One day, Ace woke up and decided shirts were overrated. Well, not in those words exactly. Actually, his conversation with Sabo went something like this:
"Ace, why are you naked?"
The raven-haired boy looked down sharply at those words, eyes roaming over his own body. He narrowed his eyes a second later, glancing back up at the blond who was staring jaw-slacked at him. "What are you talking about, Sabo?"
"You're naked," the blond repeated succinctly, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation.
The raven-haired boy gave another courtesy look over himself, before lifting up a leg to gesture at his muddy slacks. "I'm not naked. Look, pants," he said.
Sabo gestured to the area above. "… and your shirt?" the kid asked, not too certain he wanted to know. "Did you lose it somewhere, Ace? I don't think we'll be able to find a new shirt for you..." Not that he knew how anyone could manage losing a shirt of all things in the first place.
"I didn't lose it anywhere."
"Then..." Sabo pressed on wearily.
Ace let out a disgusted noise from the back of his throat. "Ugh, shirts. Who likes wearing shirts anyways?"
Sabo thought it was reasonable for him to stutter inelegantly, considering how thoroughly confused he was feeling. More like who didn't like wearing shirts? "Uhh, you? Me? Everyone? You never had a problem with shirts before."
"I'm not used to shirts."
"You were wearing one yesterday," Sabo said dryly, a deadpanned look on his face.
Ace scrunched up his face in thought before shaking his head. "Nope. Haven't worn one in four years," he said, sounding oddly confident, especially considering Sabo knew that information was false.
"You were wearing one yesterday," Sabo repeated.
"I was there," the blond cut in sharply, "We were collecting trash from Grey Terminal, and you were wearing a shirt."
Ace finally snapped his mouth shut, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Huh." The boy shrugged. "Well, it's not my fault they catch on fire so easily," he concluded at last, when Sabo's relentless glare stopped him from any more attempts at denying it again.
A wide grin was stretched on Ace face, effectively startling Sabo quiet. Ace's sudden grin pulled so comfortably on the raven-haired boy's face that it looked like it always belonged there. Yet, Sabo couldn't remember the last time his constantly broody friend looked that carefree. "So, uh, why were you playing with fire?" Sabo finally asked when he managed to shake the shock off.
"Because you'll get burnt?"
Ace chuckled, shaking his head pitifully like Sabo was talking nonsense. Sabo thought he was being quite reasonable, thank you very much. "Don't be ridiculous, fire can't burn me."
There was a pause as Sabo stare exasperatedly at him. "Right." Somehow, for some reason, Ace developed a habit of confidently lying about the most obvious things over the night. It was one thing if it sounded convincing, but another when it was so blatantly false. "Ri-ight."
Ace was clearly being an idiot, because really, what kind of person didn't burn from fire? Sabo let out a lengthy sigh, shaking his head. On one hand he could leap into a senseless argument with an idiot; on the other, he could ignore said idiot instead of trying to unsuccessfully bring logic into their conversation.
Actually, that was an easy decision.
Sabo gladly ignored Ace.
In all honestly, Ace's shirt (or lack of) and pathetic attempts at lying soon became something less significant in Sabo's mind as the days gradually passed. Ace just seemed to get a little weirder every other day. For example... It wasn't like Ace never had mood swings before, but Sabo really didn't expect it could easily be induced by a discussion about imaginary siblings in a conversation that proceeded like this:
Sabo looked over at Ace as the raven-haired boy let out a long, stretched out sigh. "Something wrong, Ace?" Sabo asked.
The boy shrugged, cracking his back as he arched backwards. "Just a bit bored."
"Oh? Am I boring you?" Sabo stabbed his rusty pipe on the ground leaning on it as he leered at the other, "You think you can be bored when you still haven't beat me yet?"
That seemed to kick Ace into action. The boy jump to face him, haughty grin on his face, knuckling cracking. "You haven't beat me either!" the boy crowed back.
A grin tugged on Sabo's own face. True enough, the two of them were in a constant tie in their matches. One of these days he would be able to beat Ace, Sabo was sure. Or maybe Ace would beat him, Sabo admitted. The other boy had been training especially vigorously as of late. Sabo tried to follow suit, but Ace was exerting himself so hard that the blond sometimes had to wonder what all the rush was about.
