Chapter 1: Awakening on Dawn
Ace woke up to the sound of rustling leaves and twittering birds.
To say that he was surprised would have been an understatement. He hadn't expected to ever wake up again, really. The blow from Akainu had been fatal, there was no doubt about it. And he'd accepted it, accepted that he would die so Luffy could live.
Slowly, hesitantly, he opened his eyes to be greeted by the sight of a badly assembled wooden ceiling. If it had been any other ceiling, he would have wondered which shitty carpenter had put it together, but this one ... no matter how many years would pass, he would never be able to forget any detail of the first place he had truly felt at home.
He turned his head to both sides, taking in the tree house he and his brothers used to live in. From what he could see, every detail fit his memory to the point – minus a few repairs they'd made in later years. If he had to guess, he'd say that this was the tree house which still housed all three brothers – Ace, Sabo and Luffy. The ASL pirates.
Tears gathered in Ace's eyes, and for once he felt no shame in letting them flow freely. Their fate was such a bitter one – one brother died before he could know the freedom he yearned for, the next for a heritage he despised. And now Luffy was all alone in the world. No big brother to watch out for him, to protect the little idiot whenever he bit off more than he could chew.
Would he be able to make it? It had always impressed Ace just how stubbornly Luffy believed in his dream to become Pirate king. At the same time, it frightened him to no end, especially after he himself first set sail and saw all the kinds of monsters out there. Sure, Luffy had already been a monster in his own right when he was fourteen, but neither him nor Ace stood a fighting chance against the likes of Whitebeard or even Akainu.
But he had to believe. If there was one thing Luffy was good at, it was inspiring people, bringing out the good in them and their will to fight for what they believed in. Hopefully, he'd survived the battle. He didn't care if Luffy hated him for breaking his promise, as long as he survived and kept fighting.
And Oyaji and the others ... Ace turned onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillow, muffling his sobs. Why had they come for him? It had so obviously been a trap. Sengoku was no fool, and Oyaji had to have known that. He wouldn't have started a war with the strongest pirate in the world without making certain he would win.
They should have just left him. What had it all amounted to, after all? He'd still died, but now he'd taken so many of his brothers with him, and from the looks of it, Oyaji wouldn't have made it either. He really was a demon, bringing bad luck to everyone who got too close.
"Ace?" The sleepy voice didn't really register with him, still far too occupied with his pain. So much death, so much blood. Ace had never considered himself soft-hearted – he'd faced the dark, cruel side of the world far too early in life to even be able to develop such a weakness. But small skirmishes with other pirates, bandits or marines didn't remotely compare to an all-out battle between the mightiest warriors of both sides. Mindless destruction, countless casualties, needless bloodshed – and he'd watched it all from above, unable to do anything about it while suffering from the knowledge that he'd caused it all.
"ACE! Ace, Ace, Ace, Ace, ACE!" The bundle of endless energy which tackled him only to hug him as if his life depended on it did catch his attention, though. So this afterlife had Luffy in it, too. Did that mean he hadn't survived? Or was it just his soul trying to find comfort with his family? (And how cheesy was that?)
Ace turned back around carefully so he could hug his little brother as well, burying his face in Luffy's hair instead. He still couldn't stop crying, but then, he didn't really try either. The last few weeks had been harrowing, captivity taking a heavier toll on his mind than he would have expected. And then the battle ... it was all simply too much for him.
He didn't know how long they stayed like this, nor did he remember precisely when Sabo had turned it into a group hug. All he knew was a soul-crushing agony, and the comforting feel of his brothers' arms around him, slowly but steadily soothing the pain.
At some point, though, awareness fought its way back into his mind. The first thing he realised that yes, it was Luffy and Sabo hugging him, but why were they crying too? He wasn't sure exactly when this was supposed to be, but he was sure he'd remember if they'd cried together like that. Or was this weird afterlife accommodating to his needs?
It was an uncomfortable thought, but deep down, he knew this was too good to be true. Ace wasn't a particularly good person – sure, there were crazier shits out there than him, but he doubted any of them had ever killed hundreds of people through their mere existence. He didn't deserve such a heaven-like setting – somehow, this would certainly turn into some sort of hell.
He clenched his jaw at the realisation and shoved the two off him, scrambling back and narrowing his eyes. He would find out what was going on here, and right now, the two look-alikes were his best shot.
"Ace ..." The little Luffy's eyes were big and hurt, tears still pooling out of them uncontrolled. Sabo, next to him, was hardly faring any better, though he was wiping his eyes now to get rid of his tears. He looked exactly like Ace remembered – the top hat, the goggles, the missing tooth. "Ace ... you're alive!"
And with those words, any distance he'd put between them was gone again, Luffy's rubber arms drawing him back between the two. But wait ... why did Luffy say he was alive? If this was his afterlife, and these figures were basically his imagination, why would they pretend he was still alive? Ace knew that he was dead – he just didn't know what to expect from life after death.
"What do you mean? I'm dead. Akainu just killed me," he stated as calmly as he could manage in the face of fake Luffy's tears. He was a fake, wasn't he? After all, Ace's imagination could never live up to the mind-boggling reality of his little (and arguably insane) brother. But he looked so real ...
His words elicited another round of heart-wrenching sobs from Luffy, his hug becoming even more bone-crushing. Sabo, on the other hand, seemed to have gotten a handle on his emotions, expression turning serious instead.
"Right, I probably should explain what's going on here," Sabo said to him, "since I doubt Luffy will be up to it any time soon." That was, admittedly, easier than what Ace had expected. He hadn't considered that the two would actually be willing to explain everything without him even asking. Things didn't usually go that well.
"The thing is, you did, in fact, die at Akainu's hand. But for Luffy and me, it's been six years since then." Sabo looked at his hands, completely ignoring Ace's confused look. "The War of the Best is what they're calling it now. The battle which saw the end of the old generation, and heralded the start of a new era."
Sabo turned his eyes towards Ace now, fixing him with an intense stare which made it virtually impossible for him to look away. And Ace was used to having staring matches with people far mightier than a ten-year-old Sabo.
"Many important events have taken place since you died, Ace," he continued, "but I won't go into detail now. What's important, is that I've been sailing with Luffy's crew for the last few weeks, and we eventually reached the end of the Grand Line. Raftel. I don't want to spoil the surprise of One Piece too much, but part of the treasure Luffy received was one wish."
"I didn't know what to wish for at first," Luffy mumbled into Ace's wet shirt. He lifted his head and beamed up at Ace with wet cheeks. "I mean, I just became Pirate king! I had everything I'd dreamed about! But ..." He chewed on his trembling lower lip. "It was obvious, right? There was something I'd always wanted, but it couldn't ever happen –" Fresh tears poured down from Luffy's eyes, and he went back to hugging the life out of Ace.
"He wanted to set sail with both of us," Sabo said softly, looking at the back of Luffy's head with a fond expression. "Of course, with you being, well, dead, it was impossible. But apparently, time travel isn't. So here we are, back before the whole mess in the Gray Terminal started which first tore us apart."
Ace stared at him, dumbfounded, his brain trying to process what he'd just heard. Time travel – that was insane, completely impossible, right? But then, a lot of things happened in the Grand Line that normal people couldn't dream of in their wildest fantasies. Maybe it was true. Maybe his little brother had really given them all a second chance.
Unfortunately, he soon realised that something wasn't adding up. He glared at Sabo. "Are you trying to trick me or something? You died when we were ten. And now you're saying that you went with Luffy to Raftel? What do you really want from me, huh?"
"Ace, I ...", he paused, fidgeting, looking positively guilty. "I wasn't actually dead. Dragon, Luffy's dad, saved me and treated my wounds, but ... I couldn't remember anything." Pain was etched deeply into his features, his fists clenched. "My memories only came back right after you died when I read about it in the newspaper. I almost lost both of my brothers without even knowing about it."
