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.

"But we shared that drink with Sabo and we're still alive!"

Luffy had wandered quite a ways into the forests of Amazon Lily, where after a couple of hours he came to a paw-shaped imprint in the ground. He stared at it with a look of recognition in his eyes, and he had to wonder if the same had happened to his beloved crew. Not once had he thought of them since he had learned of Ace's execution. He was a terrible Captain. Not only that, at the battle on Marineford he had nearly cost Ace his life, so he was a terrible brother too. The final piece... Grandpa Garp was dead now, having take the hit meant for him, that Ace would have taken if Garp hadn't pushed him out of the way. That made him a failure as a grandson.

It was all his fault. If he had been stronger, faster and smarter then Grandpa Garp would still be alive. He and his crew wouldn't have gotten separated. He was weak, just like he had been back then.

"So remember this, Luffy."

"ACE IS NOT DEAD!" Luffy yelled at the top of his voice and tried to get around Magra once more. The bandit grabbed him by his shoulders and attempted to calm him, while at the same time keep him there.

"Now, now... I understand how you feel, but it's too dangerous for you to go back to the trash heap with the military on the lookout and your body in that state." Magra's tone was the one he used to try and calm the Boss with, even though there was a hint of worry in it. "The blaze was gigantic and the hopes may be slim, but..." He searched for the right words for a moment, looking just as lost as he and the other bandits felt. "We want to believe that our Boss and Ace are alive as well, you know! Dogra is out there right now, trying to scout out what's going on at the trash heap! Leave it to him!"

Luffy glowered with all he had, his teeth gritted together as he did his best to slip out of Magra's grasp. The band it's grasp on him was too strong, however, and he could do little more than glare and shout. Why couldn't they understand that Ace needed his help!

"This is hard for all of us, Luffy!"

"No matter what, the two of us have to live our lives with no regrets!"

"Hey! Everyone! They're back! They're both back!" One of the bandits shouted as he spotted Ace, then ran inside to alert the others. Everyone quickly swarmed outside to see for themselves Ace and Dadan coming up the path. The ten-year-old was carrying Dadan, much to their shock and surprise.



"Thank goodness! You really were alive after all!" The bandits helped him get Dadan inside, where they prepared a bed for the bandit leader.

Luffy, in the meantime, all but threw himself at Ace, bawling his eyes out as he clung to his brother. He wailed out the older boy's name, and took no notice of his growing anger. "What... Did you think I was dead?" Luffy nodded furiously at the question. "I...!" A hit to his head, completely unexpected, and Ace's shout of "What're are you crying for?!" had him ducking away.

"Don't act like people are dead when they're not, dummy!" Ace huffed and glared down at Luffy, his fist raised for another hit, in case his little brother decided to carry on with his crying.


"On the night of the fire, we somehow managed to defeat Bluejam..." Ace began, omitting the fact that they had gotten of lucky by managing to outlast the pirate before he succumbed to fatigue. "But by the time we had, the fire had already blocked off all paths of escape." The fire was what had truly beaten Bluejam, and it had nearly claimed their lives too. If it hadn't been for Dadan... "Dadan was burned horribly getting us through the flames. We made it to the forest, out of the blaze's reach, and hid ourselves there." Ace sighed heavily, his gaze going to the bandits sitting around the room. "I snuck into the town to steal medicine and stuff... I did everything I could to keep Dadan alive..."

"Now, now..." Magra began, from where he knelt by Dadan's bedside. "I see... It's wonderful at least that you're both still alive. You get plenty of rest now, okay, Boss?"

"Sorry I made you guys worry," Dadan wheezed out and tried to move an arm. She winced from the pain of the action and let her arm drop back onto the blankets.

"Still, after what happened to the trash heap... I wonder if Sabo is worried about us..." Now that everyone was safe, Sabo was all Ace could think and worry about. There hadn't been any news from the blond boy, and it was tempting to go and rescue him from his family.

"We're going to set out to sea someday...! Live our lives the way we want to...! With more freedom than anyone in the world!"

"Ace... Back there..." Dadan began after a long while, her voice a little better now that she had rested some. "Why didn't you run?" She had seen something in him, something she had heard of once before from Garp.

"Sometimes... The blood just goes rushing to my head..." Ace stated softly, his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. "I feel like if I run, I'll lose something important...and it scares me." So he couldn't run, especially if- "Back then, Luffy was right there..." -his little brother was in need of protection. Luffy wasn't as strong as him, so it was his duty to protect his little brother. Sabo's little brother. Their little brother. "Behind me. I'm not sure, but I think that was why."