"But we can probably beat any other kid out there," Sabo said proudly. He was pretty sure no one on the island was as strong as the two of them. "Not that any of them would be willing come to the forest in the first place," the blond added. Forgetting the rich snobs in Goa Kingdom, even normal people would be scared stiff of the beasts living in Mt. Colubo.
Sabo supposed it was a little lonely, even if he did have Ace. He was pretty sure that's what Ace meant when he said 'bored'.
Tugging his pipe out of the ground, Sabo twirled it in his hands, thinking out loud, "It would be pretty fun if there was another kid around." The blond paused suddenly, eyeing Ace as he recalled the boy's personality. "You won't kill him, will you?" Sabo probed hesitantly, because that actually seemed like a thing Ace would do. Well, maybe not anymore, considering how much the boy had mellowed out over the weeks, but still Sabo wanted to make sure.
"I'll take care of him!" Ace retorted heatedly. "Stupid younger brothers don't know how to stay out of trouble," he muttered under his breath.
A younger brother? Sabo guessed that did sound nice. He could seem themselves already, sparing with a younger kid and teaching him their tricks. "We'll be great big brothers," Sabo agreed.
"Yeah," Ace murmured with a faraway look on his face. He suddenly turned on Sabo, stabbing a finger in his face, "But you, you can be a big brother without being selfless!"
"Excuse me?" Sabo cried. Where did Ace suddenly get that idea from?
"Sabo, don't be a selfless brother," Ace repeated bluntly.
"… don't you mean 'don't be a selfish brother'?" Sabo tried to correct, because that was the only thing that made sense.
Obviously not to Ace. "You can be selfish all you want," Ace huffed, crossing his arms, and looking strangely serious, "as long as you don't be an idiot and leave us for our sakes."
"What brought this on?"
Ace's face darken into a brewing storm, pinched at the sides in hints of pain. "You didn't see how much Luffy cried," was the raven-haired boy's only answer. Then, Ace seemed to shrink into himself, looking so utterly guilty. "We'll I suppose I'm not one to talk…"
Sabo scratched his head in complete confusion. "Luffy who?"
Ace's head snapped towards him, all signs of depression abruptly washed off. In its place was a scandalized look, visibly appalled at his question, even though Sabo thought it was a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. "Luffy! Our baby brother!" Ace cried out.
Sabo didn't know when their hypothetical younger brother acquired a name. Or, acquired a background story that involved Sabo apparently doing something to make this supposed brother cry. Also, Luffy? Really? Was that the best name Ace could come up with?
"… and why was he crying?" Sabo questioned reluctantly.
Once more, Ace sobered as his gaze cast over towards the closest wharf of their little island, with untold stories in his mind. "Because you left, and then got yourself blown up."
Sabo was mildly worried Ace's imagination was running too wild for him to be this affected by mere fantasies. He was right in deciding to stop the conversation there. Not that Ace looked like he would've continued even if Sabo had. In fact, Ace was in a sullen mood for days after, clamming up whenever anything of the previous conversation was brought up, even if it was something as insignificant as the name 'Luffy'.
Sabo was almost afraid the raven-haired boy wouldn't snap out of it; he even considered braving Dadan for help if it lasted any longer. But then one day not too soon later, Garp arrived with his grandson in tow, and Sabo never saw Ace's face light up any brighter than it did then.
Luffy woke up one day and decided that, like Ace, he didn't like shirts either. Sabo took it in stride this time. In fact, that miniscule point was the last thing on Sabo's mind in a conversation that went like this:
"Ace, why is Luffy literally wrapped around you and crying his eyes out?"
The other boy shrugged, hardly moving an inch with the younger kid coiled around him so tightly. "He misses me," was Ace's nonchalant answer. Nonchalant-sounding, at least. The misty, guilty look behind Ace's eyes told a different story.
"Don't you two live together?" was the only thing Sabo could ask, pretending like he didn't notice Ace's barely hidden emotions.
