His first memories are of warmth, of the blurred view of sunlight speckling above on the water’s surface.
All around him is his mother. He knows she’s there, in the life thrumming beneath the waves like the blood coursing beneath his skin.
He can’t remember the sound of her voice, not exactly. But there are things that remind him: the quiet rise and fall of tides along the beach, the warm breeze sifting through tall stems of sea oats, the whisper of ocean currents when he dunks his head below the surf.
She spoke to him once, when she lifted him from the cradle of the sea and first felt the sun against his skin. He hadn’t understood her words back then, but he still remembers.
“Live well, my love. I will never be far from you.”
Luffy doesn't know how to swim, but he doesn't quite sink, either. The couple of times Shanks has seen him playing in the water, the boy kind of just floats without much effort, legs kicking lazily and arms slowly fanning around him with hardly a care in the world.
Is he just… particularly buoyant? Is that normal for kids?
Shanks doesn't know, but he doesn't think too much of it. The fact is, Luffy looks natural in the sea, at home in the embrace of the waves, and Shanks thinks it'll serve him well as an aspiring pirate.
This in mind, Luffy isn't exactly an Anchor, but Shanks just likes to tease him. The fond nickname has already stuck, and in the time they've been merrymaking in Foosha Village, the rest of the Red-Hair Pirates have also adopted little Luffy as their own.
They'll have to leave soon, but Shanks knows that he'll be keeping an eye out for his Anchor in the coming years. Being such a determined, adventurous kid with a heart of gold, Luffy will surely make waves when he finally sets out into the world.
However, a few days after the incident of Luffy accidentally eating that rubber Devil Fruit, Shanks and his crew are hanging around the bar when a worried Makino approaches them to ask, “Have any of you seen Luffy? He might've snuck out to the beach again, and with those bandits hanging about lately…”
The bandits haven't been sighted again since the confrontation in the bar, and Shanks isn't too concerned about them. What he is concerned about, though, is the idea of a tiny Devil Fruit user spontaneously deciding to go for a swim. Alone.
To his horror, the Anchor nickname may end up being more accurate than he intended.
With an undignified squawk, Shanks dives out of his seat and is out the door in no time, hightailing it down to the beach.
Thankfully, he spots Luffy in one of his usual haunts, a secluded spot of beach just over a sandy hill dotted with tall, wispy grasses. To his alarm, Luffy is in fact in the water, and the boy seems to be wading out even further from the shoreline.
Shanks opens his mouth to shout, but something makes his voice catch in this throat.
It may just be a trick of the light, but Shanks thinks for a moment that he sees the figure of a woman standing in the surf with Luffy, her form blurred at the edges like mist. But when he blinks, she’s gone, and it’s just Luffy looking back at him with a cheery wave.
Though, all thoughts of some mysterious woman disappear when he again registers what’s actually in front of him. That is, Luffy standing in the surf. In the ocean. A child who ate a Devil Fruit, in the water.
“Anchor!” he exclaims with alarm, hastening forward into the shallow waves and grabbing Luffy’s hands to keep him upright. “You’re a Devil Fruit user now, you can’t just go into the ocean anymore! You can’t swim, and you’ll sink like a rock! Even just a bit of water can be… dangerous…?”
Luffy just looks up at him with a questioning tilt of the head, not at all concerned about being up to his knees in seawater. He seems completely normal. Shanks stares at him, at the waves lapping at their legs, and he’s flabbergasted.
He asks tentatively, “Are… are you not tired at all, Anchor?”
“Nope!” the boy replies, popping the ‘p.’ He then wrinkles his nose in protest. “I’m not tired! I don’t wanna go to bed, it’s not dark out!”
“No, no, it’s not your bedtime yet,” Shanks agrees faintly, still shocked by this new development. By all means, after being exposed this long to water… Luffy should be extremely lethargic by now, if not already passed out.
