It all starts with a denden call. Buggy honestly hadn’t been expecting any today - he’d just talked to Shanks two days before, and his monthly call with Water 7 wasn’t for nine more days. So when the denden rings, Buggy puts down the bomb he had been fiddling with and gives the snail a curious look.
It’s the East Blue snail, not one of his longer reach ones, too, which makes it even more confusing: all of his network-related calls go through the ship’s dendens, which Cabaji is keeping an eye on. This is his personal East Blue snail, and the number of people who have his number can be counted on one hand with fingers left over.
Warily, Buggy picks up the phone and eyes the snail as its face starts morphing. It’s not one he recognises.
“Who are you and how did you get this number?” he barks into the phone as soon as the connection is established.
“Please, please, you have to help, she’s not waking up and the doctors don’t know what to do please-”
Buggy freezes. Because that voice is young, and panicked and crying . This is a child-
“Hey, hey,” he changes his tone immediately, going for soothing and reassuring. “Breathe, kid, I need you to take a deep breath okay? I can’t understand what you’re saying if you’re not breathing.”
There’s a heavy sob on the other side of the line, followed by a sharp intake of breath as the kid tries to do what he’s been told.
“There, you’re doing well,” Buggy tells him even as he grabs a sheet of paper and a pencil. “Think you can give me your name now kiddo?”
“U… Usopp,” the kid stutters. “I- Dad gave mom this number and said to call if we needed help, but mom is sick and she’s not getting better and the doctors can’t help and I need help, please, I can’t-”
The name rings familiar in Buggy’s mind, and when recognition hits it takes all he has to repress the swear that wants to escape his mouth. That’s Yasopp’s kid, Shanks’ sniper - he remembers now, the man asking if he could give his number to his family just in case, and Buggy had been writing it down before the man even finished his sentence, because of course he would help, Yasopp is one of Shanks’ people and his family is in East Blue and East Blue is Buggy’s turf, and Yasopp has a kid, of course Buggy was going to help if he could.
So, instead of swearing like he really wants to, Buggy scribbles Syrup Village, Gecko Islands, as fast as possible on his paper, and grabs the denden with him as he rushes out of his cabin and towards the helm where Mohji is keeping an eye on the crew.
“Alright Usopp, I’m on my way okay? Are you still in Syrup?” he asks even as he hands the paper to Mohji, who takes one glance at it and immediately starts barking orders.
“Ye… yes,” the kid hiccups.
“Tomorrow morning,” Mohjo tells him at Buggy’s inquisitive glance, and Buggy immediately repeats the information into the Denden.
“We’ll be there tomorrow morning, Usopp,” he promises, then grabs Loyal as he walks past him and gestures for his doctor to follow him. “Now kid, I need you to tell me exactly what your mom’s symptoms are, okay? My doctor is right here next to me.”
It takes some more gentle coaxing, and the kid breaks into tears more than once, but they do end up with a decent list of symptoms and a timeline for their appearance by the end of the conversation. Loyal is already going through his books, and Buggy is wracking his mind because this sounds familiar but why-
“Usopp,” he interrupts the boy. “What is your mom’s job again?” He knows Yasopp mentioned it at some point, but honestly the man had been intarissable about his wife and kid and Buggy had stopped listening out of self-defence at some point.
“She’s a chemist,” Usopp tells him proudly, his voice still a bit hesitant and wet with tears, but clearly very proud of his mom. “She likes to make stuff that blows up!”
Fuck. That’s why the list of symptoms is so fucking familiar - Kureha had drilled it into him to make sure he would notice immediately if he started showing them once she had hear about his love for chemistry and his habit of making his own bombs.
Buggy exchanges a worried glance with his doctor, who makes a beeline for the antidotes cabinet and starts rummaging through it.
“I’m sure she’s very good at it too,” Buggy tells him gently. “Are you alone with your mom right now, Usopp?”
The kid is what, seven? Eight? Thereabouts? If the rest of the villagers left him on his own with his sick mother, Buggy is going to have words with them. And not very nice words either. Yasopp could have what was left once he got there.
“No- Dr Kouda is staying with us to keep an eye on mom,” Usopp tells him. Which means that that Doctor is a good man, even if he doesn’t know what to do about Banchina’s illness. Good, that’s one weight off Buggy’s shoulder.