Sabo waited for Ace's slow chuckles, telling him how he had tried to prank Luffy, only for the kid to take him a little too seriously – or something along those lines. All he got was Ace pulling Luffy even closer to his chest, murmuring words of comfort into the boy's ears.
"What did you do?" Sabo asked quietly, a worried tinge embedded into each word.
Ace gave him a soft smile. "I … broke a promise," he said. He gave Sabo a moment to digest the words, before the Portgas nudged his younger brother, directing Luffy's sight over to the blond. "Look, Lu, it's Sabo!"
Luffy raised a tear-stained face at Sabo, nodded, and then proceeded to bury his face into Ace's chest once more.
Ace frowned. "What, you don't miss your other brother?"
"No," Luffy denied in a warbling voice, "it's just you were gone for longer."
Sabo didn't know how that was possible considering when he left the two of them yesterday, Ace was beside Luffy the whole time, leading the younger boy back to the mountain bandits' house. But hey, who was he to say anything?
Ace, on the other hand, froze. "What?" he snapped. Luffy just nodded again, and Ace turned on Sabo, the clinging body on his chest seemingly forgotten. "Sabo, you bastard!"
Sabo gave a large hop backwards. "Wait, what?" he cried bewildered.
"You bastard! The least you could have done was to have the decency to tell me you were still alive!" Ace growled out, pulling a fist.
The blond dodged. "What are you on about?"
"We thought you died!"
"I'd think it was obvious to tell I was alive by, you know, looking at me?!" Sabo cried incredulously. He blocked Ace's upper cut with his clearly animated limbs, not that him walking around and talking shouldn't have clued Ace in beforehand.
"If you showed your stupid face around, I would've known!" Ace snapped back at him.
"You make it sound like I've been hiding from you."
"Weren't you?" Ace accused heatedly.
"I've been spending everyday with you!" Sabo exploded, "How can I be hiding from you if we're together every day?!"
On the Portgas' chest, Luffy wiggled, halting any impending scalding remark from Ace. "Ace, don't be mean. Sabo won your devil fruit," Luffy said petulantly, as though that made any more sense than what Ace was raving on about. Sabo didn't think it did.
"Devil fruit? Have you been hiding devil fruit powers from me, Ace?" Sabo demanded, glaring at the other boy. "And when did I win any fruit? Why would I want to win it?"
"You don't want Ace's fruit?" Luffy asked quietly, hurt in his voice.
Sabo instantaneously felt guilty even if he had no idea what he was feeling guilty about. "Wouldn't Ace want Ace's fruit?" Sabo tried to reason quickly, back-tracking, awkwardly patting Luffy's unruly raven locks, "I mean, if it's Ace's fruit, how would I get it anyways, considering Ace would have eaten it and all."
Something he said made the rubber boy's eyes water around the edges once more. Sabo was flustered and completely clueless to what he said wrong. "Uhh…" The blond made to pull the collar of Luffy's shirt, to open a gap between Ace and Luffy's tightly entangled bodies so he could squeeze his arm in and hug the younger kid as well. It was only then he realised Luffy didn't have a shirt on.
"Luffy, where's your shirt?" Sabo asked worriedly.
The kid cocked his head over at him in confusion. "What shirt?"
"Your shirt? The T-shirt you always wear?"
"But I don't wear T-shirts?" was Luffy's innocent answer, sounding much too sincere to be a lie. "I don't like them. They get in the way."
Sabo felt like he was hit with déjà vu. "Not you too. Is this contagious?" he asked, shooting a glare at Ace's bare chest like this was somehow his fault. Sabo buried his head into his hand. "Okay," he said, collecting himself, "You don't wear shirts. Then what did you wear yesterday?"
Luffy's face scrunched up in thought. "Hmmm, a cardigan. A red cardigan!"
"Huh, don't you wear a red vest?" Ace contributed.
No and no. Sabo was very sure it was a blue shirt.
"And you were wearing the same coat as always, even though the weather was like a hundred degrees, and you were made of fire," Luffy added to Sabo, utterly unhelpful.
Sabo closed his eyes. "Right. Let's just pretend that made sense." And hopefully they would never get to this topic ever again.
