Luffy was going to be the death of them all, Usopp swore to himself. It was something he told himself almost constantly, actually. Luffy was energetic, didn’t always think things through, and stubborn to a fault. Once he got an idea, hardly anything could actually distract or discourage him from it. This, of course, led to many, many headaches for all of his friends. Of course, Usopp was a Brave Warrior, so he obviously he could handle anything the rubber man threw at them, but there came a time where enough was enough. What was worse was that, for the life of him, Usopp couldn’t actually quite blame him this time. Well, that wasn’t true. Usopp could plenty blame his best friend for anything and everything bad that happened. Nine times out of ten, it would usually either be Luffy’s, Zoro’s, Sanji’s, or any combination thereof’s fault for some catastrophic disaster. The tenth time it would be some other person they knew who was behind their current trouble.
This time, though, while it was clearly going to be Luffy who ended up getting all of his friends killed Usopp could at least understand where his friend was coming from. Since Luffy was his best friend, Usopp had at least somewhat of a grasp on his friend’s thought patterns—as scary as that sounded. Luffy’s dream was to be a Great Man. Usopp wanted to live his life as a Brave Warrior, just like his father. The rest of their friends, their crew, were all the same way, with similar goals and dreams in mind. They all swore that they would die for their dreams, but Usopp didn’t realize that he’d die to something so…petty? Insignificant, relatively speaking?
Was he getting ahead of himself? Usopp had been told before that that was a problem he had. Also that he lied a lot, though this time he really wasn’t lying. But, yeah, to go on record to whomever out there actually cared, he supposed he should start at the beginning. Namely, at breakfast the day before. It had been a daily ritual of theirs that their group of friends would gather at Sanji’s in the morning for breakfast. The aspiring chef-to-be loved cooking for his friends and would readily use them to test out any new recipes he’d been thinking of. For everyone else it meant free food, and who was going to say no to that? They all had differing tastes and preferences which gave Sanji plenty of experience with complicated food orders. Anything new that Sanji made that they all universally liked automatically went on his mental menu. Anything that more than two of them didn’t like would get pulled for further taste testing to figure out why.
Sometimes it would be something as simple as personal preference and taste, and other times it would be some kind of odd combination of ingredients that didn’t really go together that well. Usually this was because Luffy or rarely someone else added in something extra that Sanji had missed. Usopp went for the free food of course, but also because he loved hanging out with friends. After graduating and for the most part entering the work force the crew rarely had time that they could all spend together. Breakfasts, though, were always a chance to meet up with everyone.
On this particular day, Luffy broke up the cheery atmosphere with his usual gusto. That is to say, with a sledgehammer.
“Hey, does anyone want to go to the beach with me later?”
To be fair, it was summer currently. Summer vacation was one of those rare times that their schedules ended up lining up, so they agreed to take what they could get. And they only lived half an hour, tops, away from the nearest beach. Many of the people in their little community made a living off of the sea in some way, either from fishing or from tourism. The weather was even perfect, with the sun shining down just enough to be a little warm without being overbearing; the beach was easily the most inviting thing around at the moment.
The problem came, as it always did, with their ‘captain.’ Luffy, like quite a few people around the area, was a Devil Fruit user, which meant that he couldn’t swim to save his life, literally. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem since a lot of Devil Fruit users were able to compensate themselves well enough around the water. Four members of their crew, including their ‘captain,’ were Devil Fruit users, and they could usually handle themselves enough to not need saving. Luffy, however, was a complete idiot who would drown himself if somebody wasn’t constantly watching. Add on to that that Luffy had notoriously overprotective older brothers, one of whom Usopp actually knew and a trip to the beach wasn’t sounding that great.
The others seemed to think so as well as one by one they started finding excuses to leave off. Chopper had it the easiest of all since he had an actual excuse—being covered in fur wasn’t exactly the best thing to go to the beach with. Summer was always hell for the poor reindeer.
Luffy hummed with a slight frown on his face. “Yeah, it’d be pretty bad if our doctor got heatstroke on us…” He smiled at his small friend. “In that case, you should find something fun to do inside later! Stay safe, but have fun! Captain’s orders!”
Chopper’s return grin was somewhat strained, eyes flitting over everyone gathered at the table. He hurriedly shoveled the rest of his breakfast into his mouth and swallowed thickly. “You bet! I have, um, some work to do at Doctorine’s clinic later, so, um. I should head over now?” Before anyone could say anything the poor reindeer fled from Sanji’s house as quickly as his hooves could take him.
“I’m not going,” Sanji said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to try making that barbeque recipe you like, but with a twist.”
With a horrified gasp, Luffy immediately decided that the best place Sanji could be was at his house, experimenting with cooking. Usopp didn’t miss the smirk on the chef’s face as he cleared away Chopper’s plate and settings.
“Sorry, Luffy,” Franky said, stretching out his large body after standing up from the table. It was quite frankly amazing that he could even fit in Sanji’s small house, let alone the dining room with that large body of his. “I’m helping Tom and Iceberg over at the shop later. Can’t make it.” He, too, left in a hurry.
“And I have texts I want to look at in the library,” Robin excused herself gracefully. “I may even find someone to go on a dig with me in a month.”