“Does he know you’re calling me?” He has to ask, because he would very much like to avoid having the marines called on him. “And that I’m a pirate?”
“He knows I’m calling a friend of my Dad’s,” the kid says reluctantly.
Alright. Buggy can work with that. They’ll just hide their Jolly Roger as they get close to the islands. Time to become the travelling circus once again.
“Alright,” Buggy says. “Alright. Tell them that the East Blue Travelling Circus is coming to Syrup with a doctor, okay? We’re friends of your dad, that’s true enough, but no need to alarm everyone with the pirate thing just yet, we don’t need the Marines getting called on us. And we're also a circus sometimes, so it's not even a lie. We’ll be there as soon as we can, okay Usopp? Can you have someone meet us at the port to lead us to your house?”
He’s never been to Syrup before, has no idea where exactly Usopp lives, and doesn’t think the locals would be keen to direct perfect strangers to the house of a very sick woman and her seven year old kid.
“I- yes, I’ll ask if Merry or someone can come and get you,” the boy sniffles. “What do you look like?”
Smart kid. “I’ve got long blue hair and an orange coat,” he tells the boy. "Loyal will be with me as well, he’s got a red coat, skin a bit darker than your dad’s, and a top hat.”
“Okay, I’ll tell them,” the boy nods.
Buggy takes a look at the clock. Nearly ten at night. “Alright kid, now I need you to go tell the doctor that we’re on our way, and then get some rest okay? We’ll be there soon, I promise.”
It takes another ten minutes to convince the kid to hang up, but once he does Buggy falls back into Loyal’s desk chair and rubs the bridge of his nose.
“Chemical poisoning?” Loyal asks.
“Heavy metals, most likely,” Buggy specifies as he forces himself to get up and grab one of the books on the back shelf. This one had been a present from Kureha when he had officially finished his training with her. “We’ll have to test her blood and urine to make sure and to identify which one exactly, but that’s what it sounds like at least. Do we have any Dimercaprol, Calcium Disodium Versenate or Penicillamine?” he asks as he ruffles through the book.
He hears movement behind him as Loyal rummages through the medicine cabinet. “Yes on the Dimercaprol and Penicillamine, no on the CDV,” his doctor informs him. “But there’s a pharmacy on an island not too far from Gecko where we should be able to get some if needed.”
“We’ll send one of the Funans with one of the smaller ships then,” Buggy decides as he hands the book to Loyal. “Do we have everything we need to test for heavy metal poisoning?”
Loyal holds up a huge case with Heavy Metal Poisoning kit written on it in Kureha’s handwriting, underlined five times. “I think we do,” he says wryly. “I know I’ve said it already Captain, but I really want to meet that sensei of yours at some point."
He checks on the rest of his crew first, making sure everything is ready for their arrival on Syrup and that the ship is properly disguised. Luckily, the travelling circus is their usual cover, so it doesn’t take much to hide all signs of piracy from their ships. Buggy will have to forego his usual make up as well, but that’s easy enough to do. He'd been thinking about changing it up anyway.
It’s only once he’s back in his cabin that he takes a deep breath and heads for the small white and purple denden mushi hidden in a secret compartment under his bed, one of Mohji’s first experiment in DenDen Breeding, the successful combination of a white denden with a long range one.
It only takes two rings before the call is taken up on the other side, the snail’s face morphing into Shanks’ worried one seconds later.
“Buggy? Is everything alright?”
“I’m fine, Shanks,” Buggy is quick to reassure his best friend. “I promise, I am. But I need to talk to Yasopp. Now.”
Shanks doesn’t waste a single moment, already hollering for his sniper before Buggy even finishes talking.
“You yelled, Captain?” came Yasopp’s dry voice.
“Buggy wants to talk to you,” Shanks tells him, and Yasopp demeanour immediately changes.
“Captain Buggy? Did-”
“I just got a call from your kid, Yasopp, we’re headed towards Syrup as we speak,” Buggy says bluntly. “Your wife is badly ill and the doctors can’t do anything. From what Usopp told us, we suspect heavy metal poisoning but we’re not sure yet. We’ll be there by tomorrow morning. How far out are you?”
Yasopp’s face, which had replaced Shanks on the Denden, is ashen pale.