And honestly, if that was the end of Luffy's odd quirks as of late, Sabo supposed he might've been able to ignore it. Because really, what was Luffy without a little oddness? But then, just to make Sabo's head hurt a little more than usual, the kid began spouting even more baffling facts that started like this:
"I want to set out!"
It had been a while since Sabo heard Luffy whine about setting sail; for the last few months the kid seemed content just lying by Ace and him, as if trying to soak up their presence and love. "Shut up, you're not old enough," Sabo mumbled, hiding his worry of imagining the kid drowning at sea behind his gruff tone.
"Do you even know what you're going to do after you set sail?" Sabo asked skeptically.
"Yeah!" Luffy nodded enthusiastically, a wide grin on his face. "I'm going to a Marine Base to get my Swordsman, then I'll get a Navigator, and a Liar, and a Cook, and a Doctor - you can't eat him -, and …"
There were just too many things Sabo could see wrong with that declaration. "The first person you need is a Navigator, Luffy, if you want to sail anywhere. And what kind of person is your Swordsman if you he's at a Marine Base of all places?" He wasn't even going to touch the whole cannibalism issue.
"Zoro's a Pirate Hunter," Luffy said seriously.
Sabo took a deep breath and held it. He probably heard wrong. "You want a Pirate Hunter to be a Pirate."
"Why not?" Luffy said, a finger lodge in his nose, looking so utterly casual like he couldn't see the glaring problem. He probably couldn't.
Ace was no help at all as he nodded acceptingly to their younger brother's words.
"A Pirate Hunter hunts pirates for a living. Not whimsically join their crew."
The younger boy bristled at those words. "Zoro will! Zoro's namaka!" Luffy yelled heatedly. Sabo didn't know if Zoro was a real Pirate Hunter or someone Luffy decided to randomly name. Considering his grandfather was a Marine, he probably did know a few Pirate Hunters. That still didn't explain why he wanted one.
Luffy huffed at Sabo, turning away, clearly annoyed at him. Sabo felt mildly guilty, up until Luffy open his mouth again. "Ne, Ace, what about you? Are you going to join the Whitebeard Pirates?" Luffy asked, completely out of the blue.
"I have to build up my reputation first, but yeah, I plan on it," the other raven-haired boy answered without even a blink.
Sabo felt lost. "Whitebeard Pirates?" he wondered. Ace answered so casually like it was common knowledge for him to join Whitebeard, but Sabo couldn't for the life of him recall when Ace had ever considered this. In fact, when did Ace change his dream? "But I thought you wanted to be a Captain?"
There was something so relaxed and proud in Ace's response, that the tone itself threw Sabo for a loop just as much as his words did. "Nah, I plan to be the Second Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates and spread the name Whitebeard across the sea."
"I won't let Old man Mustache be Pirate King!" Luffy declared.
There was an immediate reaction from Ace. "Don't disrespect Pops!" the boy lectured, cuffing the kid. Luffy's head stretched and snapped back into place so naturally he didn't even notice.
Sabo stared, frozen by the word Ace used. "Huh? But I thought – Isn't your dad –" the blond stuttered, fumbling for an explanation. Because if anything, Sabo was certain Gol D. Roger was Ace's pops, not Whitebeard. He could still remember it clearly, especially recalling how Ace had snarled and hissed and nearly killed him on spot if he hadn't promised to not tell anyone.
"Old man Mustache is a better dad for Ace than Roger," Luffy said knowingly, an unusually serious yet soft smile on his lips as his looked over at his older brother. Ace gave a calm, appreciative smile back.
Sabo stiffened. Slowly Luffy's words sunk in. Somehow the kid knew about Roger. "Hey!" Sabo yelped in denial before Ace could register that implication, "I never told him!" He really didn't want to die by Ace's hands any time soon.
"Tell me what?" Luffy asked cluelessly.
Sabo waved his hand in pacifying gestures when Ace turned his eyes over at him. "I didn't tell Luffy about your dad!"
Luffy, the idiot kid he was, didn't see anything wrong. "Roger? What about him?" he asked, bringing up that damned name once more.
There was a small grimace on Ace's face, before the raven-haired boy shook it off a second later, dropping back into his languid expression. "It's fine, Luffy knows," he said, completely washing away Sabo's fears.