Luffy frowned. “But, that’s a whole month away!” he protested. “Can’t you just find someone later, and go to the beach with me today? It’ll be fun~!”
Robin smiled down at her seated friend. “I’m afraid archaeology doesn’t work that way, Luffy,” she explained. “I have to find someone available around then as soon as possible, since we also need to file for the appropriate permits, reserve our equipment from the university, come up with a workable search and dig grid, and then present our proposal to the head of the department for approval.” She shrugged apologetically. “I’m afraid I’m already behind as it is, so I’ll probably be busy for the next few weeks. I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone else to go to the beach with you, though.” With one last amused smile, she, too, made her exit.
Usopp couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed that Robin had just offered the rest of them up so easily in her place. He was rapidly running out of time to come up with a plausible excuse; as things looked, he would probably end up being roped into going with his hyperactive best friend. Unfortunately, it was a blood rule that no one was allowed to leave the table without finishing their meal completely. Usopp gulped, staring down at his half stack of pancakes with eggs and bacon before shoveling as much as he could into his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his friends doing the same thing.
“No interested,” Zoro simply said, leaning back in his seat with his arms crossed behind his head and his eyes closed. Luffy frowned.
“Not interested.” Miraculously, Luffy seemed to accept this. Of course, only Zoro would be able to do that. Everyone else was on their own.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, out of everyone gathered only Jimbei seemed truly contrite. “My apologies, Luffy, but I have a meeting to attend at the Undersea Palace.” He frowned. “I will be gone for the rest of the week; I intended to let everyone know after breakfast.”
“Well, if you’re meeting the King and Queen then there’s not much to it,” Luffy said, arms crossed and nodding sagely. Like anyone actually bought that. “Tell Shirahoshi we said hi for us, okay?” Jimbei nodded in agreement before he, too, left, throwing a worried look over his shoulder. Usopp couldn’t blame him; as a fishman, he was the only one who could reliably save their Devil Frit users from drowning. The others could of course swim, but not nearly as well as a fishman or mermaid.
No doubt poor Jimbei would be worrying about their leader during his whole trip.
Nami jumped in her seat when Luffy turned to face her expectantly, choking slightly on her orange juice. “Oh, no!” she protested, holding up her hands as some kind of makeshift shield. “I already spend all of my time at the beach, I’m not going unless you pay me!”
“But you’re a lifeguard,” Usopp pointed out. He immediately flinched back at the withering glare his friend leveled him with. “Just…just saying,” he muttered to himself.
Crossing her arms, Nami scoffed. “Exactly. I get paid to go to the beach and save people. If I’m not getting paid on my day off, then I’m spending my valuable free time doing something I actually want to do.” She paused for a moment. “Like shopping. Or catching up on my reading. Or even spending time with my family. Almost literally anything else. I’m sorry, Luffy, but you’re on your own.” Luckily for Nami’s dramatic exit out of the house she’d already finished up her breakfast. Even if she was one of his favorites, Sanji wouldn’t be happy with anyone for leaving leftover food behind. It was an insult to not only the chef for ‘leaving hungry,’ as his former mentor put it once, but it was also wasteful.
They all had their weird quirks, it seemed.
That left only Brook, Usopp and Luffy at the table, Zoro having already made his exit at some point. Brook drank from his teacup, idly looking out the window. It was a tossup if he was actually paying attention to the conversation or not. Not having skin or muscle mass made it hard to gage emotion, normally. The skeleton hummed to himself contentedly. Well, at least he seemed like he was having fun. Usopp could almost literally feel Luffy’s expectant gaze boring into him. Feeling his moment slipping away from him, Usopp glanced at his plate that still had some eggs and a few pieces of bacon left. The only way he’d be able to leave quickly would be to try to stuff as much as he could in his mouth and run.
His rubber octopus of a best friend didn’t even let him get a single bite in. Luffy’s arm wrapped around his shoulder in a way that only someone made of rubber could, pulling Usopp to his side.
“Guess it’s just the three of us, huh?” Luffy grinned, knowing he’d get his way. “Oh, are you going to finish that, Usopp?” Wordlessly, Usopp slid his plate to him. Just like that, his dreams of living past the week were dashed. This wasn’t going to help his quest to be a Brave Warrior. At all. How was he going to explain this to Kaya, or the Usopp Pirate kids?
Idly, he wondered if Brook knew that he’d unknowingly sold away his soul…
Somehow, their trip to the beach was postponed until the next day. The others who’d escaped the day before were mysteriously absent for breakfast at Sanji’s the following morning, including Sanji himself. This was surprising considering how early in the morning it was. Luffy had called up Usopp at about three to tell him that they were all meeting at Sanji’s at six that morning to head off to the beach. When Usopp arrived at the front door, it was to find a hastily written note that explained, verbatim, that ‘because of reasons, I have to go to the mountains today to find a super-rare ingredient for a delicious meat dish I’m planning on making. I have to have my full concentration for this, so don’t call me Luffy.’
Personally, Usopp thought that the chef could have come up with a better lie, but he shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. Luffy, who’d walked Usopp over after arriving at his house only a half hour earlier, much to his horror, immediately informed Usopp that interrupting Sanji would be punished on pain of almost death. It was a little overboard, Usopp thought, to go for meat, but then again Luffy.
That was honestly all the explanation he really needed. Luffy.
