So Close Yet So Far
Ace lay exhausted on the hard floor of the barn they were forced to sleep in. He had spent all day moving huge rocks out of a field so that Farmer Rob, who was letting them live with him, could start planting. The man made sure that he and his brothers were constantly busy during the day so that they would be too tired to do anything other than sleep once the sun went down.
Ace hated it.
He missed being able to play after he worked. He missed being able to eat more than just a slice of bread a day. He missed having someone he could go to for help.
He missed Thatch.
And Pops -er Captain Whitebeard.
And the rest of the crew.
It had been over a month since he had seen the pirates. It had been a week of sailing and then a month of nothing but work and almost nothing to eat. He really wanted to leave but Garp told them to wait for him and that he will have somewhere new for them to stay the next time they saw him.
He looked towards the door as it creaked open and Sabo stumbled in. "Hard day?" he asked.
"Shut up," the blonde responded as he dropped to the floor next to Ace. "Luffy still not back?"
"No. I haven't seen him all day. You?"
Ace frowned. Luffy had been getting back later than him and Sabo and would leave before they both woke up. He was up to something and Ace was getting to the point where he wanted to know what it was.
"Get in there you good for nothing, freeloading, brat!" a familiar gruff voice yelled and Luffy came flying into the barn. Ace saw his hat roll a few feet away once Luffy landed. "I swear. I have no idea why I agreed to help Garp in the first place. I don't even like him. Maybe I'll take Darius up on his offer." The man continued to mumble as he made his way towards the house.
"You okay Lu?" Ace asked pushing himself up onto his knees so that he could help his brother if need be.
Ace stood and staggered across the room not reassured by Luffy's tone. He almost blew his top when Luffy turned to face him.
"What happened to you?" he demanded outraged. His little brother had clearly been beaten, badly. He was bleeding from his head and had scrapes all over him. What happened? Luffy was hard to hurt.
"I found a dog and Farmer Rob found out," he said sadly. "He got mad."
"Geeze! What'd he do to you?" Sabo asked joining them and checking Luffy's injuries over frowning at what he saw.
"It's not that bad. I'm alright," Luffy said smiling. It just made Ace angrier that Luffy, of all people, felt the need to try to make them feel better and not worry about him.
Ace wanted to march down to that big stupid house and show Farmer Rob a thing or two but knew it wouldn't be a good idea. There were several navy officers on the island right now and Garp had warned them against drawing the navy's attention for some reason. Ace was surprised that Farmer Rob hadn't just gotten rid of them yet anyway; It was more than obvious that the farmer didn't want them there.
He complained often enough.
"You didn't answer my question," Sabo pointed out.
"I'm tired," Luffy complained ignoring his brother before falling back onto the ground.
Sabo sighed but left Luffy alone. He was too tired to deal with his stubbornness right now and the younger boy was alive so it was alright. The blonde dropped down to lay next to the straw hat wearer.
Ace followed his brothers' example and soon all three were on their backs.
"I hate it here," Luffy said. Ace could hear the pout in his voice. "Why do we have to stay?"
"I say we run away tomorrow," Sabo said. "We did it when we were with Dadan, so why not now?"
Ace shook his head. It wasn't a good idea. This island didn't have a forest like home did. If they were to leave he didn't know what plants were edible or what kind of animals lived here. If they ran away then there was a chance they might not be able to survive.
He voiced his thoughts.
"I hadn't thought about that," the blonde said sadly.
Sabo must be getting desperate if he hadn't thought things through.
"Let's just try to get some sleep. Lu, don't go off until we wake up alright," Ace requested with a yawn.
"Farmer Rob killed Doggy so I have nowhere to go." Ace was pretty sure his brother was crying over the animal.
"I'm sorry he killed your friend," Sabo said. Ace shifted so that he was closer to Luffy. No more had to be said.
As he felt his eyes grow heavier he thought about how satisfying it would be to kick the stupid farmer and make him pay for hurting Luffy and his new friend.