Ace didn't know what to say when Sabo, too, threw his arms around his brothers again, nuzzling his head against Ace's shoulder. This all felt so real. But it couldn't be, right? He couldn't be so lucky to have two brothers who'd do the impossible just to be with him again. He had a devil's blood in him. It couldn't be true.
His arms almost moved by themselves, drawing the other boys closer to him and returning their affection. It didn't matter, really. Maybe Sabo was telling the truth and they had really gotten a second chance of life. If that was the case, Ace definitely wouldn't waste it. And if it wasn't – if this was some crazy sort of afterlife he didn't understand yet – well, he'd deal with it when he got to it.
For now, he'd just enjoy the unexpected time with his brothers.
It went without saying that they didn't get much done that day.
Unsurprisingly, it was Ace who put his foot down in the end and told them to get a grip. It was already mid-afternoon when he lost his patience, which was pretty impressive, considering that Sabo and Luffy broke down every few minutes and hugged him as if they were afraid he'd disappear again.
Sabo knew, of course, that he was right. While neither of them were unaccustomed to going without food for a period of time, they would need to go hunting at some point. Especially since they had a lot of muscle to build back up.
Fortunately, not all of their abilities had disappeared, as they quickly realised a few minutes into their hunting trip. Most prominently, their Haki had barely diminshed. Though Sabo supposed it shouldn't come as much of a shock since haki was dependent on the strength of their will, not their bodies.
As such, it didn't take long for them to sit around the campfire, roasting their kills and simply enjoying each others company. "We'll still have to get stronger," Sabo mumbled absent-mindedly between two bites, earning himself a questioning glance from Ace.
It only occurred to him now just how weird the situation they were in was. They really had the chance to start over, to do what they wanted, there'd be no unexpected circumstances which forced them into unplanned action – well, in the beginning, at least. On the other hand, Sabo had known nothing but the life of a Revolutionary for years – and now, nobody in the army would have ever heard about him. Heck, they were still in the founding process, unlike the stream of victories they'd been pulling off all over the world when Sabo'd taken some time off to spend with his brother.
It was similar for Ace and Luffy, whether they'd already realised it or not. Ace had found a family in the Whitebeard pirates – would he want to join them again? Sabo wasn't completely against the idea of sailing with the Yonko, but he doubted Luffy could accept not being the captain.
Besides, what would it even feel like, to meet all the people they'd known over the course of their lives, who'd become friends, even family? Nobody would recognise them yet, while the boys often knew their most intimate secrets. Would it even be possible to rebuild such bonds?
He nibbled on his piece of meat thoughtfully, watching as Ace and Luffy had a mock fight over another chunk of meat. It was amazing how quickly they fell back into old habits, no matter that they'd all aged ten years or more.
He'd have to talk to them about it. He knew that Ace and Luffy were anything but planners, but this situation would require a somewhat delicate hand. Determinedly, he gulped down the last piece of meat in his hands, picked up two bones and threw them at his two brothers, effectively gaining their attention.
Well, or rather their anger. "Oi, what's the big deal?", Ace shouted at him, scowling while Luffy pouted adorably. "You're such a meanie, Sabo!" He rubbed the spot on his head, even squeezing out a few tears for show.
"I was just thinking –" Sabo started, but was cut off by a rather large bone being hurled his way. Yelping, he threw himself to the side, narrowly dodging out of its path. Now it was his turn to glare at his brother from the ground, only to receive a devilish grin from Ace in return. Growling, he grabbed the former projectile as if it was his pipe, jumped up from the ground and launched himself at Ace.
Thus a fierce bone fight, which lasted the rest of the evening, was started, until the boys finally collapsed on their makeshift beds back in their base, their bodies still unused to the level of battle their minds wanted to pull off.
When Sabo woke up on the next day, it was with a sense of peace he hadn't felt in years. He snuggled closer to Luffy, stretching an arm over him so he could even reach Ace, and just breathed. It truly felt like heaven, being back here with both of them, all the worries of the world still so far away from them.
One after another, both Ace and Luffy woke up, but neither made a move to end the embrace, instead also choosing to savour the moment.
They stayed in bed far longer than any of them usually would. Gentle sunrays had already bathed their base in a beautiful light for several hours when Luffy finally started squirming a little bit. Reluctantly, Sabo let go of his brothers, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He watched his brothers as they stretched and yawned, Ace using his fingers as a comb. Luffy dunked his head into their water barrel and proceeded to sprinkle water all over the place in an effort to dry his hair.
A contended smile spread over Sabo's face. There truly was no place like family. Nothing would tear them apart this time around – not even death could stop them, after all. "What do you wanna do, then?"
Startled looks treated him from both sides. "What do you mean, today?", Ace asked confusedly. "I guess we'll hunt, and spar, and train a bit, right?"
Sabo sighed, ignoring Luffy's shout for food. It looked like he was back to being the brains for three people. "No, I mean, what do you wanna do, now that we're back in the past. We all had separate lives the last time around, but if we plan on sailing together ... what do you wanna do?" Understanding bloomed on their faces, much to Sabo's relief.
Luffy grinned. "I'm gonna be Pirate king!", he paused for a second, his face turning pensive, before he continued, "again?" Now he seemed to be thinking hard.
Ace's expression turned rather serious as he considered Sabo's question. "Well, I can't really imagine being anything but a pirate. I guess it's in my blood." Now, he looked rather grim, and no less thoughtful than his little brother.
"Ace ..." Sabo's voice trailed off, unsure of what he could say to the former Pirate King's son. Ace's grudge against his father had been bad enough the first time around, but that was before his heritage had gotten him and so many of his chosen family killed.
"Ace, it's not his fault, you know that, right? From what I've heard, Roger was a pretty decent person, and he never called himself the Pirate King. It was the government who gave him that designation." Sabo's fists clenched at the thought of that corrupt organisation, his revolutionary heart burning brightly. "They just poison everything." His voice was at least as bitter as Ace's before.
"Then we'll just kick their asses again." Both Sabo and Ace looked at their little brother, who looked nothing like a seven-year-old anymore. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes, and his fierce expression would have caused his lesser enemies to quiver in fear. "We're going to be pirates together, and we'll be free to do what we want. It doesn't matter whether they're marines, or pirates, or Celestial dragons. The world's not gonna know what hit it."
Sabo couldn't help but reciprocate the broad grin on Luffy's face, and from the corner of his eye, he spotted a mad smile on Ace's, too. Yes, they were going to set sail together, some day, when they were ready. He pitied the fools who'd stand in their way, already.
"I guess we've got some training to do, then." Ace jumped up and hurried towards the exit, already halfway down to the ground before Sabo had even moved. The smile on his face broadened as he followed after his brother. Oh yes. The world wasn't going to know what hit it.
The months passed quickly after that, and every day, they returned to their base stronger. Now that they already knew how to train, how they'd fight, they all knew exactly what they needed to do to become a force to be reckoned with.
But of course, it wouldn't be life if there weren't a few difficulties along the way.
"We'll have to get the Mera Mera no mi once we set sail. It's on an island here in the East Blue, not far out of the way to the Grand Line, and I know exactly where to find it," Ace said one evening as they sat around the campfire, enjoying the meat of the Tiger Lord they'd decided to fight that day.
Sabo grinned mischievously in return. "You're right, I do sort of miss it, too. Pretty handy for lighting a campfire."
Ace looked at him confusedly. "Huh? How can you miss it when you've never seen me use it before?"
Both Luffy and Sabo broke down laughing at Ace's obliviousness, though it really wasn't his fault that he didn't know. The two of them did occasionally tell him stories of what they'd been up to after his death, but many of the major events had gone unmentioned so far.
"Oi! What's so funny?!" Ace sported a major unimpressed look, glaring at his brothers. It really frustrated him sometimes just how much he'd missed.
"Sorry, sorry!" Sabo wiped away his tears, fighting to stop laughing. "It's just that I, you know, I ate your fruit."