Luckily (for some reason) Sanji had left breakfast for Luffy, Usopp and Brook in a picnic basket on his doormat, including lunch boxes for later.
“He could make all of this but he still found time to head off to the mountains…” Usopp shook his head. Luffy didn’t seem to be paying attention, and Brook, who’d just arrived, was busying himself with his thermos of tea. A sharp pain on the back of his head from something small hitting him made the sniper turn around in time to see Sanji glaring at him murderously through the upstairs window before backing away slowly into the darkness.
All of his friends were clearly drama queens, but damn did they use it to their advantage.
“Come on, Usopp! We’re going to miss our bus!”
“C-coming!” If his voice cracked maybe a little on the first syllable, no one had to know. Brave warriors didn’t get scared, after all. Especially not from their friends making dramatic exits. Usopp took off at a run after his hyperactive friend and (surprisingly very quick) skeleton friend. Knowing Luffy, if they ended up missing the bus he would make them run all the way to the beach. Personally, Usopp would rather not hasten his death sentence.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe Luffy was in the mood to build an epic sandcastle, rather than try to go deep sea snorkeling (again). Honestly, anything would be better than trying to get to Luffy while he was ‘deep sea snorkeling.’ There was only so much swimming that Usopp could do before he’d get too tired to bring the two of them back to shore again, and that wasn’t even counting Brook. Bless his skeleton heart, Brook was always so excited to be able to have living interactions with friends again that he sometimes went overboard and would forget that he couldn’t swim, either.
It was really, really annoying when he and Chopper teamed up, usually to save Luffy from drowning. It typically fell to the others to end up saving all three of them when it originally had only been one crewmember drowning. That, more than anything, was why the others didn’t come with them to the beach. Nami in particular, as a lifeguard, would be spending the whole time saving just them instead of doing any of her other duties or even just enjoying the beach herself.
The truly maddening thing was that Luffy knew all of this. He knew that he couldn’t swim, that it would be his friends who would have to save him, and that they weren’t amused with his stunts. Since only one of the three people going to the beach today could swim, it would of course mean that Luffy would have to be extra careful with himself around the water. It made Usopp a little curious about what his friend had planned, since he didn’t seem very disappointed when the others said they couldn’t make it.
Hope was starting to shine through to Usopp’s dark, jaded heart at the thought that building an epic sandcastle really could just be what Luffy had in mind for the beach today…
“Yo ho ho ho! Luffy-san, do you have any plans for our beach trip?” Brook asked after the three took their seats on the bus. The skeleton immediately pulled out his sunglasses, inner tube and sandals, ready for whatever beach adventure they were sure to have. They’d made their bus with plenty of time to spare, thank god. Usopp settled into his seat for the roughly ten minute ride to the beach. He perked up at his friend’s words, also curious. He really hoped that his best friend would just be content with the usual fun and games. And hopefully an epic sandcastle. He really, really hoped there was an epic sandcastle in his future.
Luffy’s grin stretched wide over his face, an act that only someone made of rubber would be able to pull off. “I want to learn how to surf, and Usopp’s going to teach me!”
Oh, he would, would he?
“The hell, Luffy!” Usopp exclaimed. He ignored the startled looks and glares they were getting from the other passengers on the bus. Seriously, it was like they didn’t know who the Strawhats were. Tourists, maybe? “Don’t just go deciding something like that by yourself! And anyways, how do you know if I can even surf? Because I sure don’t. I’ve never tried it before, you know.” Not that it would be that hard for the Great Warrior Usopp, but the point still stood.
Despite everything, Luffy still had that eager, excited grin on his face. “Well then we can learn together! Come on, it’ll be fun, Usopp! And Brook can play us inspirational music when we learn. It’s perfect!”
“For my part, I’d be delighted to play anything you wish, Luffy-san, Usopp-san,” Brook demurred, probably relieved that he didn’t have to take part in Luffy’s insanity. Beyond diving into the ocean to save him once their captain started drowning, of course, Usopp thought bitterly. Despite being ninety years old and having his Devil Fruit powers for most of that long life, Brook tended to forget that he couldn’t swim anymore. Brook started twirling his cane sword around idly, not in any particular rush to reach the beach.
“Luffy, I don’t think it’s a good idea! Do you even know how far out we’ll have to be to catch a decent wave?” Usopp briefly made his calculations as they exited the bus, having arrived at the beach. The group thanked the bus driver and made their way across the parking lot towards the changing stations. “And that’s not even taking into account what the water will do to you just by touching you. Do you think you’d even have enough strength to be able to stay on the board without wiping out?”
Luffy pouted. “The water doesn’t make me that tired,” he muttered, changing into his swimsuit in the privacy of the male changing room. “I’ll totally be strong enough to stay on.”
“If I may,” Brook put in before Usopp could respond, already dressed in his slightly old-fashioned one piece swimsuit. The inner tube completed the picture of a skeleton ready for a beach party. “Perhaps it would be better to know why you suddenly want to learn to surf, Luffy-san. You’ve certainly never expressed an interest before the last few times we stopped by the beach.”
Frowning in thought, Luffy led the way out of the changing room and out to the beach. Luckily, their usual, favorite beach spot was empty. The three took their time to set up while Luffy tried to organize his thoughts.