"You told him?" Sabo questioned hesitantly. He dimly recalled stumbling onto that fact accidently, and even then Ace had been reluctant to confirm the boy's suspicions, not without a shit load of threats.
Ace shrugged. "No, you did, Sabo."
"No I didn't," Sabo denied. He really, really hadn't. But that meant Luffy had lied to Ace about where he heard it from, which was odd, considering the rubber idiot didn't know how to lie even if his life depended on it.
Ace only brushed off Sabo's confusion with yet another shrug. "Doesn't matter, I'm Whitebeard's son now," he said dismissively. There was half a second's worth of a pause before Ace amended his statement with a reluctant, "Soon."
Sabo supposed he should be glad he was let off the hook, but there were just so many unanswered questions everywhere, from Pirate Hunters, to Whitebeard, to Roger. The blond buried his head into his hands. "Don't tell me you're also going to join the Whitebeard Pirates, Lu," Sabo moaned, almost afraid of what further bizarreness that question would lead to.
"No way!" Luffy cried out into the sky, "I'm Captain! I'm going to be King of the Pirates!"
"Thank god." At least the whole world wasn't going crazy.
Sabo walked away from the brothers with his head still held in his hands. The two called him back with equally confused cries, but Sabo ignored them. For once he wanted to end a conversation with either of them without feeling like he was completely out of his depth.
Some days he swore those two were doing it on purpose.
Sabo woke up one day and decided that no matter how much his two brothers hated shirts, he still quite liked them himself, thank you very much. The last time he was without one, it had been for a disguise, and that had been more than enough sloppy dressing for him. Putting on his dark blue shirt, he then he proceeded to beat the shit out of his brothers for not telling him anything. The conversation - well, reprimand, I suppose - when something like this:
"You idiot brothers!" Sabo cried out, launching at his two unsuspecting brothers, metal pipe in hand.
Ace reasonably rolled away, while Luffy grinned like a maniac and stopped the blunt impact with his rubbery arms. "Sabo!" Luffy cheered.
"It wasn't me!" Ace denied just as quickly.
Sabo glared at him. "No, it was both of you." And then he proceeded to chase them through the forest, pipe glinting menacingly under the sunlight.
Luffy gave a delighted shriek as he swung from branch to branch, Ace following equal pace beside him. "Whatever it was, I didn't do it, I swear!" Ace called out with each hop.
"You didn't travel back in time?" Sabo snapped scaldingly.
Ace froze, hand clamped on Luffy's leg, halting the younger boy mid-jump. Ace turned owlishly large eyes at the blond. "Sabo?" he said in a tone that spoke so much more than one would expect from that single word.
"Yeah, I'm back."
Then with all the skills he'd cultured from Dragon's dangerous missions, Sabo pulled back his pipe and struck his two brothers with a haki-imbued whop before either of them could react.
"Oww, Sabo," Luffy whined, clutching his swollen head as he rolled pitifully on the ground. Beside him, Ace rubbed his head as well, squat on the ground as Sabo hovered over him with a dark glare on his face.
"Would a 'hey Sabo, I'm from the future, so don't mind not understanding all the stupid, confusing things I say,' been too hard?" the blond said, one arm planted on his hip, the other brandishing his pipe dangerously.
"…oops?" Ace tried.
"It's not 'oops' if you were too lazy to tell me."
To the side of the arguing two brothers, Luffy finally stopped rolling in pain and watched the proceeding with wide, clueless eyes. "Sabo didn't know?" Luffy asked densely as usual.
Sabo pointed to the rubber boy, glaring at Ace. "And that's why Luffy is forgiven. You, on the other hand…"
Ace offered him a sheepish smile. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry! It just never came up."
"Really," Sabo deadpanned.
"Well, it might have," Ace corrected grudgingly, "but I had other things on my mind."
Sabo was always too soft on his brothers, and he knew it. There were so many things the blond could say in response to Ace's pitiful excuse, but like always, Sabo took a deep breath, cursed his brother's stupidity, and forgave him. He supposed, if anything, he owed Ace for lying about his supposed death for so long. Only an idiot wouldn't have known how painfully that must have wrecked his two brothers.
