Hello. This baby has been on the backburner for over a year. I've finally decided to start posting it. I have a bit over 100,000 words already written out, so expect weekly updates for quite a while.
Beta love to HadenXCharm and breather for the wonderful, wonderful corrections. This fic would not be possible without them. If there are any flaws, they are probably changes I made after they gave me the chapter back.
Now the first chapter of Young and Built to Fall.
Chapter 1: A Day in the Life
Ace's body itches with the familiar sting of open wounds. He hisses as the rough surface of whatever he's leaning against scrapes against them with every breath he takes. His eyes flicker weakly beneath their lids as he tries to figure out where he is and why he feels so incredibly weak. What had he been doing before this? Where is he? When had he gotten here, and how? His mind blearily searches his memories for answers, and what he finds makes his heart skip a beat.
Dark eyes shoot open before wincing at the bright light that assaults his senses. The moment Ace's eyes adjust enough, his gaze immediately finds his own chest. And he wonders, why, why, why isn't there a hole?! After what happened with Akainu, there should be a hole! . . . And yet, he feels no pain, nor the tightness of a new scar.
God, this has to be a dream. Can only be a dream.
"Are you finally awake, brat?" a gruff voice asks.
Ace's head shoots up so fast that he hears his neck crack. That voice is unmistakable, but there is no way it can actually be—
"D-Dadan?!" he stutters, before choking on the word. His voice, what is wrong with his voice? It's high, so much higher than it should be. He was too distracted before to pay any attention, but looking back down at his body he finds it's much tinier than he remembers. It's almost how he looked when he was a little kid— and then there is Dadan and he— he's dreaming about his childhood, isn't he? This is a dream. It's the only possible explanation, it has to be, since he's no longer drinking in the smoke and destruction of Marineford. But then, maybe that was a dream too . . .
"Yeah, you little shit."
His eyes rove her familiar face, taking in the weather-beaten skin and wild orange hair before he notes that she had gotten beat up somewhat recently.
"Where am I?" he asks distantly. "What happened?"
"Lightheaded from the blood loss, eh?" Dadan murmurs, mostly to herself. "Well brat, you're going to have to face up to this again sooner or later, and I don't plan to let you live in blissful ignorance; you need to hear this."
He swallows and waits.
"Sabo is dead," she says bluntly. "Dogra saw his boat get blown up—"
"I know," Ace says, his brow furrowing. "Why are you—? Huh, I guess this is a dream so it doesn't really matter."
"You're not dreaming kid," Dadan replies, the roots of concern leaking into her voice.
"Right, of course," he says dismissively as he cranes his neck to look around his childhood home. From the outside at least everything seems spot on. It's a little unnerving, but seeing this place again is soothing and nostalgic.
"Look, kid, I'm going to cut you down so you can get some rice and water in you, because honestly you're pretty out of it. I'll help you, but that's only if you promise not to attack me or anyone else in the hideout, okay?"
"Okay," he says, eager to see things again.
"Don't 'okay' me, brat," she growls. "You went on a rampage. We're still fixing the floor."
"Gah!" She grabs her knife and cuts through the ropes binding him to the tree. Ace lands a little unsteadily on his feet, but he straightens himself out before he starts walking. He enters through the back entrance of the base to reach the main area that doubled as the cooking room, where he remembers countless battles over food. He sees many of the bandits sitting around the room, but notices that they give him a wide berth. Ace ignores them. If he remembers correctly, they always tended to do that, way up until he was sixteen or seventeen and began behaving like the polite child he never was.
"Here, eat this before you pass out." Dadan shoves a bowl of rice into his small hands. He's a little surprised to see that the portion is larger than he remembers her ever giving him. He shoots her a curious look which she pointedly ignores and avoids. With a small shrug, Ace moves towards one of the walls and sits down to nurse his bowl of rice. He slowly eats his meal with his hands as he looks around the room.