Ace's eyes widened almost comically. "You did what?!"
Sabo smiled at him apologetically. "Well, who would you have preferred to have it? Me, Blackbeard or Doflamingo?" The horrified look on Ace's face said more than a thousand words ever could. "Doflamingo acquired it after your death, somehow, and he offered it up as a price in the colosseum. I didn't want it to fall into some random hands, so I entered the competition. Or more like I took Luffy's place in it so he could go kick Doflamingo's ass."
"Oh, we have to do that again!", Luffy shouted enthusiastically, unaware of the shocked Ace next to him. "Mingo really pisses me off!"
"No! We're absolutely not doing that! Why did you go up against Doflamingo in the first place?! Are you crazy?!" Luffy shrugged, looking completely unfazed in the face of Ace's fury.
"Well, kicking his ass wasn't part of the plan at first, really. Law just wanted him to go out of business so Kaido'd be distracted when we attacked him."
Ace's face turned dangerously blank. "Oh, so you just wanted to mess with a Shichibukai to attack a Yonko. That's okay, then," he deadpanned.
Luffy grinned brightly in return. "Really?"
"Of course not! What were you thinking?! Were you trying to get yourself killed?!", Ace downright exploded.
"Well, at least he didn't challenge a Yonko after fighting five days straight in a duel against a Shichibukai," Sabo said in a dry voice, causing Ace to blush slightly.
"That was different!"
Sabo smirked at his indignation. "I guess you're right. It was different. At least, Luffy was able to stand without effort when he picked a fight. Oh, and he actually had allies strong enough to back him up."
By now, Ace's head resembled a ripe raspberry in colour. "Shut up!" He launched himself at Sabo, turning the conversation into a sparring session. Luffy watched them while munching happily through their portions of the meat.
During the first few weeks the three brothers mostly engaged in Ace's least favourite activity – Haki training. Much to his eternal embarrassment, it had turned out that he was actually the weakest of them when it came to those three powers. As such, Sabo and Luffy had decreed that he'd first have to catch up to them before they all moved onto more intense training together.
Ace tried to comfort himself with the fact that they had had much more time to perfect their skills, but it turned out to be pretty difficult since Sabo loved to rub it into his face that he was behind Luffy. It also didn't help that the two clearly and viciously enjoyed hitting him around the head with sticks to improve his observation Haki.
Fortunately, though, he soon showed quite a bit of improvement. The most prominent proof for this happened on a day all of them had been afraid of.
As always, Ace sat on the ground cross-legged with his eyes bound, and demonstrating quite a bit of skill in avoiding the sticks from both of his brothers. Suddenly, both of them stopped, freezing on the spot, leaving Ace to wonder what was going on with them.
Before he could pose that question, however, he felt an overwhelming sense of doom, and threw himself to the side, simultaneously ripping off the blindfold. He only narrowly avoided the gigantic fist, which left quite a dent in the ground where his head had been just a second ago.
"There you are, little brats! Time for training!" If Monkey D. Garp had in any way been surprised at Ace's skillfull dodge, he didn't acknowledge the feeling. Instead, he proceeded to send fists with the force of a meteor flying at his grandsons, who did their best to avoid certain death.
"How did we ever reach adulthood the first time around?", Sabo muttered to Luffy during a short reprieve Ace had granted the two of them by shouting he'd never be a marine before taking off towards the woods, his grandpa hot on his heels.
Luffy had a concentrated frown on his face. "I think he held back a bit more," he mumbled. "I mean, I'm not fighting with my Gomu Gomu no mi right now, but we're all using Haki, so we shouldn't have such a hard time fighting against him."
Sabo grimaced. "You think he knows what we were doing before he arrived?" Well, they were doing a pretty standard exercise for observation Haki, but he'd hoped Garp only thought they were fooling around. This could otherwise be a bit difficult to explain.
Luffy shrugged before jumping up. "We should help Ace out," he said before running along the path of destruction the two Ds had left behind.
At least Garp was caring enough to provide them with dinner this time around, since the three kids barely had enough energy left to eat, let alone hunt. But of course, he also chose that time to start the interrogation. "So where did you brats suddenly learn Haki, huh?" He fixed them with a suspicious glare which sent shivers down their spines.
But Sabo had luckily developed quite a skill at lying over the years. "What's Haki?", he asked innocently while shooting Ace a look which he fortunately interpreted correctly. With their worst liar, Luffy, distracted by a food fight, Sabo would hopefully manage to sell the story convincingly.
"You're telling me you don't know?", Garp asked in his bellowing voice. Sabo only shook his head in response. It effectively prompted the Marine hero to elaborate. "Haki is a representation of your willpower and there are three different types. I know all of you were using observation Haki today, so don't try to deny it!"
Sabo convincingly pulled of a stunned and thoughtful expression. "Observation Haki? That's what it's called? How we can see attacks before they're coming?"
"Ha, so you admit it! Who taught you?" Sabo leaned back at the shouted accusation, grimacing a bit at the volume. Seriously, could the old geezer not talk in a normal voice, for once?
His face was full of righteous indignation (well, fake righteousness considering he was lying his ass off) when he shouted back, "Nobody taught us!" He paused, breathed, and continued a bit more calmly. "We've just been trying to learn it for a while now, ever since I felt someone attacking Ace when he wasn't even in my field of vision." He stopped to scrutinize Garp, praying that he would buy the story.
The Marine burst out laughing and patted Sabo on the back, causing him to almost topple over at the strength of it. "That's my grandson! Mastering Haki on his own!" He continued laughing and expressing his pride in Sabo. It almost made the blonde feel bad about lying, but he knew it was too risky to tell Garp the truth.
An honestly fond smile appeared on Sabo's face. No matter how brutal their training was and how bad Garp often was with children, he'd still accepted Sabo into the family without question. He truly did have a big heart.
The next big event was one the boys anticipated with equal amounts of dread and a wary sort of confidence.
In preparation of the fateful storm that would hit the next day, they'd made a final trip to the Goa kingdom to buy the supplies and spare parts they'd need to enhance and repair their base. As a precaution, they were planning not to return there until the Celestial Dragon had left again – both to avoid being caught up in the fire, and to not be tempted to punch the World Noble for what he did to Sabo the first time around. They really weren't ready to deal with an Admiral yet.
Sabo kept a wary eye on his surroundings as the three brothers were making their way through Old Town. "We should stay together just in case," he told them without turning around. "I doubt Bluejam and his gang would stand a chance against just one of us, but I think it's better not to take any risks."
"That'd be a good idea," Ace responded with a dry voice, "but I think you probably should have told Luffy about that earlier." Sabo immediately skidded to a stop and turned around to see only Ace looking at him with a sheepish grin.
He buried his face in his hands and growled. "That idiot."
"Ow!" Luffy rubbed the sore spot on his head, pouting a bit. It didn't really hurt all that badly, it was more the surprise that had gotten to him.
It hadn't taken long for Luffy to get bored after the three had arrived in Old Town. He had always hated supply runs – even when he was captain, his crew knew better than to ask him to buy anything specific. He'd often pull a Zoro unintentionally – not because he didn't know where he was going, but because something else caught his attention and he forgot all about what he was supposed to do.
So when Sabo had started listing all the things they should be getting, Luffy had barely stifled a yawn. Sure, last time, they'd lost Sabo in the next few days, but Luffy knew this wouldn't happen again. They were much stronger now, so he didn't really get why they'd need to take all sorts of precautions considering nobody in the East Blue was a match for them.
Luffy had slowed down bit by bit before he'd come to a stop, his hat shadowing his eyes as he'd sunk deep into thought. If he were the one to make the choice, the three brothers would have set sail already. They were almost strong enough for Paradise now after the rigorous training they'd put themselves through the last few months, so he didn't see any reason to wait any longer.