Maybe he'd kick the crap out of him after the marines were gone.
Sabo was startled awake by the barn door slamming open. "Get up you bastards."
The blonde sleepily looked up at a Farmer Rob who looked way to happy with himself.
"Wha's goin' on," Luffy asked rubbing his eyes.
The sun wasn't up yet which meant that it had only been a few hours since they had fallen asleep.
"You're no longer my problem. That's what going on," the man spat. He stepped to the side revealing another man. "This is Darius. He has so graciously offered to take you off my hands and he will be taking care of you from now on." Farmer Rob laughed as he turned face and walked towards the house.
Sabo frowned. He didn't like the look of Darius. The man had on a dirty coat and had long reddish hair and rotting teeth. He looked like he had never taken a shower and didn't even know what a toothbrush was.
"Hello boys," he smiled down at them. Sabo was sure he had just seen a worm slide from one hole in his teeth to another. "We're going on a trip."
"Grandpa said we were supposed to stay with Farmer Rob," Luffy said before darting behind Ace as the man reached for him.
Ace kicked him in the knee before the man could grab onto the younger boy. "Don't touch Luffy."
The man glared as he rubbed his now sore knee. "You brat. You won't get any meals for the next three days for that. And I don't care what your grandpa told you. He was stupid enough to leave you here so really he doesn't care that much about you." He stood up tall. "Now as I said before we're going on a trip." He snapped his fingers and ten other guys came into the barn, all with nasty smiles, holding ropes and bags. "You won't be needing anything so don't bother with packing."
"Where are we going that we won't need any of our stuff," Sabo asked taking a step closer to Ace so that Luffy was now out of sight of the man.
The man gave another revolting smile. "You're going to Sabaody Archipelago."
Sabo felt his heart start to pound. "S-Saboady?"
He knew what that meant. It had been his parents' ambition to become wealthy enough to visit the mangrove forest and buy a slave. This man was going to make them slaves. They wouldn't survive in a life of captivity.
None of them.
"So you heard of it?" the man sneered.
"Sabo?" the blonde looked down to see Luffy staring at him with large questioning eyes.
"You're going to sell us?" Sabo asked. Luffy latched onto his arm and Ace stiffened next to him.
"That's right. You'll make me a pretty penny too."
"Like hell! We're not something you can sale off!" Ace screamed, fear coming out as anger. This might not be the New World but they still were on the Grand Line and that meant that these guys were stronger than the ones from their island.
Sabo felt a familiar fire start up and took a fighting stance next to his brother smiling when Luffy did the same on the other side of Ace.
"What the hell? He has a devil fruit power!"
They weren't going down without a fight.
Darius snapped his fingers once more and the men attacked. Sabo ducked and stuck out with his leg, kicking the man in the gut. His opponent doubled over in pain with a curse. He turned to another and dodged as he tried to grab him.
One of the guys that had gone after Luffy landed on the ground next to Sabo, dazed. He turned to check on how his little brother was doing only to see one of the large dirty men snatch Luffy off the ground and stuff him into a sack before tying the top closed.
"Hey! Let me go!" he screamed from inside the bag.
"Let my brother go!" Sabo yelled, rushing the man. He too was picked up from behind and had a piece of foul smelling cloth was stuffed into his mouth before they wrapped a rope around him and he was also stuffed into a sack.
Ace let out a scream and Sabo felt the heat from his fire grow.
"Put them down!" Sabo was jerked around before he crashed to the ground. He could only guess that Ace had kicked the guy in the stomach and he had been dropped.
"Hurry with the Sea Stone!"
There was a sound of a scuffle but soon Ace's voice was gone and the heat from the fire had disappeared.
Sabo struggled to get out of the ropes that bound him. He could still hear Luffy screaming for help and was trying desperately to do so.
"Shut him up!"
Luffy's cries abruptly stopped making Sabo's heart sink. What did they do to Luffy?
This was actually happening.
He didn't want to be a slave.