"Banchina- she- Davy Jones, no-”
“We’re just past Drum Island,” Shanks tells Buggy. “The witch insisted on checking up on my arm because someone tattled.”
Buggy doesn’t dignify that with an answer. He trusts Damian, sure, and had checked Shanks over himself, but the dumbass had gone and gotten his entire arm bitten off by a Seaking. Like hell Buggy wasn’t going to bug Kureha into giving him a check-up just in case. Especially after the rough ride of Reverse mountain since Shanks being on painkiller meant the redhead hadn’t been able to bully a seaking into taking them across the Calm Belt and had had to take Reverse Mountain like everyone who did not have Conqueror’s Haki.
“Since Yasopp at least is going to be making a beeline for Syrup, make sure you stop by Drum on the way - I’m calling the witch right after hanging up with you and she might have some medicine for you to take with you. Shanks, I know you want to make the trip, but…”
“But Garp is still hunting for my head and I’m still recovering,” Shanks’ voice is tired. “I know, Bug. Yasopp, you’ll take Speed, and I’m sending Chess and Capu with you - I would send Damian as well, but he’s made it clear that I’m not to leave his sight for the next three months, and Buggy and Loyal are already on their way there and they have more experience with chemical poisoning than Damian anyway.”
“We’ll do our best, Yasopp, I swear to you,” Buggy promises. “On Davy Jones and the Seas he sails on, I swear that we will do everything we can to save your wife.”
He can’t promise they’ll save her, but he can damn well promise that he’s going all he can. He won’t accept anything less.
“Take the extra long range snail with you,” he adds. “I’ll make sure to have your kid call you as soon as I get there. You’ve got a brave one there, Yasopp. Smart as hell, too.”
“That’s my boy,” Yasopp smiles through his worry. “Thank you, Captain Buggy. I can’t… thank you.”
“You’re one of Shanks’,” Buggy tells him. “That makes you one of mine as well, and your family is in East Blue on top of that. It’s the least I could do.” He glances at the clock. “I need to call Kureha-sensei now or she’ll have my head for interrupting her beauty sleep. I’ll call you as soon as we get to Syrup, Yasopp. Shanks, take care of that arm you’ve got left, I don’t want to have Benn call me to tell me you lost the other one, you hear me?”
“I hear you, Bug,” Shanks smiles. “ May the waves carry you to your destination without fail, and the wind always blow in your sails.”
“ And may the foam carry your story across the waters, and the sea keep you free, ” Buggy finishes.
His call to Kureha is quick. He lists off the symptoms Usopp gave them, tells her Banchina is a chemist, and she confirms his first tentative diagnostic and gives him a list of tests to check which heavy metal might be affecting her. Buggy had known most of them, but not all, and he makes sure to write them all down. His sensei ends the call with instructions to call her during their examination and tests so she can make sure they don’t fuck things up, as she says it. Buggy takes it to mean that she liked Yasopp well enough when she met him a couple of days ago and doesn’t want his wife dead, or for Buggy to ruin her reputation as a teacher. Either or.
He checks on his crew one last time, then heads to bed himself. If he’s going to be examining a patient tomorrow, he better be well-rested. Yasopp and his son are counting on him.
Syrup village is located on a quaint little island in the Gecko archipelago. Buggy has been in this area before, though never on this specific island, but they all look the same for the most part anyway. The Big Top is fully decked out in her circus regalia, their Jolly Roger replaced by a brightly coloured banner announcing the ‘ East Blue Travelling Circus ’, and his crew is already in costume for the most part as they bring the ship into the village’s small harbour. Buggy himself has foregone his bright makeup and hat, settling for a slightly more subdued coat and striped shirt, his hair bound in a low ponytail to keep it out of his eyes. Next to him, waiting for the plank to be brought down to disembark, Loyal is checking his bag one last time, and making sure he hasn’t forgotten Kureha’s special kit.
There’s a black-suited man waiting on the docks, with curly white hair and… are these horns? Is the man part mink or something? He does look very lamb-like, Buggy has to admit.
Next to him, Loyal snorts. “Is he related to Mohji?” His doctor asks quietly, and Buggy has to repress a snicker. Their hairdo does look similar, true, and he resolves to tease his first mate about it later.