But both Sabo and Ace insisted that they'd have to wait until they were at least fifteen, or nobody would ever take them seriously. In Luffy's opinion, that sounded like an advantage when it came to fights – an advantage he'd often gleefully abused in the past. He'd only agreed in the end because both Ace and Sabo wanted to wait, and they were his big brothers. Luffy'd do anything to keep them safe and happy.
He'd blinked, and looked around only to find that Ace and Sabo were nowhere in sight. "Huh? Where did they go?", he'd mumbled to himself, tilting his head questioningly. Oh, well. The two would be fine without him, too, and this way, he wouldn't die of boredom. He'd just go get some food in the meantime until they came back.
A broad grin had spread on his face at the thought of meat and he'd immediately taken off towards the nearest decent restaurant in this part of town.
This all had led to the current situation. "Mm, that hurts!", Luffy exclaimed again, looking up at the obstacle that had suddenly appeared in his way when he'd skidded around a corner. His eyes grew wide with surprise. "Huh?"
The man who'd fallen to the ground opposite to him mirrored his shocked expression, but in his case, there was some fear and guilt mixed into it as well. Luffy scrunched up his face in thought. This certainly had never happened during his first childhood.
Luffy'd already opened his mouth to enthusiastically greet his dad, before he remembered what Sabo'd said. With an audible snap, he shut it again. What should he say now? Sabo thought it'd be a bad idea if anyone knew they'd come from the future, and Luffy was inclined to agree with him. It was their trump card, after all.
But still, it would just feel wrong to walk away from his father when he'd never really known him in his first life. This was a chance to start over for all of them, right? And Luffy'd always wondered what it would be like to have a dad.
He mustered up his best indignant expression. "Ne, old man, watch where you're going!" He glared at him and puffed up his cheeks, despite knowing that with his seven-year-old body, adults were more inclined to think it was cute than to feel threatened.
It seemed Monkey D. Dragon still hadn't snapped out of the shock of accidentally running into his son. He hesitatingly reached a hand out towards him and mumbled, "Luffy ...", before he seemingly stopped himself and abruptly drew back his hand as if he'd been burned.
Luffy'd never seen his dad look like that. The few times he'd seen him, he'd only dealt with the leader of the Revolutionary army. They never had the opportunity to talk to each other as father and son. But this Dragon was fifteen years younger than the one Luffy knew. He still looked so young and full of doubt.
Fierce determination rose within Luffy. This man there was his father, he was family. And family was something to be cherished.
"Huh? How do you know my name?" It hurt a little bit to pretend to be a stranger instead of running to hug him immediately, especially when he looked so lost. But Sabo's and Ace's safety still came first.
If possible, Dragon looked even guiltier than before. "Uh ... I don't ... I –", he stuttered, before his face settled into an expression Luffy was only too familiar with. "I overheard it. Earlier." He whistled in an attempt at innocence.
Luffy couldn't help but stare had him with an open mouth. Was he really that obvious when he lied as well? No wonder nobody ever believed him! Well, at least he knew where he got it from. But his dad was the leader of an army, how could he not know how to lie?
He threw him a suspicious glare. "That sounds fishy," he stated in a serious demeanour, though it was slightly ruined by his young face.
Surprisingly, Dragon turned out to be a bit more convincing when put on the spot. "No, really! I heard someone call you that earlier! I –" He faltered again. And Luffy had almost been starting to believe him.
Dragon looked down and clenched his jaw, rubbing his forehead, before he mumbled to himself, "Oh, screw this." He threw a cautious look around, before kneeling down in front of Luffy to be at his eye level. "Luffy," he paused again, gaining a determined look in his eyes. "Luffy, I know you're probably going to hate me after you hear this but I'm – I'm your father."
This time, Luffy didn't have to act at all. He really was surprised that his dad would tell him about their relationship so easily. After all, he had given him away because he was afraid of the bad reputation Luffy would inherit. But it seemed that in the beginning, Dragon hadn't been so sure he'd made the right decision.
Since Luffy didn't respond to his announcement at all, his father started to ramble. "I really wanted to raise you myself, I did, but I thought it would be better for you to grow up somewhere safe, so that you could have a normal childhood. I know Garp can be harsh at times, but I like to think that he raised me right, so I thought it would be better for you to live with him. Especially with my line of work ... it just wouldn't have been safe for you and –"
Two thin arms wrapped around his waist cut him off abruptly. Luffy buried his face into his father's chest, and, for the first time in either of his lives, he breathed in his scent. It was a natural sort of smell, full of earth, and rain, and life.
After a few seconds, Dragon reciprocated the hug, drawing the little boy closer to himself. It felt almost as good as being embraced by Ace or Sabo, far more comfortable and homey than Luffy had expected.
"What you're doing is really important to you, isn't it?", Luffy mumbled into his father's chest. After a bit of hesitation, he felt him nod reluctantly. Luffy drew back a little to look up at Dragon's face. "Then that's okay. Everyone should live their dreams."
He received a startled look in return, but there was also relief on his father's face. He must have been really worried that Luffy wouldn't forgive him. He pouted. "That doesn't mean you can't come by to visit, you know!"
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Luffy," his father responded with a grim expression. "I'm a wanted man. If the World Government were to find out that I came here regularly, it'd put you at risk. I don't want you to become a fugitive when you're just a kid."
Luffy countered in an equally serious tone, "You don't have to go out of your way to come here. Just when you're in the neighbourhood, maybe?" He felt a bit selfish for making demands when he knew that Dragon just wanted to keep him safe, but maybe there was a childish part buried within him that wanted to know his dad.
"Besides, I can take care of myself!", he shouted in a cheerful tone. "I'm really strong, you know, because I'm gonna be the Pirate king some day. I'll be a wanted man, too!"
He ignored the indulgent smile from his father, knowing that nobody would believe that claim from a seven-year-old without hard proof of their strength. Maybe he should challenge him to a match. That was sure to get him some respect. "What does Garp say to this?"
Luffy looked around frantically while desperately shushing his old man. "Don't say his name! If you do he'll appear!"
Dragon laughed at his panic. "That bad?"
Luffy grinned at him conspirationally. "He still thinks his Fist of Love will make me a good Marine." He jumped out and stretched out his hand for his dad to take, which he did with a look of disbelief on his face. "You wanna see where I live? It's not anywhere here in Goa, but it's a really neat place, you'll see!"
Ignoring the few words of protest of how he couldn't just wander around, and how he still had work to do, Luffy dragged him towards the gates, passing by the guards unhindered. Getting out of the city was always easy, because neither the guards nor the nobles cared about what went on outside the city wall.
By the time they were walking through the Gray Terminal, Dragon had given up on going back to work for the day, though Luffy was certain he'd only ever argued out of a sense of duty. The desire to get to know the son he'd given up won the battle easily this time, at least.
"I lived in Foosha village with Makino at first. That's where I met Shanks. He's a really strong pirate, and he gave me this hat. I promised I'd give it back to him when I'm a great pirate myself." Luffy grinned back at his dad while he was still tugging him into the right direction. He looked at his son's hat with mild curiosity, and was that recognition? Luffy supposed it wasn't impossible that Dragon had met Gol D. Roger or Shanks at some point, and as such knew the significance of it.
"Grandpa didn't like that much, though, so he sent me to live with Dadan and the mountain bandits."
"He gave you to mountain bandits so you'd become an honest and upstanding citizen?" His father laughed at Luffy's nod. "That's so typical."
"It's not as bad as I thought first. Dadan's a real softie, you know, she can't say no to anybody!" They'd reached the edge of the woods now, Luffy's feet finding their way to the base mostly by themselves.
"So that's where you live now? In the mountains?" If Dragon's easy acceptance of mountain bandits as a foster family wasn't solid proof for their relation, Luffy didn't know what was.
Luffy shook his head in response. "No, we built our own base a couple of months ago –" He broke off and slapped his forehead, coming to an abrupt stop. "Oh no! I forgot Ace and Sabo!" He twisted around to look back down the path, but Goa Kingdom was long since out of sight. "They're going to be so mad ..." He sighed.