He has to admit that he is thoroughly impressed with his own memory. He's never had such an incredibly realistic dream before. The familiar dank smell of the bandits' hideout and then the rough grain of the wood that made up the floor filters through his senses relaxingly. The sting from his wounds is awfully realistic too, and Ace remembers that the cuts won't fully heal for a few days. Looking at his hands, he is still disconcerted by their small size. The same uncomfortable feeling goes for the rest of his body too. Ace doesn't remember ever being so perturbed by something while dreaming but shrugs it off.
As he swallows the last bit of rice he looks up and finds himself facing a group of very nervous looking bandits. Ace glances at them curiously, wondering why they are eyeing him with such wariness. He pauses as he is struck by a thought. If he remembers correctly, this is right after they told him that Sabo died— and also his subsequent snap. There's a pang in his heart, as there usually is, when he remembers his dead brother, but he deftly pushes it to the side. Well, that would explain why they're so frightened of him, he supposes.
"Ace," Dadan draws his attention. Of the bandits, she is the only one who doesn't look terrified. Instead, she has a gruff expression on her face that does little to muffle the concern in her eyes. "What's wrong with you?" she asks bluntly. "You don't eat this slow unless you're sick or dying."
Is that why everyone's looking at him oddly?
A slow bright laugh builds in his chest and he chuckles alone for a few moments. His slow eating coupled with a lack of barbarism from exhaustion is what has them so freaked out? He forgot how much he used to frighten them. By the time he calms down, everyone has moved to the back wall, as far away from him as they can get. He puts a hand to his mouth to smother another laugh before it can escape. It's just too much. He smiles impishly as he stands and moves towards Dadan and the frightened bandits, before clearing his throat.
"Thank you very much for the meal," he says formally, giving a small bow. He's glad he's facing the floor or else the bandits would see the wide smile that takes up his face as he hears small shouts of panic, frightened murmurs, and hushed prayers. He composes himself quickly and draws his face into the impeccably cool façade he remembers using a lot as a child. As he looks up blankly, they jump again. He smirks inwardly before he walks out the front door to explore.
"Oi, A-Ace," Dadan stutters, and he obligingly turns to face her. She is clearly as bewildered as the rest of the group, but regains her brash nature quickly and manages to speak to him as belittlingly as he remembers her doing. "Go find Luffy. The kid hasn't eaten in three days."
Ace frowns, but nods and starts running towards the cliff by the sea. He forgot that Luffy mourned differently than Ace, though just as dramatically. Ace remembers the panic he felt when he realized Luffy starved himself, and feels the ghost of it even now. It had been a tough time for both of them. Despite that pain, he's excited to see his annoying kid brother again, (even if it is just seven-year-old version). Luffy was such a different kid back then, but the enthusiastic smile so unerringly bright and full of understanding and compassion that far surpassed his years would follow Luffy long after their childhood. Ace suddenly feels an even stronger urge to see his brother. He begins running faster. The blood loss and the aches from being tied up make him misstep and Ace tumbles to the ground. He sits up from the rough dirt in a haze. His legs hurt. So do his palms, which he sees that he's scraped on the ground.
His hands are trembling as he looks at the blood on his palms and knees. It . . . hurts a lot. Why does it hurt? He has never felt pain like this in a dream. The stings he feels from the smattering of wounds he already has on his childish body from the fight with Bluejam are just a part of what he remembers. But Ace also feels this new pain. As he inhales and exhales rapidly he feels short of breath, something that surely has never happened in any of his dreams.
Then perhaps this isn't a dream.
As the memories of the war at Marineford keep flashing in his mind, he knows there is an alternative. It's entirely possible that he died and is dreaming about his childhood in death. Or something like that. He isn't too sure how this death thing works, but he supposes this isn't really overshooting the realm of possibilities or anything.
So this is just a really weird afterlife, complete with pain and crystal-clear memories. Ace shrugs to himself. It isn't as though he can prove otherwise. However, if this is true then it means he died and left little brother behind . . .
He pushes himself up quickly, ignoring the sting of his wounds and begins pumping his arms and legs rapidly. The paths through the jungle are ingrained into his brain from all his years dashing through the greenery, so despite the time Ace spent away, he's able to quickly cut a path through the forest to the seaside.
