By Silver Dragonfly
Ace was tense, he couldn't help it. The appearance of Red-Haired Shanks had put him completely off balance when he had been barely treading water as it was. Until the moment he had recognized Red Hair, he had mostly been able to pretend Marineford was just a bad dream. That he hadn't basically died in front of Luffy, that his family had not gone to war for him, that his adoptive father had not died. However, the red-haired Yonko being here, now, drove home that the dream had not just been a dream. That he was hiding from his problems, pretending they didn't exist, that they weren't real. He hadn't wanted to think about having to go back, about having to face all of it, of having to find Marco and see what had become of the Whitebeard pirates after the war.
The only hope in all of it, his one regret, was to see Luffy make his own dream come true, and he felt like he didn't even have the right to that. This was the truth he didn't want to have to face, and yet, as he followed Naruto and Shanks, the near panic and dread began to fade. Watching the two interact, he realized what he had been ignoring before: Naruto really was kind of like Luffy. Naruto, who he knew deep down, understood Ace's own fears without even asking, who had been there when he had first woken up from the nightmare…
The first sensation he noticed, was warmth. Now, he had always been warm; ever since the day he had eaten the Mera Mera no Mi he had stopped feeling cold altogether. The only time he had ever felt that fade, was when he had been shackled in sea-prism stone, but this was different. He could feel the usual heat of his devil fruit powers coursing through him, but it was subdued, contained even and it was from that containment this warmth emanated.
He blinked slowly, squinting at the sudden light and then blinking again as the room came into focus. White… white ceiling, white walls… Whitebeard.
He bolted upright gasping, his eyes wild and feeling tongues of flame dancing across his skin.
"Oi! Careful, you'll injure yourself and set the room on fire!"
Wild eyes snapped to his right side where he spotted a blonde haired man reaching out to him to either brace him, or push him back onto the bed.
"Where is Luffy?!" He demanded, heart beating in his ears and thoughts racing.
The blonde man smiled, "Alive. Safe."
He took a shaky breath and tried to calm himself as his eyes continued to take in his surroundings. He was in some kind infirmary, the blonde beside him the only other person in the room. He refocused he attention on the blonde. "Who…. you were there."
The blonde nodded and then smiled, offering his hand. "Uzumaki Naruto."
He glanced down at the hand, frowning, he had heard that name from somewhere, another pirate? He accepted the handshake carefully and found himself answering as he had been taught by Makino years ago. "Portagas D. Ace, nice to meet you."
The blonde grinned in response in a way that reminded Ace all too much of Luffy before he answered.
"Nice to meet you, Ace."
Ace glanced around the room once more realizing it was still, no signs of the ever rolling motion of a ship. "Why am I here?"
Naruto snorted. "To heal; isn't that the usual reason for waking up in a hospital bed?"
Ace blinked. "Ahh… I guess so." He said relaxing slightly. "You know Luffy?" He asked.
"Only by reputation, really. He was pretty out of it by the time I showed up at Marineford. Shanks-oji loves to tell stories about him though." The blonde answered.
"Shanks… Red-Hair!?" Ace exclaimed eyes widening once more.
"Ah, he's my uncle. He arrived just after I had left with you. According to Benn, he made a nice grandstand of it and ended the war." The blonde explained.
Ace blinked in surprise, even Red-Hair had come to Marineford? "Did Shanks rescue Luffy?" he asked, knowing what he did of their past, it wouldn't be surprising. Though how Shanks could have known Luffy would be there…
"Nah, another rookie… umm Supernova, yeah that's it, who was a doctor or something got him out of Marineford I was told." Naruto answered.
Ace clenched his fist. Luffy was always pulling crazy stunts and making the most unlikely friends, but another Supernova? Not his own crew? "How do you know he is alive, let alone safe?" He demanded. He had been ready to die to save Luffy, should have died on that battlefield. He needed to know he hadn't failed and given up on it all for nothing.
Naruto turned toward a nearby side table, picking up a stack of newspapers before turning and dropping them in Ace's lap. "See for yourself."
Ace scanned through the papers quickly for information about Straw-hat, his eyes blurring in the process as he read of Whitebeard's death, his own presumed death, and the unknown status of his brother. He quickly flipped to the next paper in the stack and stared at the image of his little brother wrapped in bandages, hat pressed to his chest in what was obviously a moment of respect for the fallen. "Luffy…" he whispered, gripping the edges of the paper tightly as a few wet splotches blossomed onto the paper.
"No one knows where he went after that." Naruto said quietly. "We've heard word that visit to Marineford was a message for his crew. To regroup and meet again in two years; Shanks-oji is pretty sure Rayleigh helped him with that."