“Well, I’m a Devil-Fruit user, right?” he finally said, helping Usopp and Brook put on sunscreen lotion. Rubber, stretchy arms came in very handy in these types of situations. “So normally I wouldn’t even be able to play around in the ocean that much, which sucks. But more than that, I want to be able to show off my surfing skills to Ace and Sabo and see them freak out about how I can handle myself out there.” He shrugged. “I mean, I’m no Nami with her weirdly awesome waver skills, but surfing shouldn’t be too bad, right? And since Usopp’s really good at teaching me things, I figured he could help with this, too.”
Well, there wasn’t much Usopp could do against that kind of reasoning. Usopp was pretty awesome he had to admit, feeling giddy at his friend’s praise. And, well, he knew how important Luffy’s brothers were to him, and it wasn’t like he could stand his best friend’s dejected face. It was probably because Luffy was so expressive that he was able to get away with so much; hardly anyone would be able to stand against his puppy dog eyes, or his pouting face. Usopp could sympathize with wanting to learn a new skill just to freak out those closest to him. With the way Brook was dabbing a handkerchief to his eyes (which he couldn’t actually cry from, since he didn’t have eyes—Skull joke!) the musician no doubt agreed as well.
Worse still, Usopp couldn’t get an image of everyone who ever cared about Luffy—pretty much every single person the rubber man ever met at one point or another—coming after him for disappointing their favorite person, out of his head. If Usopp was going to die either way, it might as well be while trying to help his friend, and possibly succeeding while he did it. Most likely succeeding. This was the Brave Warrior Usopp they were talking about! He could do anything!
Also, Usopp wasn’t sure if he could live with himself for making his best friend so sad. Luffy really did have a way with people…
“Okay, fine,” Usopp caved, flinching slightly at the sudden loud noise of Luffy cheering in excitement and hugging him. The things his friend was able to talk him into. It was a wonder he didn’t rule the world by now. “But only on the condition that you do everything I say. If we’re going to do this, then we’re going to do it right.” Beaming, Luffy readily agreed. “Brook, what about you? Do you want to surf, too?”
“Oh, no, but thank you for the offer,” Brook declined. “I’d be too afraid I’d lose a bone or two out there. Or worse, what if a shark comes along and decides it wants to eat me!” He gasped dramatically, bringing his hand to his face in horror.
“Would sharks even want to eat bones?” Luffy asked curiously.
Brook huffed, offended. “Well, I should say so! Bones are just as nutritious as anything else they may find. Or perhaps the sharks here think they’re too good for my bones! How outrageous! How cheeky!”
Usopp hurried to assure his friend. “I’m sure it’s more likely Jimbei or someone else talked to them about how they shouldn’t eat anyone around here,” he said soothingly. “Ever notice how there aren’t any shark attack stories around these parts?”
“Well, that is true,” Brook said finally. “Nevertheless, I shall be most happy staying on land where I can get a tan and play music for you.” Usopp decided not to question how skeletons could get a tan in the first place. Brook laughed jovially, unpacking his violin and tuning it before playing while Luffy danced along in delight. At least they were happy.
Usopp started muttering to himself, pulling out his spare notepad and a pencil. He started making a list of items they would need, not the least including actual surfboards and body boards to practice on. He’d seen enough people surf before and had even seen a special on TV once late at night about the physics and mechanics that went into being able to surf as well as the different types of tricks, techniques, and waves that they could encounter and use. It was highly doubtful that they’d be able to surf professionally after today, but Usopp thought he’d at least be able to hammer in the basics.
Assuming he could keep Luffy from drowning, of course, he thought idly as he wrote and underlined ‘life vests and inner tubes’ on his list.
After leaving Brook to sun himself and play to his hearts content (“Though I don’t have a heart!”) as he watched over their things, Usopp and Luffy set off for the beach shop. The shop was conveniently located on a boardwalk at the other end of the public beach. Since most of the beachgoers were people who lived in the area, almost all of the equipment and a few other items were available for rent, saving the hassle of having to cart everything to the beach yourself.
Living so close to the beach also meant that they also knew everyone who worked at the shop, and the workers knew all of their friends, family, and acquaintances. Usopp just hoped whoever was on staff today didn’t decide to tell everyone they knew that Luffy was about to learn how to surf. Things like that had a habit of reaching the very people who would cheerfully kill him if anything bad happened to the rubber man.
Luffy, ever oblivious to the kinds of things he put his friends through, bounced through the door and headed straight for the snacks. He shouted a hello over his shoulder, not surprisingly already knowing who was behind the counter that day. “Hey, Coby! How’s your summer going?” Usopp followed his captain in at a more sedate pace.
He wasn’t that familiar with the pink haired young man, or the blond man next to him. Luffy tended to make friends everywhere; if Usopp wasn’t there when they met, then he likely wouldn’t know them. These two, however, were familiar if only by sight. They were both young police cadets that were apparently protégé’s of Luffy’s own grandfather, and as a result tended to be partnered up with one another. Offering a brief nod of greeting Usopp headed further into the store where the rental equipment was located. He took a moment to look over the various types of body boards and surf boards before deciding to stick with the body boards for the moment. If he could manage to keep Luffy on one through a wave or two then they’d move onto the larger surf boards. Usopp picked out a nice forest green one for himself and a bright neon orange one for Luffy before moving on to the life vests and inner tubes.
