1 The Choice

"Hey, you," said the marine, a man with a deep tan, a black mustache/beard combo, and a green ascot on his uniform, as he stared at Coby's back. "Aren't you part of the crew as well?" The boy in question was short and pudgy with large round glasses, blue eyes, pink hair, and a white and blue shirt with blue shorts. He froze under the scrutinizing gaze of the man, looking for his voice. His answer would change not only his life, but many others as well.

As Coby racked his brain for a response, the people around the room remained focused on him. The two official members of the Straw Hat Pirates, as well as the marines that had come to kick them out of Shells Town, were standing. The captain of said crew, Monkey D. Luffy, was a wiry 17-year-old with black eyes, a mop of black hair, and a small scar under his left eye. The teen's wardrobe consisted of a pair of open-toed sandals, jean-shorts, and a red vest. Finally, atop his head was his greatest treasure, the hat for which his crew were named.

His only other crewmate was the infamous Roranoa Zoro, a man with short green hair and black eyes. Covering the swordsman's form were a plain-white, dust-covered shirt and dark-green pants with the bottoms stuffed into black boots. A bandana the same color as his pants was tied around his left bicep and around his waist was a light-green haremaki with three swords stuck in the loop placed on the man's right side.

Behind the bar's counter were the female owner of the establishment and her daughter, Rika. The little girl, who could be no more than seven, was like a miniature version of her mother. Both had brown hair, a fair complexion, and big brown eyes. And both were waiting for Coby's answer.

"Well... I, uh... I," he stammered. Should he deny even knowing Luffy, the man who had rescued him from the torment that the Pirate Alvida had put him through for more than two years? Or would he say yes? Doing so could brand him as a criminal, a wanted man, someone who could never work for the Marines unless he obtained the title of Warlord. By the door, Luffy turned away to exit, a bag of food resting over his shoulder. He was quiet, waiting to see if the boy's answer would happen before he left.

"Hold it," the Marine man ordered. Luffy stopped. "Is he with you or what?"

"What I can tell you is what he's been busy doing up to this point," the teen pirate responded in a happy tone. Coby turned with a shocked look on his face. "Yeah! There was this fantastically-fat pirate lady! I think her name was Al-"

"Stop!" Coby yelled, coming to one conclusion. If Luffy was going to tell them about his past, about Alvida, then there was no way he would ever be allowed to join the Marines. But would that be such a bad thing? Everyone looked at the pink-haired boy. He steeled himself before continuing. "I... I am part of their crew!" Zoro blinked in surprise while Rika and her mother gasped in shock. This boy had been talking about joining the Marines not five minutes ago and now he was claiming to be a pirate.

The marine raised an eyebrow. "So you admit to being a member of this man's pirate crew?"

"Yes," Coby nodded, trying to ignore his shaking legs. "I-I had always wanted to be a marine, but after seeing what Morgan did using his authority as a Marine Captain, I don't want any part in that. Not anymore. So instead of being a marine, I'll follow Luffy-san to see him become the King of the Pirates!"

Luffy smiled. "Shishishishi. That's assuming I want you on my crew."

"You don't want me?" Coby cried out in a meek voice as tears started to form in his glasses-covered eyes. He'd risked his future. Was it over for him already? Luffy's unique laughter answered him.

"Shishishi. I'm just joking, Coby. No need to cry. I'd love to have you on my crew." The boy smiled again, but the marine spoke once more.

"Then I'm afraid I must ask you all to leave. We will not report you because of what you've done for our town, but we cannot have you stay." Luffy and Coby took their cue to exit and joined Zoro at the door before making their way through the streets.

The people of Shells Town thanked them as they passed, showing their happiness over the defeat of the wretched Ax-Hand Morgan. Luffy smiled and waved, laughing at the peoples' exuberance. Zoro stayed passive while Coby considered what he had just done to himself. He had only known Luffy for a day at most and he'd already pledged his life to the energetic, hat-wearing teen. Though he'd still known him longer than Zoro...

"Hey, Captain Luffy?" Coby asked, getting the rubber-man's attention. "Where are we going next?"

"To the docks."

"And after that?"

"I don't know," the captain answered, causing Coby to trip in surprise.

"You don't know?" the boy yelled as he rose and caught up to both the Devil Fruit user and the swordsman. "How can you not know? You're our captain, aren't you?" BONK. "Ow. Why did you hit me?"

"Felt like it. Plus you were asking too many questions. It was giving me a headache." By then, the three-man crew had reached the docks where their tiny lifeboat that Luffy and Coby had taken from Alvida's crew sat bobbing in the water. Zoro stepped in as Luffy undid the rope holding the craft to the shore and threw it into the dingy. They set off.

The boat was making its way out to sea, the slow waves moving the craft up and down. Behind them, the marines had lined up on the dock and were saluting the three. In front of them were Rika and her mother waving at the group and telling them to return some day.

"Men!" the man with the green ascot yelled. "Because our salute is in clear violation of Marine Protocol, we will not be allowed to eat for three days! Understood?"

"Yes, Sir!" Luffy and Coby waved to the men and women until the island was out of sight.

"Alright," Zoro yawned. "Now that we've set off, we've got some important things to do."

"Like finding out where we're going," Coby agreed.

"And finding a musician," Luffy nodded.

"We don't need a musician!" Zoro and Coby yelled in unison.

"Shishishi. Isn't this fun?" Luffy asked, smiling out into the distance. "This is our first voyage as a pirate crew!"

"It does look like it's shaping up to be one Hell of an adventure," Zoro commented, leaning back.

"And I'm going to become the Pirate King!"

"You keep saying that. Any reason why you want to?"

"Nope, but I made a friend a promise." Luffy reached up to hold his hat. "I promised to gather an amazing crew and to return this hat to him once I become the Pirate King, so that's what I'm going to do. Heh, it's funny, Coby. I'd meant to rile you up so you'd slug me and be allowed to join the Marines, not become a pirate, too."

"Really?" Coby questioned.

"Either way," Zoro sighed, "it seems we'll all need to become stronger if we want a place on your crew. Isn't that right Coby?"

"T-that's right! I'll become strong! I'll help Captain Luffy achieve his dream. That or we'll all die trying."

"I don't know about you two, but I don't plan on dying anytime soon. I need to become the world's greatest swordsman."

"The world's greatest swordsman?" Coby cried out in shock. "Then you would have to defeat Hawk-Eye Mihawk! That's impossible!"

"Any reason for your dream?" Luffy asked.

"Same as yours," Zoro shrugged. "Made a promise, now I've got to keep it."

"We still need to gather a crew first," Luffy pointed out. "Just wait. Grand Line, here we come!"

Next chapter