He bursts through the thick foliage of the forest and looks around frantically and spies a small figure of a boy resting on his back. A straw hat covers the boy's face, keeping it in shadows. Suddenly Ace needs to see Luffy— needs to feel his brother living against him. He almost lost Luffy. Akainu's fist had been so terrifyingly close to punching through his little brother's heart, and he had barely made it in time.
Ace scrambles gracelessly to his brother, tripping in his haste over the uneven ground as he goes. He finally lands roughly beside Luffy and shakes his brother furiously.
"Luffy! Oi, Luffy! Wake up!" Ace rattles the smaller boy fervently, knocking the straw hat to the side.
Luffy groans as he shakes his head lightly and blearily opens his eyes. Onyx eyes that Ace knows so well blink a few times slowly as his brother wakes up.
"Ace?" Luffy murmurs.
"Luffy." Ace smiles. He soaks in his brother's youthful appearance. Luffy looks identical to how he did when he was seven, right down to the smattering of bandages that cover his body. He exhales, taking refuge in the familiarity of this Luffy and the aliveness.
"Ace, where are we?" Luffy asks in a dazed tone that is still muffled by sleep.
Ace freezes. Something about Luffy isn't fitting with everything else. The confusion in his tone and the slight edge in his eyes — these eyes are more mature, like the eyes he saw at Marineford. But that's impossible because Ace is dead and—
"Ace, why are you so small?" Luffy sits up and grabs Ace's hand, flipping it over in amazement. "You're like a kid again! How did this happen? This is so cool! And you're alive, oh my God, Ace." The last fact seems to have finally sunk into Luffy's head, and he leans forward and wraps his rubbery arms around his brother tightly.
"L-Luffy, but I mean—"
His little brother doesn't seem to hear him, too occupied with chanting a small mantra of Ace's name.
"I'm so happy to see Ace, I don't care if this is a dream," Luffy says, crushing Ace to him as much as possible.
"This isn't a dream Luffy," Ace protests, gently shoving his younger brother off of him. "I mean I think so . . . probably . . . maybe."
"But you're all tiny . . ."
"So are you!" Ace accuses. Luffy looks down and his eyes widen comically.
"You're right!" he exclaims with shock.
"You are so dense."
Luffy ignores the insult as he examines his new-old body with undisguised fascination. "So cool! It's like when I use Gear Third and shrink down like this. But this doesn't feel like that at all. So weird." His rambling makes no sense to Ace so the older boy just ignores it. He wants to know why the Luffy from the future is here.
"Yeah, I know, it's weird," Ace says, impatient. "But this is my afterlife, so what are you doing here?"
"Your afterlife?" Luffy asks before arguing back, "Is not!"
"Of course this is my afterlife."
"This would be a shitty afterlife. Why would you wanna' be at the bandit hideout as a little kid?" Luffy asks. "That's dumb! Why didn't you pick sailing on the seas with your nakama?"
"Well, I didn't really pick any of this. I just woke up here. I guess I'm stuck."
"That sucks," Luffy says sympathetically.
"Wait!" Luffy exclaims, pointing an accusing finger at his brother, as if he was purposefully trying to throw him off track. "This isn't the afterlife, anyways! Don't distract me!"
"I didn't do anything, Luffy." Ace feels a headache building as he tries to sort through the knowledge. Why is he even bothering to correct his little brother? This version of Luffy is most likely a figment of his own mind. Why the hell his mind decided to have his brother's older brain in his younger body, Ace has no idea. This whole afterlife thing was starting to seem overly complicated.
"This isn't your afterlife because if this was your afterlife, then why would I be here?" Luffy demands. "I remember everything that happened!"
"You're probably a figment of my imagination," Ace answers flippantly, although he is finding it hard to argue against Luffy. Admittedly he doesn't know what exactly happened, but he is pretty sure that Luffy is wrong.
"What?! Am not!" Luffy protests, and Ace chuckles. Seeing his brother getting so outraged when he looks like a seven-year-old is pretty funny. Maybe that's why his subconscious chose to make Luffy the way he was . . . This could be some fucked up version of heaven.
"I'm not part of your mind, Ace! I'm really here!" Luffy cries.