He wasn’t going to take any chances; Luffy was wearing both if he intended to go anywhere near the water with just Usopp there to keep him safe. Depending on how things went, he may even upgrade his friend to arm floaties.
“Hey, Luffy! I haven’t seen you all summer,” Coby replied wistfully. The blond man next to him grunted out something, turning his nose up in disdain. Coby and Luffy laughed at whatever it was he’d said. “Don’t listen to Helmeppo; he’s just pissed that his dad’s making things difficult with your grandpa.”
“Well, that’s stupid of him,” Luffy said bluntly. “So why’re you guys working here? Did you get fired or something?”
“No, nothing like that,” Coby dismissed easily. “Even though we’re working with Garp-san, the two of us are still technically cadets. So, we have to do community service for a certain amount of hours to ‘build good will with the people.’” Coby shrugged as Usopp brought over his items. “So, we’re here for the time being.”
“No, Luffy, I’m not paying for your things too!” Usopp protested when Luffy tried to ‘sneakily’ put his snacks in with the body boards and life jackets. Luffy pouted but reluctantly pulled his snacks back. They’d been through this numerous times already. “If you don’t have the money for them, then don’t get them. Or ask your brothers or grandfather for more money.”
Luffy sighed dramatically, draping his arms over the side of the counter and sinking to the floor. “I’ve tried, but they won’t! They said I should get a job instead. They’re super mean.” Usopp had a feeling his friend was fishing for sympathy, but that wasn’t going to work on Usopp’s jaded heart. Being forced (?) to teach him how to surf was one thing, but Usopp wasn’t going to be paying for Luffy’s food on top of that.
He’d had enough of that when they were kids.
While the two friends bickered Helmeppo scanned Usopp’s items for checkout. “As you most likely know by now, you have the body boards for the next four hours, though you can opt to take the longer rental period of eight hours,” the blond said in a bored tone of voice. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there, but was bravely pulling through for his job. Usopp thought he was a tool, but Luffy was friendly with him so it didn’t really matter what Usopp thought. “As for the life vests and inner tubes, you’ll have to pay for that yourself. We don’t have a rental policy for those.” It figured, really.
“That’s okay,” Usopp said, pulling out his waterproof wallet. “I was planning on keeping them, anyway.”
“Seems like a lot of stuff,” Coby noted as he accepted Usopp’s card. “Are you using them for decorations for a sandcastle or something?” Oh, if only, Coby, Usopp thought with a sinking stomach.
Luffy grinned big. “Usopp’s teaching me how to surf!” he said proudly. The police cadet pair both startled at his words before giving Usopp a what-on-earth-are-you-thinking look. Usopp responded with a put-upon sigh and a Look at Luffy. Just as long as everyone knew that this was definitely not his idea. Luffy, ever oblivious, proceeded to scan his own snacks when he saw that Helmeppo wasn’t helping. Coby managed to shake himself enough to accept Luffy’s cash without the excitable man trying to figure out the cash register on his own.
“Come on, Luffy,” Usopp said, dragging his best friend away from the store. “Let’s get this started.”
Teaching Luffy how to use a body board wasn’t the trying experience Usopp thought it would be. Oh, sure, Luffy tended to let himself get pulled along deeper out to sea than was really necessary or safe, but at least he was keeping a firm hold to the foam board. It probably helped that Luffy was determined to learn; Usopp knew firsthand how hard it was to get his friend to pay attention to anything he wasn’t interested in, let alone learn a new skill. If he was determined, however, Luffy could almost achieve anything. He was quick to pick up the basics of paddling his board through the water and had even learned how to judge the waves for which ones would roll with him or roll over him. Brook, meanwhile, was happy enough providing inspiration music to practice by and had even gathered a small crowd of children to cheer everyone on. Personally, Usopp thought that their cheering was a little much but Luffy and Brook seemed to grow more confident with a crowd.
By the time the four hour rental period on the body boards was over, Luffy was only drifting further out into the ocean out of boredom and curiosity rather than lack of control over his board or limbs. Since most of his body was submersed in the water with the body boards Usopp had thought that Luffy would have a harder time controlling himself. He did have a couple of scares where Luffy’s body would freeze up and slip under the water but Usopp was always right on hand to pull him back up to the cheering of the steadily growing crowd gathered to watch them. Despite his reservations, though, Usopp thought that it was finally time to move onto working with the surf boards. Their practice with the body boards had taken up most of the morning, and after breaking for lunch Usopp switched out the body boards for the much larger surf boards.
To his surprise, when he came back from the beach shop Usopp saw that Zoro had shown up while he was gone. The green haired swordsman lounged on a beach towel next to Brook with a smirk on his face as he listened to some story Luffy told. Brook chortled along, gesturing wildly with Luffy as he added in his own commentary. Raftel only knew what all they were telling Zoro.
“Zoro! Didn’t expect to see you here,” Usopp greeted, sticking the surf boards into the sand for the time being. ‘Especially since you made sure you couldn’t come earlier,’ was left out but implied. Zoro’s widening smirk showed he heard the implied words.
“I got a text from Coby saying Luffy was learning how to surf. No way I’m missing that.”