With a sigh, Sabo let go of his anger. He plopped on the ground next to Ace and Luffy, ignoring Ace's startled glance at his sudden calmness. "We'll leave that discussion for later. I think we have more important things to figure out first off."
Sabo gave a long stare at his two brothers. "Let me guess, neither of you tried to figure out how we've time-traveled."
Ace shrugged. "It just happened?"
There was a long silence before Sabo groaned into his hand in exasperation. "How did you two survive so long without me?" Sabo lifted his head and gave Ace a piercing glare. "What's the last thing you remember?" he demanded.
Ace's answer was short and bitter. "Marineford."
Ace looked away. "It's fine," he muttered lowly, keeping his eyes on Luffy who dimmed so quickly at that single word. "How about you?" Ace directed at Sabo in order to keep the conversation going, and away from memories of that dreadful day.
Sabo's answer came slowly and well-rehearsed, having already thought about it earlier on that day. "I was out on a mission with Koala on Dragon's orders. It got a little complicated at the end, and we were fleeing…" Sabo broke off, shaking his head pitifully. "I don't remember what happened next. Everything was black, and then I woke up here."
The mood was somber around them. Sabo had a feeling they both knew (or Ace at least) that his tale likely implied he had died out on his mission that day.
Sabo was almost afraid to ask their younger brother for his account. "How about you, Luffy?" Sabo continued tentatively with a lodged throat.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Sabo clarified.
The boy stretch and wriggled his toes in his flip-flops as he thought back. "We were on a new island," Luffy began, cocking his head. "I found a mystery fruit."
Dread crept up Ace's stomach. Sabo knew exactly how the other boy was feeling. Somehow he doubt Luffy could resist any food, meat or not. "Did you eat it?" Ace demanded at once.
"It tasted funny," was Luffy's answer.
"Luffy!" Ace snapped, fury in his tone as he threw up his hand in infuriation, "What have I told you about eating things you find on the ground?!"
"Make sure it's cooked?"
Sabo glared at Ace, knowing full well he probably did teach Luffy that. Stupid fire-manipulating brother. "You don't eat it. It could have been dangerous," Sabo corrected before Ace could.
Deep, deep inside, Sabot couldn't help but fear that it had been dangerous, to the point where it brought Luffy to the same fate as his other two brothers. Somehow the three of them had all died. Probably. Maybe. Sabo hoped not.
"It was only one bite," Luffy whined, "I was saving the rest of it for both of you."
Luffy's words drew Sabo out from his frightful interpretations. "Saving the rest for us?" the blond parroted uncomprehendingly.
There was a shrug. "I found it in a forest," Luffy said, so uncharacteristically solemn, "It reminded me of when we were finding food in Mt. Colubo as kids. I missed you two so much, so I thought I would bring the rest of the fruit to Ace's grave, and hoped when you came to visit him, you would get to eat it as well," the boy murmured to Sabo.
"You were thinking about us the whole time?" Ace whispered quietly.
"I missed both of you."
Ace looked over at Sabo with needing eyes. "M-Maybe Luffy brought us back together?" he said pleadingly, like he was wishing Sabo would agree with his deduction instead that other horrifying thought that Luffy might have died from the consumption of that fruit. "You know how weird the New World is. Maybe the fruit granted his wish for us to be together again."
Ace looked so hopeful, and Sabo couldn't help wishing that himself as well. "You're right," Sabo finally said, "With Luffy's luck, he would never die before fulfilling his dream." And how right that was.
Ace drew Luffy into a tug hug, snagging Sabo in along the way.
In the end, Sabo supposed he honestly didn't care how it truly occurred. If that was what Ace wanted to think, then that was what had happened. The three of them were reunited once more, and ultimately that was all that mattered.
Sabo was going to make the most of this second chance of theirs. And this time, he would be right beside his two brother (because god knows how those two idiots managed to get so far the first time around without him watching over their backs).
"To our futures and dreams," Sabo declared, holding out his hand. His two precious brothers smacked their respective hands on top of his without a second thought. "This time, nothing will tear us apart."