"Right," Ace murmurs in a placating tone.
"Ace!" Luffy complains, getting frustrated that Ace is ignoring him. Ace has to wonder how exactly that overly whiny tone is supposed to convince him. He grins toothily. He missed this. The ire from Luffy's face immediately fades, and a brimming smile spreads over his lips.
The freckled boy exhales and laughs at his brother's mercurial moods. He watches as his little brother scoots back towards him and leans over to kiss the top of his forehead. Ace lets him, knowing that there's no point in questioning what his brother does.
Ace takes advantage of his closeness and ruffles Luffy's hair, eliciting a giggle from his seven-year-old brother. Luffy's shoulders shake from laughter and as the smaller boy looks up, Ace sees he's shaking from tears as well.
"I'm really glad Ace is alive. You don't know how happy it makes me," Luffy says. Tears roll down his face, dripping in and around his smile. The oldest of the pair feels an ache build in his chest, because he isn't alive. He didn't survive. He's dead. God, what the real Luffy must be going through is unfathomable to Ace. Despite that sympathetic pain crushing his heart, his chest also throbs with unquestionable joy and Ace is helpless to stop it. He doesn't often need reminding, not like when he was a child, but hearing someone say they are glad he is alive always makes warmth spring up in his chest. Growing up the way he did— this is the last thing he ever expected to hear.
Ace is dead now, he knows that. He also knows that this Luffy isn't his Luffy, but it looks like his Luffy. And he also knows that his Luffy would say it— his brother said it before, and would have said it again— if he ever had the opportunity. That's just the kind of guy that Luffy is.
Remembering that fact only makes his heart hurt more for the brother he left behind in his death. Ace grasps Luffy and pulls him tightly into his embrace. Ace tries to use the warmth he feels to negate the fathomless self-loathing that is festering within him. The Luffy in his arms is more than willing to fall into his embrace and comfort him.
It hadn't really struck Ace exactly how close he had truly been to losing his little brother. If Ace had been a little slower and failed to reach Akainu's magma-laced fist before it reached Luffy— it's too terrible to even imagine. He can't bear to imagine it. His grip tightens around his little brother. Never.
"Ace?" Luffy asks tentatively. Ace realizes his tempestuous expression is worrying his brother and he quickly smoothes his face.
He exhales calmingly. He prevented that fate from befalling his brother. It's all okay. Ace trusts Jinbe to get his brother out of there, and he trusts his brother's nakama to pick him up when he falls down. Luffy . . . Luffy will be okay without him.
Ace could never live in a world without Luffy, but Luffy, bright as he is, could survive, and Ace takes refuge in the fact.
As for Ace's second family— he shuts his eyes to block out the images.
"You look like you're thinking really hard," a muffled voice says against his tank top. Ace realizes that he has been completely crushing his little brother against his chest.
"Sorry, sorry." He relaxes his grip, but doesn't let go. The two sit face to face, just staring at the other.
"Hey, Ace?" Luffy puts a hand up towards Ace's cheek.
"Hmm?" he replies easily.
"Don't cry, okay?"
Ace blinks and looks down at Luffy's hand, which is suddenly glistening and wet. The elder of the pair is momentarily stunned by the sight, and suddenly realizes that there is a veritable waterfall streaming from his eyes.
"Luffy!" Ace cries as the events crash down on him. The prison. The war. His rescue. His death.
"Everyone was sacrificing themselves for me! I-I couldn't do anything!" The freckled pirate falls short of breath as the scope of what happened finally hits him. The death count must have been astonishing on both sides. He never wanted anyone to die— especially not for him.
"Ace." Luffy's soft utterance brings Ace's eyes back to his brother, his bright, shining brother. It isn't the real one, he knows that and perhaps that fact makes it easier for him to break down. Beyond that, the fact he knows this Luffy isn't real comforts him immensely. It means that Luffy is still out there, alive.
"I'm so glad you are alive," Ace chokes out.
Luffy starts opening his mouth, but Ace cuts him off as he plows on. "My life had meaning, Luffy."