Dadan remained silent for a long while as she remembered a conversation she had once had with Garp. It had been before Luffy had come to them, his hair black with streaks of white-gray on the sides. "Even if he found himself facing a massive army he couldn't hope to defeat..."

"I'm sure we'll end up making a lot of enemies on the way... Even Gramps will be our enemy! We'll be risking our lives!"

"Roger would never run. He would always stand his ground." Garp grinned and took a swig of his favorite brand of Sake, his gaze going to the red-haired bandit woman. He was comfortably seated, his back to one of the old trees in the forest of Mount Corvo, while Dadan stood a few feet away, puffing on one of her cigarettes.

"What, did he have a death wish? Knowing when to run is an important part of battle." Dadan was baffled at why Roger would risk his life in such a way. It made no sense for the Pirate King to face hopeless odds.

"True enough, but he would never run." Garp lowered the bottle of Sake and mulled over his next words. "Because the people he loved were standing there behind him. If they all fled together, he would be placing his crew in danger alongside him. So perhaps it's not that he wouldn't run..." He took another swig from his bottle then expected the contents with a slight scowl. Damn, it was almost empty. "But that he would do anything he could to stop the enemy from going after his crew. He wouldn't let the enemy get away."

Despite he was low on his favorite Sake, Garp grinned dangerously as a faraway look entered his eyes, his mind back on the conversation at hand. "At times like that, Roger became a true demon! He was even know to wipe out an entire country's military, just because they spoke ill of his crew."

Dadan remained silent as she watched Garp. Seeing him like this, looking as if he were reliving a memory if some kind, gave her the chills. Garp was a scary man on his own. Someone like Roger, she could see the demonic image fitting him better than what all Garp was describing to her.

"Sure enough, he could be ferocious, short-tempered and selfish if you made him mad. But every action that he took was as simple and honest as that of a child." Garp drained the rest of the bottle then tossed it aside. "Perhaps because he grew up in circumstances not unlike those Ace is going through right now... He detested the thought of losing his loved ones above all else. It's the fact that he lived his life in that way and still had the luck to survive that made him the Pirate King." Garp lowered his head now, his expression somber. "The world may have seen him as the ultimate evil, but the trust he earned from his crew was immeasurable. Even I, as a Marine soldier, couldn't bring myself to hate the man. That's why I decided to take in Ace."

"We're the ones who've taken in Ace!" Honestly, the gumption that man had. He had forced Ace upon them!

"What's that? You have some kind of problem?" Oh shit.

"N-no, not at all!"

"But when we turn seventeen, we set sail!"

Outside, Luffy was observing two beetles on the top of a barrel. It didn't take much for him to notice Dogra walking up to the house, no doubt coming back from scouting for Ace and Dadan. "Dogra! You've been out looking for Ace and the Boss, right?! They both came back just fine!" He got up from the barrel and excitedly waved the stick he had been using to prod the beetles with.

"I... Is that right? Well, that is good news!" There was something off with Dogra, and as he went into the hideout, looking rather dazed, Luffy followed him inside. The bandit spent several minutes going over everything he had observed, and when he had finished there was a stark silence. Ace, Dadan and Luffy all stared at him, expressions of shock and disbelief on their faces.

"THAT'S A STINKING LIE!" Ace was the first to react, and he did so violently. The ten-year-old leapt at Dogra and started punching him. "YOU DON'T EVEN JOKE ABOUT THAT!"

"It's no lie, and certainly no joke! It was so sudden, even I barely knew what was happening..." Dogra tried to explain, which slowed Ace down and even got him to stop hitting the bandit. "I doubted my own eyes! I thought I had to be dreaming, or hallucinating!" He sat up and pushed Ace off of himself, giving the kid a half-hearted glower. "Luffy... You told me that Sabo was taken by his parents, back to his old home, right?" Luffy gave a faint nod and Dogra continued. "But for rogues like us, it's easy to understand... There are some places a guy just can't bear to return to! If he had been happy there...would he have tried to set out to sea?! Would he have gone out there alone, flying that pirate flag?!"

"Sabo! He wasn't happy after all!" Luffy wailed out, while Ace sat down and held his head. "Why didn't we go and take him back while we had the chance?!" He stayed like that for a moment, then he was going at Dogra once again. "WHERE'S THE MAN WHO KILLED SABO?! I'LL GO AND MURDER HIM RIGHT NOW!" He let go of the bandit and quicker than anyone could realize he had a pipe staff in hand and was racing toward the door. "I'M GOING TO AVENGE HIM!"