“It’s great timing, too!” Luffy cheered happily. He also held up his own phone showing a text he’d gotten while they’d been out practicing. “Gramps texted me saying he wants pictures. This way Zoro can take them so Brook doesn’t have to stop playing!”
Brook smiled widely, chuckling to himself. “I’ve been getting requests non-stop. I’d hate to let down my audience.” His words were met with cheers all around them, which was a little disturbing since Usopp hadn’t even noticed the slowly gathering crowd. Brook threw out his arms and bowed to his adoring crowd, hardly noticing the pens and paper being thrust at him for autographs.
Sometimes Usopp wondered what it would be like to be as famous as his friends.
Luffy nodded his head seriously. “Make sure you only get the cool shots, Zoro. Don’t send Gramps anything embarrassing!”
Zoro took the camera phone from Luffy, tilting it this way and that way before nodding to himself gravely. “I’ll figure something out. Just try not to drown, or I’ll send those pictures to your brothers.” Both Luffy and Usopp jumped their friend shouting ‘No, don’t!’ at the top of their lungs for very different reasons. Zoro seemed to get the message. He grimaced, rubbing his ears from the loud noise. “Fine, fine. You’d better get started, then. And I’m not saving you if something happens, Luffy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Luffy replied flippantly, grabbing the two surf boards and dragging Usopp out to the water.
Usopp probably should have felt intimidated by the crowd they’d gathered and from the pictures that were no doubt going to start circulating around Luffy’s closest friends and family, but he didn’t. Something about knowing that his father would find out about this, that he would see the kind of man his son was, grounded him. He wouldn’t let down his father. Usopp wouldn’t accept anything except success at this point. And he definitely wouldn’t allow himself to wash out in front of this crowd. His dignity, pride and ego wouldn’t let him.
It helped that the surf boards were large enough and long enough that they could sit on them easily without Luffy’s whole body being in the water. Luffy had more control of his body this way so he could practice staying on with his own power. At this point the hardest thing they had to do was get Luffy to stand on his board and stay standing. There were a few falls in the beginning but knowing that Zoro was the one taking photos energized Luffy into concentrating harder. There was no way Luffy would be okay with his grandfather being sent pictures of him falling over all the time. They couldn’t get much better motivation, Usopp thought to himself as he told Luffy how to hold his arms out for balance.
A few hours later saw Luffy making his first tentative wave. It took a lot of arguing but Usopp had finally managed to convince Luffy to attempt the smaller waves first before trying any of the bigger ones.
“What if you go under?” he asked. “I can find you if it’s a smaller wave, but you could get dragged anywhere with one of the bigger ones. It’d be one thing if Jimbei was here to help, but you just have me out here, and Zoro wouldn’t be able to get out here in time to help. Just…start with the smaller ones at first, okay?” It was inevitable that they would fall off their boards into the water. Despite Luffy’s progress, they were both still amateurs. From what Usopp could tell, even more experienced surfers fell off their boards when the waves finally caught up to them. Luffy was still wearing his life vest, inner tube and arm floaties so it wasn’t so bad if he fell into the water, but the larger waves would definitely pull him farther out to sea. Even all of Usopp’s precautions wouldn’t be able to help with that.
Luffy pouted, poking at his surf board. “Fine,” he muttered, upset that he couldn’t immediately try out one of the bigger, funner waves. Usopp sighed, rubbing a hand down his face tiredly.
“Tell you what. If you can make three small waves in a row, then we can move up to the bigger ones. Okay?” Personally, Usopp was happy just sticking to the smaller ones for the time being. He’d seen what some of the bigger ones looked like and had almost been swept away by one earlier in the day. He’d be happy if they could stay away from the bigger ones for the rest of his life, but Usopp knew that wasn’t likely to happen. One of the conditions for teaching Luffy, that had actually been suggested by Luffy, is that they had to take everything together. If Luffy went for the bigger waves then Usopp would have to go for the bigger waves, too. Usopp thought for sure that they wouldn’t even get to this part of the surfing training that day. Maybe by the end of the week, surely, but later that same day? He kind of hated how his friend could learn anything he was actually interested in almost inhumanly quickly. Just how was that fair?
Luffy perked up suddenly, turning towards the beach and waving wildly at their friends. “Brook! Play something awesome for us! Zoro! Be sure to take great pictures!” Zoro offered a small wave at his words while the crowd started loudly cheering them on. Usopp could have even sworn that they were chanting his and Luffy’s names.
The rest of the crew would be so jealous they missed all of this, he thought with a smirk.
Usopp looked behind him, judging the waves. “Okay, I think this is our stop,” he said, drawing Luffy’s attention to the wave coming towards them. Luffy’s answering grin spoke volumes for just how excited the rubber man was. His eyes were practically sparkling. Seeing just how happy his friend was made Usopp offer his own smile as excitement slowly started creeping up in him. Just think how many of his friends he could brag to about being able to surf… Almost no one would believe he’d taught Luffy, either. Thank god Zoro had the photographic evidence for it.
Usopp braced himself as the wave started to lift them and carry them forward. He exchanged looks with Luffy, who had a serious look on his face now that they were actually doing something. As the wave took them higher, the two cautiously stood up and found their balance on the boards. This was their first time doing so while actually moving with the wave and Usopp was quite frankly amazed he was doing so well. Luffy was all limbs. He flailed at first before quickly finding his balance and shifting his weight and center of gravity forward, gaining speed. He gave Usopp a quick smile and wave before he took off, leaving Usopp in his watery trail.