"It already did," Luffy says, and now he's crying too. "Your dream, Ace— You became a famous, awesome pirate with an awesome crew and a huge bounty— everyone knew you were there. You were so, so, so, strong! You did it Ace. You did it!"
"No, Luffy. In the end it didn't matter that I was a famous pirate." Ace exhales, feeling a sense of calm settling in his body.
"But that was your dream . . . to have proof of your existence."
"You are my proof, Luffy," Ace says softly and fondly. Luffy's argumentative expression jolts to a stop, frozen by the reply. "Well, not you, but you-you," Ace clarifies before a gentle smile grows over his face. "Because I know that you're alive out there pursuing your dream, I know that my life had meaning."
His little brother's mouth opens and closes repeatedly as he just stares at Ace, and the latter starts wondering if he had broken his imaginary-Luffy. Thicker tears begin pouring out of Luffy's eyes and the expression on his face is so pained and inexplicable that Ace is at a total loss. The distress, at least, is clear to see, even if the rest isn't— and so Ace just grabs his brother close again and pets his hair. This action sets off a whole string of anguished sobs.
"It's alright, I'm here." He murmurs those words over and over again until his brother's sobs begin to peter out.
Eventually when his brother falls silent, Ace lets his motions stop and just rests his hand on his brother's head. Luffy looks up at him, eyes determined, though watery.
"Never leave me again."
"You couldn't make me."
The two sit on the cliff side for several hours just murmuring little things every now and then as they lie on the grass together. Luffy clings to Ace's side fiercely, and Ace hasn't objected in the slightest, craving the closeness himself— although the rocks and grass do dig into his already aching body.
It isn't until Luffy's stomach growls that the two remember the outside world.
"Why don't we get something to eat?" Ace suggests with a smile as he stands, sticking a hand out to his brother.
"Yeah!" Luffy grins and pulls himself up.
The pair trot through the familiar woods together, exploring the details that had grown blurry in their time away. The forest is much younger than it was when Ace left at seventeen. Which makes sense seeing as it was seven years earlier than when he had first left. Still, the level of detail in everything he sees still stuns him.
Luffy oohs and ahhs in delight as they dash through the complex network of branches, roots, and vines that had been their childhood. His little brother never strays far from Ace's side, and Ace doesn't want him to.
"Ah. I wonder if our fort survived," Luffy ponders aloud.
"It should be fine. If I remember right it's just a little ashy from the fire," Ace replies, shielding the sun from his eyes. "It isn't very far away from here, actually."
"I dunno' if I wanna' see it right now."
Ace looks at Luffy sideways before nodding. "Then we don't have to." The event of Sabo's death is suddenly so close to them. Ace will pretend for Luffy that he isn't bothered anymore by what happened to Sabo. To himself though, he doesn't try and hide exactly how much he still can't reconcile the injustice. He'd finally moved past it at last, but now that they are back here, a few days from when it happened, the emotions long since buried are being dredged up from within him until they rest just below the skin— Ace doesn't feel like letting them out anytime soon. The look on Luffy's face is complex, and Ace knows it affects him significantly too.
"Come on, let's find you something to eat," Ace says, distracting his brother (and himself) from the melancholy thoughts.
As expected, Luffy perks right up and turns an excited expression towards his brother. "Food!"
"What do you want?"
"Alligator!" Luffy exclaims.
"Alright, let's go to the swamps then. Try not to get eaten Luffy," Ace says with a teasing smile. Not that he would ever let that happen, but the affronted expression on Luffy's childish face is too funny.
"Shut up! It only happened twice!"
"Twenty-one, Luffy," Ace corrects, as the duo jump through the jungle.
Ace just smiles and enjoys the simplicity of it all.
The amount of time it takes them to wrangle their dinner is absolutely pitiful— it scarcely takes more than ten minutes. Ace wonders how weak he must have been as a child to have actually struggled somewhat to catch his meal. Though Ace no longer possesses the Mera Mera no Mi, he's enough of a threat through brute strength and battle instinct alone. He isn't nearly as strong as he was as an adult though.