But here he is, still wide awake. He’s even kicking his legs to splash around from where he’s being suspended in the pirate’s hold.
In Shanks’ experience, some longtime Devil Fruit users may be able to build up a temporary tolerance to water. Though even in those cases, it’s hardly long at all, and they’re left limp and exhausted in the aftermath. But Luffy is just a child, one who ate his fruit only days ago. This is impossible—or, it should be impossible.
Anchor just continues to be full of surprises. For all the extraordinary things he’s seen in his life, Shanks can think of no possible explanation for this, and he can’t help but let out a disbelieving laugh.
Luffy laughs, too, but it’s because he’s still playing in the waves.
Shanks lets him, though he keeps one of the boy’s little hands held protectively in his own, ready to pull him out of the water just in case. Smiling but wary, he watches as Luffy proceeds to completely drench himself in his play, continuing to be his energetic self with none of the telltale signs of fatigue. Shanks reaches out to pinch his wet cheek, stretching it out to an unnatural length before letting it snap back into place.
Luffy pauses in his splashing to pout up at him through his dripping fringe. “What was that for?”
“Just checking to make sure you’re still made of rubber. I guess you’re not as much of an anchor as I thought,” Shanks chuckles as he begins to nudge him back up the shore. It only then registers that he’s still wearing his boots—ah, oops. Shanks sighs, and ignoring his waterlogged shoes for the moment, he begins to explain to his young friend, “Y’see, when a Devil Fruit user is normally in the ocean...”
Luffy gets kidnapped by Higuma, who brings them out into the bay only to be faced with the King of the Coast. The tiny boat gets capsized, the bandit gets eaten, and the Sea King soon turns its gaze on a terrified Luffy—who is far too close to the beast to make it out of there unscathed if no one does something right now.
For Shanks, the choice is easily made. He dives into the ocean and makes a beeline to the scene, putting himself between Luffy and the Sea King. Luffy desperately reaches for him, and Shanks holds the little boy tight to his chest. Heart hammering in his ribcage, he braces for impact.
He’s expecting pain. But instead, there’s nothing.
Shanks looks up, and his eyes meet the Sea King’s. The eel-like creature is completely still, looking as surprised as Shanks is himself. But a split second later, the sea around it is rippling like shock waves, and the beast shakes itself from its stupor to quickly retreat back beneath the water.
The dark shape practically flies away from the shoreline until its presence disappears into the distance. And then, as if nothing had happened at all, the ocean returns to normal.
Meanwhile, Shanks’ jaw is hanging open.
Well. He’d been planning on using Haki if things went pear-shaped, but it looks like he doesn’t need to after all.
“Sh-Shanks? Are you okay?”
The pirate snaps out of his shock to look down at Luffy, who is clinging tightly to his wet shirt with big tears rolling down his cheeks. Shanks’ gaze softens, and he can’t help but chuckle a little, holding the boy close as he begins to swim them back to shore.
“I should be asking you that,” he murmurs fondly. “But I’m just fine, Anchor. Don’t you worry about me.”
Luffy buries his face into his shoulder. Muffled, he says in a tiny, tremulous voice, “Thank you for saving me.”
To be honest, Shanks isn’t entirely sure he did anything. The Sea King had just turned around and left without even attempting to harm either of them. Not that he’s ungrateful for it, but the mysteries just keep piling up.
First the Luffy-in-water enigma (along with that weird mirage lady he still doesn’t know he really saw), and now this. Their time in Foosha has certainly been more eventful than anticipated.
But, for now, he’s just glad that Luffy is alright. Even without this unexpected bout of good luck, Shanks knows he’d risk a lot more to keep this boy safe.
What he tells Luffy in response is, “I’ll help you whenever you need it. That’s what friends are for, right?”
As they near the beach where the Red-Hairs, Makino, and several townspeople are frantically fretting in the sand, a teary-eyed Luffy gives him a wide grin and brightly agrees, “Right!”