"Who're Ace and Sabo?" Luffy looked at his dad, momentarily having forgotten about him now. What would Sabo say when he saw Dragon again? The man had been a mentor, almost like a father to his blonde brother.
"They're my big brothers. We went to Old Town together, but I sort of lost them a while back." He smiled sheepishly. "Well, it'll still be best to go back to the base, I think. It's where they'll look first."
The rest of the trip passed in silence due to Luffy being rather distracted and more than a little worried. He really hadn't considered Sabo in all this. For Luffy, it was the first time to get to know Dragon as his dad, but Sabo had already been close to him in his last life. There was no telling how he'd react.
Finally, they arrived at the tree house. "We don't normally allow grown-ups to go up there, but I guess you can be an exception," Luffy said. "You have to follow my steps, the place is rigged." They'd made it a project to improve their base whenever they weren't out training or hunting. As such, the place now looked a lot better than it had a few months ago, their ASL flag flying proudly on top of the tree.
"And you built this all by yourselves? How old are your brothers?", Dragon asked with an impressed tone once he sat comfortable in the canopy.
Luffy smiled proudly in return. It felt nice to have their efforts praised. "They're eleven, and I'll soon be eight!"
The next hour passed far too quickly in Luffy's opinion. Mostly, he was the one doing the talking, catching his dad up on everything he'd missed in his son's life so far. Even though he wasn't the greatest story teller, Dragon made up for it by being an excellent listener, laughing and gasping and asking questions at all the right moments.
At last, though, he felt Ace and Sabo coming up to the base, their presences first frantic, but soon calmed as they recognized their little brother. There still remained a sense of wariness, however, since they felt that Luffy wasn't alone.
A small smile appeared on Luffy's face. It was so amazing just how far their bond had progressed over the last few months. It almost felt like they could talk to each other without speaking! "They're here," he whispered to his father, who didn't question his knowledge.
"Oi! Luffy!" Ace was the first to make his discontent known, shouting up into the canopy from the edge of the clearing. "Don't just disappear on us like that again! You almost gave Sabo a heart attack!"
Luffy stuck his head out of the entrance to see Sabo giving Ace a playful shove. "Hey, I wasn't the one who wanted to kick in Bluejam's door because he might have kidnapped Luffy." Ace had to pull off a rather acrobatic stunt to avoid triggering one of the traps.
The two looked about ready to start 'sparring' again. Luffy snickered. It was hilarious that it was always Ace and Sabo who rubbed each other the wrong way these days, unlike back in the original time line, where Luffy and Ace never stopped fighting. It was probably because Luffy and Ace spent a long time together, without Sabo, while said blonde seemed to enjoy poking fun at Ace's soft side even more than he used to.
Before the two could get into it again, Luffy spoke up, "Sorry! You just sort of disappeared, so I went to find some meat." The two just rolled their eyes in response, absolutely not surprised. "But I met my dad instead."
That certainly got their attention. "You what?", Sabo whispered almost inaudibly, only a second before Ace shouted, "Your father? Is he up there right now?" A myriad of emotions passed over their faces as Luffy nodded.
Ace was the first one who sprung into action, climbing the rope ladder quickly while Luffy moved out of the doorway. He had a fierce glare on his face when he arrived. "You can't take Luffy away from us!", he growled before jumping to attack the surprised man.
Fortunately, Luffy was fast enough to catch Ace before he reached his dad, despite not having expected this reaction at all. They'd sworn they'd go to sea together this time. Did Ace really believe that Luffy would go back on his word so easily?
The older boy crashed into Luffy painfully from the usual recoil and immediately started struggling against Luffy's iron grip. "He's not taking me away, Ace," Luffy said through gritted teeth, starting to sweat a bit from the effort of keeping Ace contained. "Do you really think I'd let him?"
Ace stopped struggling, but he looked no less furious as he stared at Dragon, who was still at a loss of what to do. Luffy kept his arms wrapped around his brother just in case, both restraining and embracing him.
The stalemate lasted only a few seconds, until Sabo hesitantly peeked through the door, causing Ace to tense. Suddenly, his reaction made a lot more sense to Luffy. While it wasn't Dragon's fault that Sabo'd lost his memories last time, he was the one who took him in, thus keeping him away from his brothers. And now the man was here again, only days before they originally lost Sabo. Plus, with the knowledge of their relationship, Ace stood to lose both of his brothers.
"Hello," Sabo said quietly, sounding unsure of himself. "You're Luffy's dad?" Luffy marvelled at his composure. A stranger wouldn't have noticed that there was anything off about him. Only because they were brothers and knew each other so well, Luffy could tell that Sabo was acting unusually.
At Dragon's cautious nod, Sabo continued, already a bit more in control of himself, "You'll have to forgive Ace. Luffy's very important to us. I don't know what we'd do without him."
Dragon smiled reassuringly at Sabo, still avoiding looking at Ace. "It's fine. I'm happy to see Luffy found such a good family."
Luffy could feel Sabo's turmoil, even if none of it showed on his face. He didn't like receiving the polite treatment only strangers would. Though he had expected it, it still hurt Sabo. Amazingly enough, he managed to slip into a professional mind-set. "Your name is Dragon, right?"
Luffy's dad grimaced in response, but nodded. "You recognize me?" It was more a statement than a question.
"Of course. Your face is rather famous," Sabo responded, before launching into what Luffy supposed could be called a report. "You're here because the Celestial Dragon will arrive soon, aren't you? Then there are a few things the nobles are planning you should be aware of ..."
Luffy tuned out the story-telling, instead focusing on Ace again, drawing him even closer to his chest. "You know we're not going to leave you," he whispered into his ear, "so stop being stupid."
"He just looks so happy," Ace said in a sad voice, keeping a close eye on Sabo, who did seem to enjoy talking with his former boss, even though only one remembered their previous relationship. "Is it really alright for us to keep him from that?" His voice trembled, desperation lacing his every word.
"We're not keeping him from anything, Ace. It's his own choice," Luffy reassured him. "Just because he'll be a pirate this time doesn't mean he won't be a Revolutionary, too. Just like sailing under a different flag won't prevent you from becoming family with the Whitebeard pirates, again."
"It won't?", Ace asked in a small voice.
"Of course not. It might be a bit more difficult, but family will always be family," Luffy said quietly, throwing another look at his father, who listened to Sabo with a keen ear, obviously impressed by the blonde's insights. "It's going to be okay. You'll see."
Dragon came over a few times during the next days, spending some time with each of the boys until even Ace had warmed up to him a bit. Finally, though, the day to say goodbye arrived. Dragon crouched down before them, first laying a hand on Ace's shoulder. "You watch out for your brothers, you hear me? I'll be counting on you to protect them."
Ace glared at him in response, but there was no real fire in his eyes. "I'd be doing that, anyway. I don't need you to tell me that, asshole." Sabo nudged him sharply in the ribs at the cussing, but Dragon only laughed and turned to the blonde, drawing him into a quick hug.
"Be careful, Sabo. Don't go sticking your nose too far into other people's businesses. It'll get you into trouble some day."
He received a mischievous smile in return. "No promises. But I'll tell you if I ever discover anything interesting." Dragon sighed and shook his head, but turned towards his son without any further reprimands.
"Luffy." He drew the boy with the straw hat into a tight hug. "Thank you."
"For what?", Luffy asked confusedly, but he'd never receive an answer to his question as Dragon drew back, both hands on his shoulders and looking at him with tears in his eyes.
"You're a great kid, and I know you'll be an even greater pirate. Live freely, and walk the path you choose with confidence."
Luffy beamed at him. "Sure thing, dad!"
A fond smile appeared on his father's face. "I'm really proud of you, my son."
With those words, Dragon strode away from their clearing, soon disappearing from sight. They wouldn't see him again for years.
Ace stared wide-eyed at the newspaper in his hands, the paper crumbled at the edges from his clenched fingers.
