."


"Eh?!" Ace blushed profusely at Luffy's sudden exclamation and he had to wonder if Luffy knew the meaning of love. He was so very simple-minded, and there was no telling what context he meant those words in. "Lu?"


"I love Ace," Luffy repeated his statement and sat back to look at his brother. "Is something wrong? You're turning all red, Ace-nii-chan." He leaned in close as Ace continued to blush, and his proximity caused the blush to darken. "Ace-nii-chan?"

 


 


Everyone had gathered in the conference room, a subdued Sabo watching from the corner of the room. His top hat was tilted down to cover his eyes, shadows cast over the rest of his face as his dark mood permeated off of him. Dragon sat at the head of the table, with their temporarily returned comrade sitting off to his right.


Ivankov hadn't changed much, and was still as flamboyant as ever. "Vi have good news and bad news." Still, there was a somber air around the Okama, so the bad news must have been terrible.


Sabo didn't want to stick around, and he started to leave his corner of the room, but a subtle glare from Dragon had him staying.


"Good news first. Mugiwara-boy and Ace-boy are both alive and well." Even though he was relaying such joyous news Ivankov's somber mood intensified. "The bad news... Dragon, I am sorry to say, but... Garp was killed protecting them."


It was no secret that Garp the Fist of the Marines was Dragon's father, so a heavy silence took over the excited whispers of Luffy and Ace's survival. "That isn't all... Kuma-kun... He... He vas turned into a tool for the World Government."


Everyone looked to Dragon, the man's pallor a ghastly white and a look of...anguish was on his face. It was the first time they had seen him look like that, and Sabo reflected the same expression. He knew all too well how Dragon felt about Garp being in the Marines, and though he never showed it, Dragon had always hated that fact. It was easy to figure out which side had killed Garp if he had been protecting Luffy and Ace, and with the second hit of Kuma being taken from them...


Dragon got up from the table and left the conference room, much to many of the revolutionaries' confusion. Sabo went after him after he exchanged a glance with Ivankov. The blond caught up to Dragon in the hallway, where the man had stopped and was leaning against the wall. Sabo didn't say anything. He just stood there beside Dragon as the man silently grieved.



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