He wasn’t sure if it was instinctive or if Luffy had seen someone do something similar sometime before, but Usopp wasn’t quite sure where his friend learned that.
He couldn’t waste time focusing on his friend, however. Soon enough Usopp had to focus his full attention to staying on the board for as long as he could before the wave took him under. He wasn’t sure how far he’d gotten thrown but luckily his board wasn’t too far away. As he swam over to his board Luffy popped out of the water about ten feet to his left, laughing loudly and joyfully. At least he seemed happy. And at least the floats were working well enough. Luffy’s board looked to have been thrown towards the beach and was currently being washed up on the beach where a helpful Brook dragged it further onto the beach. To Usopp’s great amusement, the musician lifted the board over his head to the cheer of the crowd.
“THAT—WAS—AWESOME!” Luffy cheered loudly, throwing his fist into the air to roar of the screams and cheers from the crowd at the beach. The rubber man grinned and waved at them, clearly enjoying the attention.
Even Usopp had to admit that the whole thing hadn’t been that scary. He chuckled to himself, catching Luffy’s attention. “Yeah, that was pretty fun,” he agreed with his own smile.
“Right?!” Luffy grinned from ear to ear. “Can we go again?”
Before Usopp had a chance to agree (because what was he going to do, not go again?) Zoro walked to the edge of the beach and started waving his arm, trying to get their attention. It helped that he had one of his swords in his hand as he did.
“Of course he brought his swords to the beach with him…”
“Huh? Something wrong, Zoro?” Luffy called out to him, slowly making his way towards the beach. Usopp took pity and pulled him along, both resting on his surf board as they kicked their way forward.
Zoro waited until they were closer before showing them Luffy’s phone. “I took a video of the whole thing. It was pretty cool,” he admitted, shrugging slightly. Luffy laughed at his praise. “Sent it to your grandpa, who apparently sent it to your brothers.” Luffy’s face paled faster than Usopp would have thought possible. “Sabo sent a text that was basically gibberish, and Ace says he’s on his way here. Thought I should warn you.”
“Shit. Hide the surfboards!” Luffy called out to the crowd, finally close enough to the beach that his feet touched ground. To Usopp’s surprise that shouldn’t have been surprise, a few members of the crowd surged forward to grab the surfboards and run them back to the beach shop. “Zoro, give me my phone!”
Luffy took his phone back and started making a call to his grandfather, complaining that the surfing lesson thing was ‘supposed to be a secret, geez, Gramps, don’t you know anything?’ It was actually pretty impressive that he was able to tell off a senior member of the city’s police force like that, particularly since it was the same police department that had tried to arrest Luffy several times in the past. Then again, it almost seemed like Luffy’s family ran on a weird form of nepotism, so maybe it wasn’t that strange.
Brook, not picking up on the frantic energy on the beach, sat calmly on the beach towel under their umbrella and continued playing his song as if nothing was wrong. Every now and then he’d take a sip of his tea, looking for anything like nothing was amiss. Considering he didn’t have an angry, overprotective older brother coming after him, it seemed like a safe bet. Then again, Brook could probably hide behind a wall of his fans; the old musician was surprisingly sneaky when he wanted to be.
“You okay?” Zoro asked Usopp, eying him as he slowly made his way up the beach.
“I’ll be fine,” Usopp said with a confidence he didn’t feel and wasn’t sure where it originated from. “I’m planning on throwing Luffy at the problem and getting out of here before someone let’s slip that I was the one who taught him.”
Zoro considered this for a moment as they watched Luffy argue with his grandfather over the phone. It sounded like Garp was trying to make his excuses about why it was such a good idea to show off videos of his grandson to his other grandsons. Luffy didn’t look impressed. “It could work,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it was nice knowing you, Usopp.” He nodded his head solemnly. “I’ll be sure to bring flowers to your grave.”
“Hey!” Usopp yelped. “Don’t kill me off just yet! And at least say you’ll tell the world of my great deeds and exploits.”
Zoro shrugged. “No promises.” His friends were jerks.
Luffy hung up his phone and walked over with a serious expression on his face. “Okay. Ace will be here soon, and I have a plan.”
“I’m all ears,” Usopp said, swallowing nervously. From what he remembered about Luffy’s brother, Ace was a high-ranking member of the Whitebeard gang. He was also a Fire Logia; there was no telling what he’d do to Usopp, and Usopp would rather not be burnt to a crisp by an angry Devil-Fruit user, thank you very much. His story as a Brave Warrior couldn’t just end like this.
Way too stupid of an ending, if you asked him.
“Okay. So. We distract him,” Luffy proposed. “He can’t yell at me if he’s too busy with something else, right?”
Usopp imagined that the fiery young man could probably multitask, but he was willing to try anything at this point. Was he grasping at straws? Probably, but he really didn’t want to see just what Ace would do to him, let alone the other brother, Sabo. Then again, with the way that Luffy got in trouble regularly, as long as Usopp could make it past today he’d probably be in the clear. Luffy would get up to something else, his brothers would freak out about that, and this whole silly ‘beach trip’ would just be a distant memory.