"Stop right there, you filthy brat." Dadan, which shocked everyone, was quick to move from her bed and to slam Ace face first into the floor. He yelled at her, tried to attack her, but she got a firm grip on him and ground out, "Always acting so damn tough even though you're not as strong as all that! What could you possibly do if you went out there right now?! You'd just get yourself killed!" And they couldn't stand to lose him too! "You'd die, and by the next day the world would have forgotten you!" She spoke the truth, as painful as it was. Nobody, outside of their little family of bandits, Luffy and Garp would miss Ace. "That's all you amount to right now!"

"Who killed Sabo?! It was this countryThis world! You think you can do a damn thing about that?!" She was in Ace's face now, her voice hoarse and angry. Her eyes, though, were sad. "When your old man died, he died bring in a whole new age! I won't have you running off to your death until you're a great enough man to do the same!" Dadan was breathing heavily now, and she was so very tired. She tossed Ace to her men, who readily held onto him should he try to run. "Tie this idiot up, men..."

Meanwhile, Luffy was still crying, and wailing out Sabo's name. He had been at it for a long while now, and Ace could hear him from the tree he had been tied to outside of the hideout. The ten-year-old had heard enough of the bawling, and though he couldn't move, his mouth was still free. "Shut up already! Real men don't sit around crying, Luffy!" It was no use.

"We're going..."

"Have you cooled your head off yet, Ace?" It was morning now, and Dadan had come outside to check on him. Several of her bandits had gathered outside, mostly the ones who had gone out scouting. "Where's Luffy," one of them asked. "He spent the whole night crying... He's fallen asleep now." And thank goodness for that. She was sure he had cried his throat raw.

"Boss!" Dogra came running up, a News Coo flying right behind him. "This letter just arrived!" He held up a piece of paper for them to see. "It's from Sabo! It looks like he sent a letter, right before he set out to sea!"

"Give it to me!" Ace suddenly exclaimed, drawing everyone's attention to him. "I swear I won't go into the town..." He wouldn't! The letter was more important right now, or so he told himself. "That letter's for us, right?!" It had to be.

After a silent discussion amongst themselves, Dadan and her bandits agreed to let Ace down. The letter was handed over to the boy and they watched as he walked off to the cliffs.

Ace read the letter along the way, the envelope discarded far behind him. The letter read:

Ace, Luffy... You weren't hurt in the fire, were you? I'm worried about you, but I have faith that you're all right. I feel kind of bad telling you this, but by the time you read this letter... I'll already be out at sea. One thing led to another, and it looks like I'll be setting sail ahead of you guys.

As for where I'll go... Anywhere outside of this country is fine by me. Once I arrive, I'll get stronger, and become a real pirate. Once all three of us have become pirates, with more freedom than anyone in the world, let's meet again someday. Somewhere out there in the wide, open sea, I know I'll see you both again!

One more thing, Ace. I wonder which of us is the oldest? It's a bit strange, to have two eldest brothers and one younger brother, but this bond is my greatest treasure. Luffy may still be pretty weak, and a bit of a crybaby...

But he's our little brother. Look after him for me.

" be pirates!"

For a bunch of grown men, who could take most of anything, every single one of them had tears in their eyes. There was a lot of throat clearing and people rubbing at their eyes, all save for Ace. He sat there, staring at his hands, the tears evaporating off of his cheeks as he recalled Sabo's letter with perfect clarity. The reminder of his promise that he made to Luffy, and Sabo's instructions to look after their little brother had him looking around.

How long ago had Luffy left for a walk? A glance up at the sky showed that a couple of hours had passed, and though Luffy could look after himself, he couldn't help but worry. No one stopped him as he bolted into the forest. Jinbe, in fact, followed after him, as did Marco and a few of the other Division Commanders. They lost sight of him pretty quickly, but following his trail, one of leaves charred by his passing, was easy.

It took them twenty minutes to follow Ace's trail to the sound of sobs. He had found Luffy all right, and the both of them were sitting in the bottom of a strange, almost crater-like indentation shaped like a paw print. Ace held the young Captain, and rocked him as they both cried. Luffy's sobs were louder, though.

"I'm no Pirate King!" Luffy all but wailed out. "I'm still so weak!"

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