Ace forgot how weak his body had been at this age. . . but weak as he is, it's still a cakewalk to get the gators. His little brother doesn't struggle either. Luffy's control is far superior to how Ace remembers it being as a child, further confirming Ace's hypothesis that the iteration of Luffy in front of him is completely the same as the one he left behind. Ace still doesn't quite know what to think of that particular detail.
By the time the sun is beginning to set, they have five large alligators to show for their effort. Ace gives Luffy three when he remembers that at this time in the past, his little brother hasn't eaten in three days. Luffy devours all three alligators in record time. Ace sees how Luffy eyes his own alligators and sighs before giving him the tail. They can always catch a bigger quarry tomorrow for breakfast. Luffy's lack of eating certainly concerns Ace more than his still partially empty stomach. After their dinner, the duo decides to head back to the bandits' hideout to get some rest.
Luffy is bouncing on his heels with excitement as they walk. Ace understands his brother's feelings— seeing their old home is beyond nostalgic. Even seeing Dadan is sort of nice, which Ace never thought he'd say. Luffy fills the silence with his genial babble, continually soothing Ace's mood. Ace laughs along with Luffy's grand motions and over-the-top exaggerations. He's beginning to think that the lying sharp-shooter rubbed off on his little brother, but then again, most of Luffy's stories stretch beyond the average person's scope of imagination so no one could ever know if it's hyperbole or the truth.
"Dadan!" Luffy's fond cry draws Ace's attention to the bulky figure blocking the doorway. Luffy attaches himself to her impressive girth and hugs her excitably. She's obviously surprised by Luffy's warm welcome, but hides it under her typical bluster.
"What are you two doing here?" Dadan grunts, blushing as she tries and fails to push an affectionate Luffy off of her. "Didn't you move out?"
"We're bunking here tonight," Ace states calmly.
"You can't just barge in here and say that!" Dadan snaps.
"Yes I can. Please?" His lack of violent reaction visibly unnerves her.
Luffy joins in from his place on her hip. "Pleeeaaseeee?"
"You're both damned leeches," Dandan mutters and both boys know they have won. "But you two had better bathe before you take another step in this house!" she declares.
"No." Ace sees the dark bags under his little brother's eyes and feels the sluggish drag of his own depleted energy reserve. Both of them need to just sleep above all else.
"No?!" Dadan overreacts as she often does.
As Ace expects, his little brother completely backs him up simply for the principle of it.
"Nope." Luffy pops the 'p.'
"We're both really tired Dadan, can we argue about this later?"
Ace isn't lying either. He spent two weeks in agonizing captivity, fought in a war, been killed, reunited with his little brother, and cried more than he ever wants to admit. Ace is ready to turn in for the night.
"Boss," Magra murmurs from the side, gently poking Dadan with his elbow. "They're probably exhausted after everything with Sa—" He cuts himself off and his eyes flicker to Ace nervously. Dadan grunts but acquiesces.
"Alright, but if you break the floor again you can sleep in the jungle for the bears to eat for all I care!"
"Thanks, Dadan!" Luffy exclaims as he finally detaches.
"Thanks, Dadan." Ace gives her a cheeky grin as she winces at his polite words. Ace is really enjoying messing with her and the rest of the bandits.
Luffy and Ace climb up to the room on the second floor where they and Sabo used to sleep when they stayed with the outlaws. After getting into so many fights in the common sleeping area, Dadan finally gave the three brothers their own room— if only so she could sleep soundly at night. Not that it helped at all when they broke the floor over her head one night. It all seems so far away now. Despite how familiar everything is, there are enough differences to throw Ace off balance.
Both boys are physically and (very) emotionally drained. Ace falls backwards onto the floor with a light thump. He lies on his back, staring at the familiar dirty ceiling.
Luffy crawls over near Ace. He carefully places his hat to the side so he won't squish it in his sleep, but as ever, his precious treasure is well within arm's reach. After that he lays down near Ace, holding his arm out in a silent request. Ace grants it immediately and pulls his little brother towards him so that his dark head is resting on Ace's shoulder.
The familiarity of the position soothes both of them.
"Ace," Luffy says.