That’s all Usopp really wanted right now. Well, that, and an…
“I think I have an idea we could use…” Usopp said, slowly growing more and more hopeful. “It would definitely be distracting…”
Ace was pissed. What the hell did his little brother think he was doing? Yeah, Ace was also a Devil-Fruit user who maybe didn’t think things all the way through like he was supposed to, be even he knew how surfing while not being able to swim was a bad idea. What were Luffy’s friends even doing? Ace knew that his brother was strong willed, but he thought for sure that his brother’s friends would have had the commonsense to not let Luffy do something so reckless. If they couldn’t even guarantee Luffy’s safety…
Well, they should be glad that it was Ace coming over and not mother hen Sabo.
“Is this really necessary?” Marco asked idly, watching his friend in amusement. He leant back in his seat to better face Ace.
“Of course it is!” Ace snapped. This was Ace’s little brother they were talking about! Yeah, Luffy was powerful in his own right but he was also way too reckless. Considering how close-knit the Whitebeards all were Ace thought Marco should have at least understood where Ace was coming from. Instead, the laidback man had apparently decided to follow along out of curiosity and amusement rather than out of support. The fact that Ace had suddenly left in the middle of a crew meeting to go yell at his brother probably helped, too, though.
At least Pops didn’t seem that upset with Ace for leaving. If anything, he also seemed amused.
“I’m just saying, your brother seemed fine when you spoke with your grandfather,” Marco replied easily. “Obviously he’s not hurt, and he had his friends with him. They wouldn’t have let anything bad happen, and they seemed to be having fun in that video. Maybe go easy on them?” When Ace didn’t answer Marco sighed. “I know you were scared, but from what I could see he went about it smart. He was practically covered in flotation devices, he wasn’t that far out, and there were plenty of people on the beach to help out if anything did happen. You have every right to be pissed, but don’t make too much out of it.”
Ace inhaled sharply before letting out a deep breath. His friend had a point, not that Ace was that interested in rationality at the moment. He and Sabo were unfortunately rarely home anymore since they were both busy with their own lives. They hated to leave their younger brother on his own, especially when he pulled stunts like this. He was the baby of the family, and that protectiveness didn’t go away easily. It really didn’t help that Luffy was beyond reckless, either. Ace could hardly count the number of heart attacks that kid had almost given him with his stunts.
It was a very fine line between letting Luffy have his own life and adventures and wanting to be there to keep him safe from everything. Ace knew what outsiders must think; he and Sabo were smothering, that they cared too much, that they were over, overprotective of Luffy. And they were right, in a sense. Normally Luffy could take care of himself just fine and had lots of friends and comrades who’d be there to help him out while Ace and Sabo couldn’t.
But then Luffy did things like this and Ace couldn’t help but think that his brother wouldn’t be safe unless he were by his or Sabo’s side. An argument could be made that he’d be better off with Sabo, since Sabo was Luffy’s dad’s right hand man. But neither Luffy nor Dragon made much of an effort to spend time with one another or get to know each other. Ace wasn’t even sure if Luffy had met his dad, though both seemed fine with their situation. It didn’t help that Ace knew, had always known, that Luffy would be happiest on his own with his friends by his side. He didn’t do well with being told what to do or how to act.
No, Ace knew he couldn’t force Luffy to be safer or stay away from his friends. That didn’t mean Ace couldn’t scare him and his friends into being more cautious, though.
Marco smirked, nodding to himself. The stupid phoenix knew he’d won. Ace tried to ignore how childish he looked sticking his tongue out. Luckily for him and his dignity their stop on the bus was just coming up. It was early evening and various beach lights and tiki torches set up in the sand were just turning on.
When Ace walked out onto the beach, he wasn’t quite sure what he expected. Luffy and his friends to have run off, maybe. Luffy to run, either towards him for a hug or away for a chase. Maybe Luffy’s friends either cowering or standing their ground against him defiantly, or both. The Strawhats had a reputation for being unpredictable, after all.
What he definitely didn’t expect was a ten foot tall sand castle on the middle of the beach, a dozen people milling about fetching buckets of sea water for the sand, setting up an assembly line for building what looked like the east wing out of sand, decorating the outside of the castle, Luffy’s swordsman friend standing tall on a parapet as he posed with one of his swords held out and a hand on his hip, Luffy’s sniper friend sketching him on a sketch pad, Luffy’s skeleton friend being carried by the crowd as he played on an acoustic guitar, and Luffy jumping around at the top of the castle shouting “I’m King of the castle, I’m King of the castle!”
Ace felt Marco stop next to him, looking down on the scene in confused amazement. “…I think they’re trying to distract you from being angry with them,” he said finally.
“Mission accomplished,” Ace said, shaking his head as he continued walking down towards the beach. “I’m still angry, but I’ll probably yell at Luffy later. I’d hate to ruin his fun right now.”
Marco laughed, pulling out his phone and taking pictures to send to Whitebeard and their brothers and sisters. “Your brother has you so whipped.”
“Tell me about it,” Ace muttered, lifting his hand to wave at Luffy who’d just noticed them approach. You know, maybe Ace would let Sabo be the ‘lecturing’ older brother for this. No way was Ace going to share this kind of fun.