After Luffy gains two brothers, the two older boys take it upon themselves to teach him how to swim. Avoiding the crocodile-infested rivers of Mt. Colubo, the three children adopt the occasional tradition of coming down the mountain, visiting Makino at the bar, and then heading to the beach.
Luffy happily drags his brothers around his favorite spots. He points out the places with the prettiest shells, the palms that give the best shade on hot days, and where tiny clams bury themselves in the sand, before he jumps into the water with a loud yell.
Ace and Sabo follow soon after, and then they’re swimming. At this point, Luffy has graduated to a passable doggy paddle without needing anyone to hold on to, and he happily splashes around in circles under their watchful eye.
Then, as Ace is demonstrating how to backstroke, Luffy suddenly mentions, “Shanks said that people with Devil Fruits are supposed to sink in the ocean.”
Leaving off the lesson for now, Ace treads water and ponders this new information. Luffy’s the only person he knows that has eaten a Devil Fruit, so there’s no one else to compare him to. Even before teaching him how to swim, Luffy could float without any help, and Ace has always thought that it’s something Luffy just naturally does.
But apparently, he’s supposed to sink, but he doesn’t. Ace doesn’t know what to make of it. Though, Luffy has talked their ears off about this Shanks before, and Ace begrudgingly admits that the guy sounds pretty cool. He’s a pirate and well-traveled, so he probably knows what he’s talking about, right?
“Huh,” Ace says. “If that’s true, then why can you swim?”
Luffy grins and blurts out like it explains everything, “‘Cause my mom is the ocean, she won't let me sink!”
Ace shares a dubious look with Sabo. They already know that Luffy’s a weird kid. By now, this is just icing on the cake. The only blood family of Luffy’s that they know of is their shitty Gramps, and he’s certainly never said anything about either of Luffy’s parents.
Eventually, Sabo just shrugs.
“Well,” he says as Luffy paddles over to cling to him like a wet baby monkey, “it's good that we don't have to worry about him drowning on top of everything else, I guess?”
Ace thinks about it before nodding. What was that saying? Count your blessings or whatever.
With a trouble-prone little brother like Luffy, he’ll take what he can get.
“So, you’re just lucky you can swim at all,” he concludes, poking at Luffy’s forehead. “In that case, you gotta learn to swim better if you wanna be a good pirate! You still haven’t beaten me or Sabo in a race, y’know. Or in a fight.”
Luffy puffs up, indignant and determined. “I will someday! You’ll see!”
Sabo sneaks Ace a grin, and they both shoot off into the waves. Luffy yells and paddles vigorously after them, and the beach soon fills with laughter.
At the time, Ace simply accepts Luffy’s ability to swim as just another quirk of his little brother. It won’t be until years later, when he’s out at sea and crossing paths with all sorts of Devil Fruit users—as well as becoming one himself—that he realizes just how remarkable that ability actually is.
The Gray Terminal is bleak after its burning. The raging fires have gone out, but they leave behind smoldering embers and ashy ruin in their wake. The heavy smell of smoke is still prevalent in the air.
With the aid of his Revolutionaries, Dragon has been directing the evacuation of the refugees onto the Army’s ships waiting out by the coastline. The initial terror and panic coming from the refugees is palpable, but Dragon’s people have kept order, their visages calm to make boarding as swift as possible before the nearby kingdom realizes they’re there.
As the last few passengers are helped on board, Dragon turns his sharp gaze to pristine Goa, his lips tightening to a thin line. To order the deaths of so many innocents… These nobles have no empathy, no value of life.
And for something so heinous to occur this close to Foosha... It makes his stomach churn with anger and unease.
But he must push forward. For their world to change in a way that matters, then he will turn those feelings into action.
Suddenly, there’s a loud noise in the distance. It sounds like a blast of cannon fire.
“What was that?” he hears Ivankov ask from next to him, just as a second shot echoes out.