“Are you Mr Buggy and Dr Loyal?” The butler - because that is clearly a butler - asks them politely as they hurry down the plank.
“Aye, that’s us,” Buggy confirms just as politely. “Usopp called us yesterday, we’re acquaintances of his father. I take it you’re here to bring us to his house?”
“Ah, yes! My name is Merry, I’m Doctor Kouda’s butler. I do hope you’ll be able to help Ms Banchina, the situation is dreadful and Doctor Kouda is at a loss…”
“We will do everything we can,” Buggy assures him as they follow the butler through the streets. “Doctor Loyal has studied on the Grand Line, and I have some medical experience as well. From what we have gathered from Usopp’s descriptions, it sounds like potential chemical or heavy metal poisoning, which is something we are both familiar with but is less commonly known even among the best doctors, which I do not doubt Doctor Kouda is.”
(He had asked Kureha about the man, so sue him. What he had gotten was, for Kureha, a glowing review, in that ‘the man and his wife are decent enough doctors, for small town East Blue ones’. Which, really, was a great endorsement coming from her.)
Yasopp’s family lives in a small house out of town, close to the forest but with a great view of the sea. A glance tells Buggy a lot about the people who live there: there’s a smattering of targets and dented cans to one side, no doubt used by young Usopp for target practice. To the left of the house, a shed of some sorts that is probably Banchina’s workshop given the warning sign on the door and the ventilation openings on the side. Buggy will have to take a look in there and see if he can figure out what she was working on when she fell sick, that might speed their diagnosis up.
When Merry knocks the door is opened by a tired looking man, one who has obviously spent the night with his patient. That’s another point in Kouda’s favour, then.
“Are you the doctors sent by Yasopp?” Kouda asks in lieu of greeting. From the tired, tight look on his face and the feel of his Voice, he’s dearly hoping they are and that they can figure out what’s wrong with Banchina because he’s run out of ideas.
“Loyal is a certified doctor, I’m an emergency medic but have experience in chemical and heavy metal poisoning, which is what we suspect might be the case here,” Buggy nods as Kouda moves aside to let them in. “Loyal, you go in first, I need to talk to Usopp and call Yasopp.”
Kouda lets out a relieved sigh when he sees Buggy’s denden. “Thank the gods - Usopp has been worrying himself to the bone, and we had no way of contacting his father -”
He cuts himself off, shakes himself. “Usopp is sitting with Banchina, won’t leave her for more than a moment no matter what I do,” he adds quietly. “He slept better last night after calling you, but… he shouldn’t be seeing his mother in this state.”
Buggy’s heart tightens as he remembers watching Captain wither, slowly but surely losing weight, growing gaunter by the day.
“I’ll talk to him,” he promises. “We’re also in contact with Doctor Kureha from Drum Island, who has agreed to consult by Denden - Yasopp is going to stop by Drum on his way here and pick up anything she deems necessary.”
“D.... dad is coming back?” A small voice pipes up from the open door to their right, where Buggy’s Observation had already tracked the child and his mother’s faint presence.
Buggy’s first impression of Usopp is that he looks exactly like his father, but with darker hair and a longer nose. Otherwise? That boy definitely takes after his father. That might also be due to the sickly pallor of the woman resting on the bed, making it hard to find similarities between her and her son beyond their shared long nose and hair colour.
“There’s nothing and no one that can stand between Yasopp and his family if you’re in danger,” Buggy tells the boy as he crouches down in front of him, letting Loyal slip into the room and start examining the unconscious woman. “He and a couple of his nakama sailed off from the Red Force last night. They’ll be here before the end of the week if the winds hold.”
Usopp can’t be more than eight, he thinks as he watches the small boy try very hard not to cry. He’s the same age as Buggy was when they found out Captain was sick, and Buggy wouldn’t wish that on anyone else.
“In fact,” Buggy continues, straightening up. “He made me promise I would call him as soon as I got here, and he really wanted to talk to you. Think you’re up for a call?” He looks around the room. “Maybe we should take this outside, though, so we don’t disturb the doctors? We’ll still be able to hear them if they call us,” he adds when he sees the worry on Usopp’s face.
Buggy holds out his hand, pinky extended towards the kid. “I pinky promise,” he swears, and holds back a smile when the kid tentatively links his pinky with his.