More than two years had passed since the brothers had met Luffy's father, and by now, they were downright monstrous fighters, their young bodies barely a hindrance anymore. Luffy was itching to get going, and Ace and Sabo had an increasingly harder time convincing him to wait for some time still.
Ace himself found the thought of going out to sea rather appealing himself, but he could see Sabo's point. While they wouldn't have a problem at holding their own in a fight, they were still just kids. It would be difficult to find a crew, not to mention trade for food or weapons whenever they got to a port. Nobody would take them seriously.
So they still stayed on Dawn Island. It almost felt a bit like they were frozen in time, each day resembling the next. Sure, things never got too boring with the three of them, but there was only so much training and sparring and gathering treasure in the Gray Terminal they could do before it all lost its charm.
From time to time, they got into fights with thugs from the criminal underworld, but none of them proved to be a challenge. Even Bluejam, the big bad guy from their childhood, was really just a joke. How could he even call himself pirate when he gave up the freedom of the sea?
As such, they'd recently decided to spice things up a bit. It had been Luffy's idea at first, but neither Sabo nor Ace took much convincing, even though it was a little risky. Their pirate's treasure had already profited immensely from the new source of income.
Today, they'd been planning to ransack another noble's house. They were careful to always leave at least a month between their attacks, and also made sure there was no pattern in either timing or place.
As always, they'd snuck into town mid-afternoon, where the usual bustle still covered them up easily. Today, though, there were even more people out and about, loud and somewhat off-key music filling the streets. Mead and sake were sold at every corner, the air smelling both sweet from the bakeries running hot and rancid from people's sweat.
Thankfully, a newspaper stand had been nearby, so Ace had quickly grabbed one hoping that it might give them some clue as to what was going on. Otherwise, they'd have had to ask someone at the risk of drawing attention.
The headline on the first page alone explained everything. Ace clenched his jaw. Of course, they'd be celebrating on this day. Why hadn't he paid attention to the date?
He barely registered Sabo peeking over his shoulder and Luffy jumping up and down to catch a look. The older two had just recently hit a growth spurt, so Luffy was just barely reaching above their elbows now.
"Oh," Sabo exhaled, unvoiced cursing colouring his tone as he looked at the front page. "Ace ..." He looked hesitantly at his brother, moving to take the newspaper from him, but Ace's fingers had clenched around the damn thing.
His eyes felt unusually dry. "It's fine," he said in a calm voice, a complete contrast to his true emotional state. "The devil is dead. That's a cause for celebration." He almost felt like a stranger in his own body as a painful smile appeared on his face when Ace would much rather grimace.
"We should get out of here," he heard Sabo mutter to Luffy. His brother took him by the arm, drawing him and the newspaper out of the noisy street to an abandoned alleyway. Luffy, for once, followed closely behind them, a fierce and protective air around him.
Ace still couldn't tear his wide-eyed gaze from the headline. 'The devil is dead! Fifteen years since the Pirate King's execution', it proclaimed in bold letters, a picture of Gol D. Roger on the execution stand directly underneath.
Had they written similar stories about him five years after his death? Had the people gone on the streets as well, celebrating that him and his family were no threat any longer? He supposed Sabo and Luffy would know, but he couldn't bring himself to speak.
"Ace." A strong hand gripped his chin, finally breaking his eye contact with the paper. "Ace. This is government drivel, you don't want to read it. The person who wrote it never even met your father." Sabo's voice was strong and determined, and yet Ace felt like he could barely hear it. His ears were still filled with the laughter and the music from the streets, even though they'd long since left them behind.
Ace didn't even care what the article said about his father. He didn't. Besides, he already knew that Roger had been a monster, an evil that needed to be eradicated, and that he never should have been allowed to have a son.
Nobody could escape their nature. Ace had proven that statement true so many times. He wasn't any better than the father he hated, right? He spun lies all around himself, about his childhood, about his family, about his feelings, and didn't care at all about the consequences. If he'd told everybody who he was from the first day on, the Whitebeard pirates never would have taken him in. It would have saved their lives.
He was all about destruction, theft and death. He'd enjoyed seeing the fear on his enemies' faces when they'd realised just how strong he was. He'd gleefully run from the scene of the crime with his pockets full of treasure. He'd relished in the feeling of superiority when he looked at the blood on his hands and the beaten body of a particularly strong enemy on the ground.
"I'm a monster," the thought passed through his mind over and over again, "I'm just like him." Ace didn't know when he'd started giggling hysterically, when his cheeks had become so wet, when his sight had turned so blurry. At some point, his thoughts stopped being silent, his mouth bubbling mostly incoherently without any filter.
Why was he even still alive? Akainu was right. Someone like him didn't deserve to live. He'd been right to kill him, no matter how wrong it had felt in that moment. Why couldn't he have just stayed dead? Why did his brothers have to be so stupid and naive to want him back? He'd done the world a great favour by dying.
Suddenly, an intense pain brought him back into reality. He held his aching left cheek and looked up from the ground with his currently impaired vision. "Stop saying that!" Luffy was standing over him, his fist still black with Haki, a horrified and deeply sad look on his face. "Stop saying that," he repeated a bit more quietly, desperation lacing his voice.
"You have to live, Ace," his little brother continued, "I need you, we need you to live. I can't do this without you. Not again. I can't." Luffy's whole body was trembling, tears tumbling down his cheeks as he threw his arms around Ace. "You can't die. Ever. You promised, Ace. You have to live."
Ace felt like he was dying a thousand deaths looking at his little brother's shaking form. He didn't know what he was saying. How could he still want Ace after all that had happened? After all he'd put him through? But Luffy looked so fragile, as fragile as Ace felt, not at all like the happy and self-confident kid Ace knew.
"I can't ... I –" Ace's lips moved on their own, his thoughts a jumbled mess. "I have – I have to protect you. I'm a danger. Everyone dies around me. They all died because of me. Because of me. It's my fault. All my fault. I can't –"
His hands were deeply buried in his hair, fingernails breaking the tender skin on his skull. Someone grabbed his wrists, though, bringing his arms back down to his lap. Ace recognized Sabo holding his hands down in some corner of his mind, the blonde looking like his heart had just broken into a thousand pieces and like he was at a loss on how to put it back together.
"I should've known you weren't okay," he heard his brother mumble. "Of course you're not okay." The grip on his hands tightened, but Ace didn't mind the pain. It was still far more gentle than what he deserved.
The sudden absence of weight around his chest caused Ace to look at his little brother – who didn't look at all like the little brother he was used to. There was no trace of the cheerful crybaby, of the weak squirt that needed protecting. The look on his face was one Ace had never seen before. Had he finally seen sense? Would he leave Ace now? He squashed the urge to beg him to stay, knowing that it would only condemn Luffy to a painful death.
"Listen to me, Ace." There was a strange pressure in the air, making it difficult to breathe. Ace's eyes darted around frantically like those of a wild animal backed into a corner. "Listen. To me." Suddenly, he found himself unable to tear his gaze away from his little brother, straw hat shadowing his eyes. Was that his little brother?
"We were all there for you. We were all there to save you, Ace. You," Luffy said with a fierce expression, every word pounding into Ace with the force of Garp's fists. Why? Why did he have to say this? Ace already knew it was all his fault, that he'd killed all his friends and family.
"Because we all love you, Ace. Because we can't imagine life without you. Because you're my most precious person. You, Gol D. Ace. I don't want anyone else as my big brother. I want you, Gol D. Ace. With all your faults and quirks."
Ace didn't know what to think, let alone what to say. He just stared at Luffy with wide eyes, his tears having somehow stopped flowing. Was this what other people saw in him? How he'd become Pirate king? Somehow, it felt like this ten-year-old kid, who only ever thought of meat and his hat, would make everything right.