The sounds have come from a fair distance away, so Dragon is reasonably certain that they’re not under attack and are still safe from discovery. However, it concerns him that the cannon fire seems to have come from the direction of Goa’s docks.
The nobles should be tucked away in their glittering city, gazes willfully turned from the massacre at their borders. The only event the Revolutionaries are aware of is the coming of a Celestial Dragon. Is it possible they’ve already arrived? Are the sounds they heard simply welcoming blasts of a cannon, waving a Saint into port?
Somehow, Dragon knows that this is not the case.
The boat suddenly shifts on the water, and there are several cries of alarm when their ship—and only their ship—begins moving westward.
“Hey, what are you guys doing?!” Ivankov exclaims as the crew in charge of steering and navigation scramble to find the cause of their movement.
“It’s not us, sir! Something’s moving the ship from under us!”
Ivankov is about to say something else, but he stops when he turns to look at Dragon. He squints at him, and after a moment of uncanny examination, he says, “You know what’s going on, don’t you?”
Dragon breathes in the ocean air tinged with the smell of burning and replies, “Not exactly. But let the ship go where it will. There will be something we need to see at the end of it.”
Ivankov huffs, “Well, if you say so,” before turning back to the crew and relaying his orders. The other ships remain where they are, and theirs proceeds to a destination unknown.
As they seem to move nearer and nearer towards Goa, Dragon glances down at the sea urging them forward and murmurs, “What is it you want to show me?”
The ocean winds blow past to whisper in his ears. There are no words, but he still understands.
Just before coming into sight of Goa’s port, the ship stops next to a smoldering wreckage floating in the water. It looks like the remains of a small boat, burnt and splintered wood strewn along the water’s surface, blown apart by a considerable force.
“So that’s the target of those two shots,” Ivankov says quietly. “But what—”
He’s cut off by a sudden movement. Dragon hears some of his followers let out a gasp.
From the wreckage appears an otherworldly sight: a wide sheet of water rising above the ocean’s surface, easily breaking apart the burnt wood to fill out into a more substantial, column-like shape.
With a mind of its own, the living water slowly moves with purpose towards the ship. At the top of the column, cradled in its gentle hold like a pair of cupped hands, is the small body of a human child.
Calming the rage bubbling within him at the injustice of it all, Dragon exhales slowly. He steps forward to the ship’s railing without fear.
The water rises up before him, and he’s presented with a young boy with numerous burns, one spread viciously across the left side of his face. To Dragon’s shock, he recognizes that this is the child he’d met at Goa’s gates, the one who cried in shame of his noble blood.
Despite his injuries, the boy is still breathing, his small chest expanding and compressing with the occasional concerning stutter.
He’s not much older than their son.
Dragon reaches out and carefully takes the child into his arms, and the water flows over his hands like a caress. He watches it fall back into the ocean with a soft splash, and then all is still again.
“I hear you,” he says into the open air, breathing in smoke and salt. “I hear you.”
Then, with the boy held securely in his arms, he swiftly leaves the railing to call out for medical. His shell-shocked team dutifully shake themselves of their stupor, and everyone bursts into action.
It rains for ages afterward. The sound of rain pattering on the rooftop has always been a comfort for Luffy, but he can't escape the feeling that something is… different. Like the world has shifted on its axis without him being there to see it.
Ace and Dadan return, worse for wear but alive, and for a moment Luffy thinks that maybe his gut feeling is wrong after all.
But then a red-eyed and weary Dogra arrives. And he delivers news none of them want to hear.
Sabo is gone. Shot down and burned without a chance to say goodbye. He'll never see his big brother again, and Luffy chokes on a sob as the rain falls from the dark, heavy clouds above.
He holds onto Ace with all he has, and his brother holds him back just as tightly. It's the first time he's ever seen Ace cry.
When they will someday return to the beach as two instead of three, Luffy somehow knows that it will be raining again.