Ace froze. Silvers Rayleigh, The Dark King, … and Luffy. Gol D. Roger's First Mate helping his brother who dreams of being Pirate King. It took him a moment to realize the laughter he heard was his own.
Luffy would do it. Ace's choice to save his brother and his own belief in Luffy's ability to reach his dream in those final moments wasn't just a last desperate hope. His brother really was going to do it. He released the paper before he could tear it and clenched the bed sheets at his sides, eyes squeezing tight to try and prevent the tears that wanted to escape.
After several long moments he spoke, "Why… why did you save me?" raising his head once more to see the blonde's face.
Naruto's expression turned somber, but there was a spark of something bright in the blue eyes that met Ace's own gray orbs steadily.
"Because you deserve to live." Naruto said quietly.
Ace felt himself tense and nearly flinch as emotions boiled inside. "How can you know that!" he snapped.
Naruto's face split into a huge grin once more, "Because everyone who knows you, everyone you call friend, everyone you call family believes it."
Ace started, wide eyed. "My father—"
"Isn't you." Naruto cut him off, almost sounding angry as he did so.
"Why do you care!?" Ace snarled then, trying to get his own emotions under control. This entire situation and discussion was leaving him too raw, too open.
Naruto met his gaze steadily. "Do I need a reason?"
Ace frowned and turned his gaze away, his focus falling once more on the stack of papers still on his lap. He paused and then shuffled through them once more. "This says I'm dead."
"To them you are. You've been here since I brought you here nearly six months ago." Naruto said quietly.
"Some kind of healing sleep." Naruto said with a shrug. "I don't really understand the details."
Ace stared at the papers, there was little mention of what had happened to the rest of the Whitebeard Pirates. "Does my crew know?"
Naruto fidgeted for a few moments. "No. They think you died on that battlefield. We didn't know if you would ever wake up, so we decided it would be best to not get their hopes up. Not even Shanks-oji knows. I'm the only one who knows you survived that day. I'm sorry."
Ace stared at the wall ahead of him, eyes glazing over. Portagas D. Ace really was dead. He blinked then as the last statement caught his attention and turned to stare at the blonde again, frowning. "How can you say that if I'm here in a hospital?
Naruto chuckled nervously, "Umm well, you see, you aren't in the Grand Line anymore."
Ace blinked. "One of the Blues?"
"Not there, either."
Ace frowned. "Where exactly are we then?"
"Well to be more accurate, would be to say no one from your world of seas knows that you aren't dead."
Ace blinked again. "My world…"
The blonde grinned yet again, "Welcome to the Elemental Nations, specifically Konohagakure of Fire Country. Welcome to my home."
The raven haired pirate stared. Blinked. Then stared some more. "WHAT!?"
Naruto winced and then groaned as he rubbed his ears. "Do you gotta be so loud?"
Before Ace could respond there was a knock at the door and a voice spoke up, "Is it safe to come in?"
Ace's head turned quickly to focus on a pink-haired woman standing in the doorway. "I'd really like to do an examination now that Ace-san is awake."
Naruto grinned. "Ace, meet Haruno Sakura. She helped heal your guts and stuff and has been looking after you while you were in that healing sleep."
"It's called a coma, Naruto." The pink haired woman admonished, rolling her eyes at the blonde before smiling at Ace. "It's nice to officially meet you, Ace-san."
Ace eyed her nervously, something about her made him wary. She reminded him of some of the nurses on the crew in that pretty but dangerous way. "Nice to meet you." He answered after a moment.
Ever since he had first woken up, he had been struggling with not being overcome by grief. The welcome distractions of Naruto, being in a different world, and the changes in his abilities and control over fire had been enough to keep him from tipping over that edge. But even knowing Naruto did not judge him, understood him in a way no one really had, he still felt on that edge as he followed behind the Uzumaki pair up to the blonde's apartment.
Naruto opened the door and the two went inside, but Ace found himself stopping just outside, suddenly feeling like he was intruding on something he had no part of.
Naruto turned to look back at him, "Hurry up and come inside, Ace! This is your home now, too."
And just like that, just like Luffy had managed to ease the bands around his heart all those years ago, Ace relaxed and stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
Thank you for Reading and your continued support of this story! Sorry I'm not ready yet to start posting regularly yet, but its still being worked on. The fic will continue to be on a posting hiatus in the meantime.
As always, a special thank you to my beta's, Blue Melodie and Aria Ino, who have been subtly poking at me to get a move on again. 😉