Luffy took the worn straw hat of his head, holding it with both hands and looking down at it thoughtfully. "This was your dad's first. Did you know that?" He plopped it down on Ace's tousled black hair. "So you're going to wear it now. Today, and tomorrow, and then whenever you feel lonely and desperate. Whenever you feel like the entire world is against you, you will come to me, and I'll give it to you. Do you hear me?"
Ace's fingers hooked onto the thin cord of the hat, nodding quickly and frantically. It weighed heavily on his head, but at the same time, he felt protected, almost invincible. Like nobody could touch him. Having seen the look on his brother's face, he knew that any who did would immediately come to regret it.
Luffy hauled him up from the ground with his broad grin, latching onto one of his arms and dragging him out of the alley towards the city gates. "Let's get home then! Come on!" A small, watery smile appeared on Ace's face as he held onto the hat with his free hand.
That night, Ace couldn't sleep.
He was lying on his back, straw hat on his chest, Luffy's arm draped both across him and his treasure. The moon drenched the treehouse into an eerie, but somehow calming light, shadows of leaves moved by a light breeze playing all across the room.
After hours of staring at the ceiling, unseeing, unthinking, Ace gently pried his little brother's arm of his chest and stood up, putting on the straw hat after a moment of hesitation. In a few quick moves, Ace pulled himself up to the roof of their base to sit down there, knees drawn to his chest, staring up at the stars.
"Gol D. Ace," he whispered, the wind taking away his words the moment they left his lips. "Are you watching me from up there? You and mom?" He hadn't thought that he'd still be able to cry after this long day, but warm and salty tears drew thin lines over his freckles before dropping down from his chin.
"I wish I could have known you," he acknowledged aloud, for the first time in either of his lives. "Then I wouldn't have to rely on others to tell me about you. I wouldn't have to hear stories filled with bias. I'd know the truth myself."
He gulped painfully, his throat uncomfortably dry. "What would you think of me, huh? Would you be proud?" He clenched his jaw, suddenly glaring up at the twinkling lights. "I forgot. I don't care. You're not my father. Whitebeard is."
His gaze snapped to the edge of the roof where Sabo's face had appeared. A couple of seconds later, his brother was sitting beside him, legs stretched out, pressing an open bottle of sake into his hands, never mind that both of them were too young to drink it.
"You know, when you share sake, you become brothers," Sabo said with a reminiscing smile on his face as Ace put the bottle to his lips. He took it back afterwards, taking a swig himself before putting it onto his chest as he laid down and stared at the stars like Ace had moments ago. "You should take his name."
"What?" At first, Ace thought his mind was playing tricks with him. Surely, it had just been his imagination. Sabo wasn't crazy enough to suggest something insane and risky and utterly redundant like that.
"You should take his name. Gol D. Ace," Sabo repeated, looking at Ace now. "It does have a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
Ace stared at him, lost for words for a moment. Then, he exploded. "Are you completely mental? I hate that name! I hate that man! Why would I ever call myself that? The entire Marine corps would descend on us in seconds if I called myself that!"
"You should take his name," the infuriating blonde stated again, completely unfazed by Ace's anger. Before he could interrupt him, Sabo continued, "You know you want to. You're tired of hating a man who can't defend himself. You know he doesn't deserve the blame you put on him. Deep down, you want him to be proud of you. You want to acknowledge him as your father."
Ace was shaking his head furiously, trying to blend out the words coming out of his brother's mouth. They were dangerous, seductive, dangling the dream he didn't know he had before his eyes as if it was within his grasp. "I can't do that. It's insane. Everyone would be after me." But his voice was weak, his feeble resistance breaking.
"We'll deal with that when we get to it. We're all strong enough by ourselves, but together, we're unbeatable." Sabo sat up again, drinking from the bottle before handing it back to the raven. "We're your brothers, Ace. We'll face the entire world with you."
Sabo was standing in the Gray Terminal, pipe clutched tightly in his left hand, while his right was posed to attack. Surrounding him were a group of Bluejam's thugs, and directly in front of him stood the man himself, grinning arrogantly as if he'd won a prize.
"Not so cocky now, are you, you shitty noble brat?" Sabo rolled his eyes at the uncreative insult, but showed no reaction otherwise. They might think that he was caught off guard, but the exact opposite was the case, really.
Sabo had separated from Luffy and Ace earlier that morning to look for a decent replacement for his pipe since the last one had unfortunately broken in a spar with Luffy. It would, once again, only be a temporary one until he could find a proper smith to forge a custom-made one out of steel or preferably seastone.
After just about an hour, he'd felt some of the guys sneaking around him, but he'd ignored them at first, avoiding them without making it obvious that he knew they were there. Only after he'd found a sturdy pipe, he'd headed into a more abandoned part of the Gray Terminal, where he'd promptly been 'ambushed'.
"You're father is offering a pretty nice sum for you these days, did you know that?" If Bluejam expected an answer to his question, he never would receive one, for Sabo's attention snapped elsewhere. There was another group of people approaching, none of the presences feeling even remotely familiar. That wasn't unusual per say, but it was enough to put Sabo on guard.
"Stop ignoring me, you little piece of shit!" Barely acknowledging Bluejam's shout, Sabo took a step to the side to avoid the coming blow, making the former pirate lose his balance and stumble to the ground.
A devilish little smirk appeared on Sabo's face. "Oh, my! Did you hurt yourself?" Bluejam growled in anger and stemmed himself up from the floor. Before he could launch another attack, however, he was interrupted by the arrivals Sabo had been expecting.
Stepping through the heaps of trash was a tall, lanky, but well built man in his mid-twenties, the light orange hair his most distinguishing feature. He wore a formfitting attire, several knives strapped to his broad black belt, and a billowing green captain's cloak. Several people were following behind him, who Sabo guessed to be his crewmates.
The pirate didn't bother to hide his disdainful sneer as he looked at Bluejam. "You're Bluejam?" His voice sounded rather sceptical. "Business can't be going to well, then, if you're stooping to bullying little kids."
"Who're you?", Bluejam growled at the man, momentarily abandoning his revenge on Sabo.
"The name's Francis," he answered confidently, "and I was told that you're the man to go to if I need quality supplies. You're sure you're Bluejam?" Sabo snickered at the torn look on Bluejam's face. The man obviously wanted to get revenge for the disrespect, but on the other hand, he didn't want to alienate a potential customer.
Brown eyes fell onto him now, seizing him up and dismissing him. "You should scram, kid," he said in a bored voice. "The grown-ups have some business to take care of."
Sabo lifted an interested eyebrow in response, but didn't move a muscle otherwise. It was rather considerate of the man to offer him a way out, not that Sabo was planning to take him up on it.
"Oh, no. The kid's not going anywhere! He's worth 30 million beri!", Bluejam shouted enraged, his previous caution thrown into the wind.
"30 million?!", both Sabo and Francis shouted simultaneously, staring at the thug with wide eyes, then at each other. Surprisingly, the man only seemed genuinely curious what a kid could have possibly done to earn such a price, any greed notably absent from his expression.
"That bastard ...", Sabo muttered, thinking about his biological father. This would make things more complicated. With such a high price, he'd become a nice target for bounty hunters as well, considering that 30 million beri was beyond the average worth of a pirate in the East Blue. He sighed and rubbed his forehead with his free hand.
It was time to get going. Originally, they'd been planning to leave on the day Luffy turned twelve, but they were strong enough to hold their own already. A year or two wouldn't matter much in the long run.
He threw the orange-haired captain a considering look. From his actions and words so far, he didn't seem like the worst guy to be around, and if Sabo's appraisal was wrong, they could always drop the crew and look for another one. They only needed a ticket off Dawn Island, for now.
"Who'd pay such a price for a brat?", Francis asked nobody in particular, staring at Sabo in disbelief.
Seeing as he already had the man's attention, Sabo took his shot before Bluejam could interfere. "It's a long story. I might consider telling you about it later. You said you were looking for quality supplies, right? What in particular are you looking for?"