He'd rather die.
Thatch was frustrated. They had searched fifteen islands in the past month and fifteen times they hadn't found the brats. The fact that they had also caused a panic attack on most of the islands they had visited was mildly amusing but it didn't make up for the fact that they hadn't been able to find even a trace of the trio.
He knew that the search was going to be difficult but he had thought they would find something by now.
He frowned at his scrambled eggs as he tried and failed to spear them onto his fork. He threw down his fork giving up on eating. He was just too anxious. They would be arriving at the next island soon and he didn't know what he would do if, once again, there would be no Ace, Luffy, and Sabo.
They had saved his life and he couldn't even rescue them from their abusive grandfather.
He looked up as Izo approached him.
"We're getting ready to go to shore. Are you coming?"
He stood. And made his way outside where he joined the rest of the commanders. Pops had decided that it would be a bad idea to let the whole crew search the islands so the commanders were left to it while the rest of the crew waited for news.
"You ready for this?" Marco asked slapping him on the back as he took his first step on the island. How Marco had been handling things so well Thatch would never know.
"As ready as I'll ever be," he responded with a sigh.
"Hey, don't worry. We'll find them eventually."
"Yeah, it's the eventually part I'm having trouble with."
"Come on, Izo is going to search with us today."
Thatch followed the other two without complaint.
The towns' people reacted to them as expected. With fear at first but slowly opened up. And as expected none of them had any news about the three boys.
He sighed as he dropped to sit on a conveniently placed bench and slumped down. He was tired and he doubted they would find anything here.
"I've seen him before," a kid a little older than Luffy said pointing at the picture of Sabo Thatch was holding. A few weeks before the brats were taken by Garp one of the guys in fifth division brought out a camera and had taken a picture of the brats. They had been using the pictures to help their search.
The pirate turned his full attention to the kid. "Really? Are you sure?"
"Yeah. He's up at Farmer Rob's house. He came to buy some fruit from my momma a few days ago and I followed him 'cause I never seen him before."
Thatch couldn't believe what he was hearing. He pushed down his excitement, afraid that he would just be disappointed if it turned out to only be a boy that looked like Sabo. After all the kid hadn't mentioned Luffy or Ace. "Do you think you can take me and my friends up to Farmer Rob's? He's our friend and he's lost. We've been looking for him for a while."
"Sure." The boy smiled. It wasn't nearly as brilliant as Luffy's but no one could smile like that.
"Marco, Izo! I think I might have found something!" he called to the other two pirates. Both quickly excused themselves from their conversations. "This kid here says he met Sabo the other day and he can take us to Farmer Rob's house where he's staying."
Marco looked down at the kid and smiled. "We would appreciate that very much."
"No problem. Follow me!"
The kid walked down the street and took a path outside of town. They were walking for about ten minutes when Thatch spotted some smoke coming from around an old barn and an old house on top of a hill. That must be the place.
The boy abruptly stopped. "Oh wait. Momma said I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
Marco smiled down at the boy. "My name is Marco. What's yours?"
The boy eyed him for a second. "My name is Tommy."
"Well Tommy, now we're not strangers so you won't get in trouble, but I think that we can find our own way now. Thank you for your help."
"You're welcome. Bye!"
They quickly made their way to the small farm. Wondering what they smoke was from.
They walked towards the source of the smoke and saw a man throwing a few bags into a good sized fire.
"Excuse me sir!" Thatch called out as friendly as he could manage. He wanted to just run up to the man and demand to know where the brats were but that probably wouldn't go over too well.
"What do you want? What are you doing on my property?" the man questioned looking between the three of them. That's when Thatch noticed the old straw hat that was in the man's hand. Thatch looked behind the farmer and saw a bright orange cowboy hat and an old top hat side by side.
"Where did you get that hat?" Marco asked stepping up looking dangerous.
"In my barn," the man stated before casually tossing it into the fire. Marco snatched it out of the air before any damage could be done.