"Hmm?" Ace murmurs, on the precipice of unconsciousness.
"Promise me you'll be here in the morning."
Ace pauses before he replies. "Of course."
Without another word the two drift off into sleep.
The next morning Ace wakes slowly in the sunlight. There's already loud sounds coming from downstairs, not that he really notices. He's more preoccupied by the pair of rubber arms that have apparently wrapped around his torso three times sometime during the night. Ace tugs at the stretchy skin, seeing if Luffy will let go of him easily. As his little brother continues snoring away, Ace figures he'll have to smack his brother awake.
Ace stays his hand as he remembers everything that happened. This is probably the quietest Luffy will be all day, and Ace decides to take advantage of it so he can order his thoughts.
To be perfectly honest, Ace is a little surprised that he's still here. He half expected to wake up in a void or rise from the strange dream. He didn't though. He's still right where he'd been last night. It's reassuring to him because not only has he told the truth to his little brother, but it also means they can spend time together jumping through the jungle, just like they did in the past. Maybe his afterlife isn't as substandard as he initially thought. His memories with Luffy when they were both kids are certainly his most precious, so perhaps the decision to come back to this time and place isn't as random as it appears. He smiles in anticipation.
The freckled boy's eyes shift to his little brother, whose face is furrowed in distress. Seven-year-old Luffy never had an expression like that, which only reminds Ace of the strange situation. This Luffy really behaves like he saw his brother die . . . Ace exhales sharply. Even though he knows that the Luffy beside him is a figment from his mind, Ace is still pained at the very thought of his brother's grief. He knows that it's very likely a reflection of what the real Luffy is going through as well, although the Luffy back in the real world does have his nakama to guide him back. This Luffy . . . well, Ace will just have to comfort him, won't he?
"Oh, Luffy," Ace murmurs, petting his little brother's hair. Instead of calming Luffy down like Ace hoped, his little brother begins squeezing him even tighter. Hands loop over his arms quickly and before Ace realizes it's happening, the former whitebeard pirate finds himself trussed up by his little brother. His chest is being squeezed fiercely, and Ace wishes he had the Mera Mera powers. He doesn't want Luffy to get burned . . . but being solid really sucks.
"Luffy!" Ace shouts, trying to wiggle out of his brother's rapidly tightening grasp. He growls in irritation as his brother sleeps on, unaware that he is slowly cutting off Ace's air supply.
Ace brings his head back as far as he can before slamming it into his little brother's face. Luffy's neck extends farther than is natural and Ace has to dodge the recoil. The grip stops tightening though, and Luffy groggily opens his eyes.
"Yeah, I'm here," Ace grunts. "Can you let go of me now? I sort of need to breathe," he says, voice strained. Luffy's arms unwind from his body but he doesn't fully let go. His hands still rest on Ace, making the older boy look at him. Dark eyes stare blankly at Ace, unblinking and intense.
"What is it?" Ace asks, concern leaking into his voice.
"I thought it was a dream," Luffy says after a pause. The realistic behaviors and reactions from the afterlife version of his brother still catches Ace off guard.
"Nah, I'm still here, little brother."
Luffy finally smiles his wide, familiar grin that Ace happily returns. The brightness of the morning can't be dampened even when Dadan irritably shouts up the stairs for them to get off their lazy asses and do some laundry.
The two exchange looks before breaking out into snickers. Wordlessly Ace goes over to the window and opens it before leaping down, Luffy right behind him. They begin sprinting away from the hideout even though they don't have to run to get away.
"Breakfast!" Luffy exclaims excitedly, as the affronted shouts and threats from Dadan begin fading.
"Bear?" Ace suggests.
"Bear!" Luffy shouts.
Ahh, I love time travel. This is definitely an Ace and Luffy centric fic, bordering on AceLu, but never quite reaching it. If all this brotherly love makes you uncomfortable, probably best for you to leave now. The last thing I want to do is make anyone uncomfortable.
For those of you still here, anticipate angst galore in the next chapter. This is part 2 in my "I'm not even remotely over Ace's death fic collection." If the urge comes upon you, feel free to review. I'll see you all next week!