The captain snorted in disbelief. "What? You offering your services, kid?"
Sabo brought his new pipe to his back in a swift move, a winning smile on his face. "Naturally. Bluejam can't even get within the city walls, so anything he'd sell you would be second-hand trash. Me and my brothers, on the other hand, know the entire kingdom sans the palace like the back of our hand."
"Tch. You think you'll have the chance to get away from here, brat?" Sabo threw a disinterested look at the fuming Bluejam as he ordered his men to grab him. The man really never learned. Before the first two thugs could even get within arm's reach of Sabo, however, they dropped to the ground, a throwing knife in each of their backs.
Francis still stood in the same place, arm stretched out from the attack, a stoic look on his face. His crewmates behind him had also sprung into action and made short work of the rest of the group while Bluejam soon decided to turn tail, though not without a furious promise of revenge.
Sabo strolled towards the pirate captain, a small satisfied smile on his face. Oh, yes. This man would do nicely as their transport, for now. Maybe they'd even offer him a permanent place on the crew. But that was ultimately up for Luffy to decide, seeing as he practically had a compass for people's intentions. "Thanks for the save. I could have handled them, though."
The entire crew laughed as if Sabo'd made a hilarious joke, but the blonde didn't let the polite smile fall off his face. They'd learn soon enough. "I'm sure," Francis stated in a dry voice. "What's your price, then, kid? We need food, ammo and preferably some oak wood planks for repairs. Plus some knives I'd like to choose myself if possible."
"Tell you what. I'll get you into town and show you the best places to buy your stuff. We'll help you smuggle it out afterwards, too, of course. And in return, you'll take us with you to an island of our choosing," Sabo suggested with a firm voice. It was fortunate that he'd been the second in command of the Revolutionary Army in his first life. Negotiations like these were child's play.
Francis frowned. "My crew's headed to the Grand Line, we don't have time to go gallivanting around the East Blue for some brats. We're not a kindergarten, you know," he countered in a displeased voice, but Sabo's smile only brightened in response.
"The island's en route to Reverse Mountain, no worries. We'd just travel with you for a few days and then we'd be out of your hair," he elaborated. "Do we have a deal?"
The captain nodded reluctantly. "If you show good on your part, then yes."
"Naturally. If you'd follow me, then." Sabo navigated them through the trash, the city wall growing taller and clearer with every step they took. While the pirates conversed amongst each other, Sabo searched out his brothers in the distance, sending a sense of urgency which effectively stopped their hunting. He knew they'd come find him immediately.
That done, Sabo slowed down a bit, both to give his brothers a chance to catch up and to be able to listen in to the pirates' conversations. This plan was, unfortunately, thwarted by the captain, whether on purpose or not.
"Why did Bluejam think he'd get 30 million for you?", Francis asked, undisguised interest mixed with shrewd intelligence sparkling in his eyes. Sabo gave him a considering look. Originally, he hadn't been planning to actually tell the long story he'd promised, but he'd liked the man's attitude so far. Surely it wouldn't hurt to put him through another test.
"My father. Bloody bastard raises his price every year, but I didn't think he'd actually go that far," Sabo explained, a look of distaste on his face. At Francis' confused look, Sabo elaborated, "He's a noble and he's aching to get his blood heir back or something." He rolled his eyes.
"You're a noble?!", Francis exclaimed loudly, his eyes growing wide. "You can't be serious! Why would you live with this trash if you could live in a castle?"
Sabo threw him an indulgent and slightly wistful smile. "I don't like to be caged."
He'd never forget the day he'd first set foot into the Gray Terminal, nor the week-long house arrest he got for sneaking off when his father wasn't looking afterwards. It was shortly after his fifth birthday, noble society finally deeming him old enough to leave the house.
For as long as Sabo could remember, he'd always wondered what was behind those high walls he could see from his windows. Questions only earned him shrill shrieks about dirty scum from his mother and condescending slurs from his father.
So when Sabo had finally stepped outside, the real outside, for the first time, he couldn't believe his eyes. From what his parents had been saying, one could have presumed that beings worth less than animals would live there, but Sabo could only see humans. Maybe a little dirtier and less 'cultivated' than the company his family preferred, but they were still humans like him.
That was the day his worldview shattered for the first of many times. Suddenly, the praise his parents heaved upon him, gushing about how smart and polite he was, and how he'd surely marry into royalty some day, only felt like an insult. How could he ever become a prince, a king of such a twisted society, a society which treated their citizens like the trash they threw outside the city walls? How could anyone even want to live in such a delusion?
As the group arrived at their destination, Sabo looked up the towering wall and turned to Francis again, the elder still looking at him contemplatively. "Those walls locked me in just as they keep everyone else out. So I ran away when I was five. I've never regretted it."
"You sure are a weird one, kid," the pirate captain said in response, but Sabo could tell from his thoughtful expression that his words had gotten to him. Good. He wouldn't want to travel with someone who solely defined people based on their blood relations – not that such a person would last long considering Ace's and Luffy's insane heritage. "Anyway, how do you plan on getting us in there?"
Sabo stared towards the forest, facing the direction he could feel his brothers rapidly approaching. Only a few minutes left. "We have to wait for my brothers, they'll be here any minute. More importantly, though, our ... erm ... our mode of transportation can only take two people, so I hope you don't mind doing your shopping without your crew."
Immediately, the group tensed, hands shooting to their weapons in suspicion. Sabo raised his innocently in defence, hasting to elaborate, "I'm not trying to screw you over, I swear! I'll have Ace stay here as insurance, promise."
"You're going to do what now?" A threatening growl sounded behind him, resulting in a grotesque mix between a smile and a grimace on Sabo's face. He threw a look over his shoulder to see a pissed and wary Ace standing behind him, holding Luffy back from jumping at Sabo.
"Ace, Luffy," he greeted his brothers, sending them the reassuring smile only the elder raven needed. "This is Francis. He's going to be our ticket off the island."
While Ace and Francis both eyed each other with a mix of curiosity and suspicion, Luffy's face immediately lit up. "We're leaving? Really?"
"Why is that, exactly? I thought we'd agreed to wait another year, at least," Ace cut in at Sabo's confirming nod. Despite the unhealthy amount of paranoia Ace still sported in this life as well, Sabo could tell that he was excited at the thought of leaving Dawn Island behind to finally go back to sea.
"Outlook's raised the price to 30 million now," Sabo answered, looking every bit as pissed as he felt. Seriously, the man just couldn't catch a hint. Over the years, he'd hired various groups of thugs, Bluejam included, to capture his blood heir and bring him back to the family. A ridiculous sentiment, as far as Sabo was concerned, especially since he knew that Outlook had long since found a replacement for him.
It went without saying that each of the groups Outlook had employed suffered rather painful accidents when they tried to capture the blonde. Still, the man didn't give up, going as far as putting up an unofficial bounty of 5 million in the criminal underworld two years ago.
"Seriously?!" Ace groaned as Sabo once more nodded to his mostly hypothetical question. "I thought he was just some pompous asshole, but now we can add insanely obsessive to the list," he mumbled under his breath, causing Sabo to stare at Ace for his impressive vocabulary. Maybe he should have gotten used to it by now, seeing as Ace had been rather well-spoken for all the years since they were back together, but somehow, it never ceased to surprise him.
"Anyway, I just happened to run into Francis while I was chatting with Bluejam about that ridiculous sum, so I asked him to give us a lift to Kanajime Island. Which he agreed to, if we help him get his supplies first, of course," Sabo explained to his brothers.
Ace grinned broadly in response. "The fruit?"
The smile on Sabo's face looked downright evil as he thought of all the headaches they'd soon cause the World Government and their lackeys. "Hai, the fruit."
A/N: So this was chapter 1, guys. Hope you liked it - let me know what you thought and if I should continue it! I do have some ideas on where I want to take it, but suggestions are always welcome.Title is still in the works, I'm waiting for inspiration to strike.