He carefully examined it. "There's blood on the rim," he said quietly, as if talking to himself before turning back to the man, anger burning in his eyes. "The kid that owned this hat, where is he?" Marco demanded coldly, taking another step forward.
The man frowned looking them over. "You're Whitebeard pirates," he stated eyes widening.
"I'll ask again," Marco said in a low voice getting very close to the man, glaring down at him. "Where is the boy?"
The farmer took a step back and pointed at them. "Garp warned me that you might be comin' for the little bastards. But you're too late. They're gone."
"Gone where?" Thatch demanded.
"A friend took 'em. Said he was gonna take them to the auction in Sabaody Archipelago."
Thatch felt his heart stop. "They were taken by a slave trader?" he asked numbly. This was bad. If they didn't find them before they were sold off there was no telling where they would end up. They would be used, abused, treated worse than dirt, and would be expected to be happy about all of it. Hadn't they already gone through enough with having to deal with Garp?
"Yup. Just last night."
"And how did he know where to find the boys?" Marco growled.
Thatch recognized the tone and almost felt sorry for the farmer. He didn't even know he was about to die.
The farmer at least recognized that he was in some form of danger at took a step back. "Look, he promised to pay me ten grand for each of the brats. I needed the money. If I didn't then I would have never-"
The man fell dead to the ground, neck snapped.
Thatch felt nothing seeing his friend kill the monster that had just sold three children into a life of slavery.
Marco nodded in grim satisfaction before frowning at the fire. "I think that's Ace's bag," he said pointing to something. It was burning quickly but there was enough to tell that the bag had indeed belonged to the boy.
"I guess he was burning their belongings so no one would know they were here," Izo said studying the flames.
"It's fine. We'll just have to get them some new things after we get them back," Marco stated turning away from the flames.
Thatch snatched up the two remaining hats and before he knew what was happening they were on the Moby Dick telling Pops what they had learned.
The old man gave the order to set sail as soon as everyone was on board.
Thatch walked slowly to the brats' cabin, still a little numb from what he had learned. He paused at the door before turning the knob and entering the small room. It was the first time since the brats had left that anyone had been in here. He looked around and frowned when he saw that the winter clothes that he, Namur, and Marco had bought them were still hanging in the closet. He shrugged before carefully placed the two hats on the small desk.
It would take a little over a week to get to Sabaody. Hopefully the room would have its occupants back before then.
He walked out of the room, closed the door and went to go find Marco.
It didn't take long to find the other commander. He was leaning over the railing just a little way from Pops, staring at the straw hat he still held, ignoring Namur, Izo, and Vista all of who looked as if they wanted to comfort him but didn't know how to do it.
"Marco?" Thatch caught his attention.
"There's blood on the rim," he repeated his words from earlier. "And just on the inside. I think he was bleeding the last time he wore his hat. It's hard to hurt Luffy. To make him bleed. He's made out of rubber. He was shot and came out with just a bruise for God's sake. If he was hurt it was because someone had tried to make sure he was."
Thatch didn't like to think about what Marco was saying.
He just hoped that if- when they got the brats back all of their hard earned trust would still be there.
"It doesn't matter anymore," Haruta spoke from where she was leaning against the railing a few feet away. She pushed herself up and walked towards them. "Once they're back then we can worry about what happened and what happening now. Until then, just concentrate on getting them back. Once we have them we'll make sure that no one hurts them ever again."
Marco tightened his grip on the hat so much that Thatch was afraid he was going to damage it but his grip relaxed before Thatch had to say anything. "You're right." The commander stood up and tied the hat to his belt loop; a silent promise to Luffy that he would save him.
"Do you think they've ever been to an amusement park," Namur asked thoughtfully after a few minutes of silence.
Thatch grinned. He liked where this fishman was going with this. "You know, somehow I don't think so."
"Well then we'll intercept the ship and then take them to Sabaody Park," Haruta said smiling. "I always liked Sabaody Park. It's the only good thing about that place."