A/N...hello! Um. I can explain.
Okay okay I'm sorry I haven't updated my other stories in SO LONG especially when i promised to do them! I just haven't had the inspriartion or proper motivation, and I have too many ideas in my head to kee at bay! So...here's another One Piece AU I guess XD
Special thanks to CanIHaveAHug for helping me with this particular story! You're amazing hon! ALL OF YOU, go read their stories on AO3, they're flipping amazing!
Without further ado, the first chapter of what SHOULD be a short but enjoyable story!
I OWN NOTHING. PROPERTY OF EICHIRO ODA, THIS IS A FAN BASED WORK OF FICTION.
Turn your face towards the sun
Let the shadows fall behind you
Don't look back, just carry on
And the shadows will never find you…
Alarms are blaring, unrepentantly loud, ringing in his ears and rattling his brain, a throbbing ache behind silver eyes that won't go away. Voices, wailing, shouting and screaming, echo from above, behind and ahead, a cacophony of revolution too close for comfort. Ace ignores it all as best as he can, tightening his grip on the small hand clenching his fingers in a death-like clasp. Another pair of hands, slightly bigger, dig into the tatty fabric of his shirt, a slight tremble in them.
Keeping his head low, he leads them through the winding tunnels, plunging into the darkness. No need for torches or lamps. They've memorized every crack, every turn and bend. Fear and pulsing adrenaline make the trip that much quicker as they run, bare feet pounding against the cold, wet concrete.
Voices, this time angry and sharp, echo from behind them, louder than any other. Orange lights, dancing and bobbing in the darkness, swallow the darkness they left behind inch by inch. The guards are already on their way, rallying to contain the escapees. They're a ways off yet, but not for long. He'd be a fool to think they're even close to the edge of the woods because they're no longer behind bars or bound by chains.
He leads them to the right, a sharp turn that almost has them skidding into the wall. His back aches terribly, but he won't let the old pains hold him back, not now. They won't be impeded, not by the cold draft wafting through the tunnel nor by the ache in their bloodied feet. Fear is an incredible motivator. But it can also make one do stupid things, make hasty decisions. A part of Ace is suddenly terrified he's taken a wrong turn somewhere, leading them into a dead end, but he's quick to banish the idea.
If he ever lapsed for a moment, he has his brother at his back. Sabo would never lead them astray.
The small hand around his fingers squeezes twice, and Ace looks down at the shock of black hair and wide, baby browns peering up at him through untamed bangs. Luffy doesn't say a word, but he points ahead with his free hand, a question in his eyes. Ace offers him a smile that he hopes is comforting and nods.
Almost there. We're almost there.
Another shout, louder and closer than before. "They went that way!" His younger charges whimper, clinging closer, holding tighter, fear claiming them in a way it never used to. Ace grits his teeth and runs faster, veering left. The guards are getting closer, having stronger, healthier bodies than their captives.
The alarms are still so loud. The angry disharmony of voices at their backs promise retribution, bloodshed. He doesn't care. They're so close, so close. Once they make it outside, they'll have cover. They'll have air, space, earth.
They'll have freedom.
There! The gate, just up ahead, so close to the final hurdle. He can see the once lavish gardens through the bars, lit with flames and screaming and gunshots and sulfur. Seems the other slaves weren't satisfied with just escaping. They're going to burn this place to the ground, and they will; their numbers surpass the guards ten to one. Serves their 'masters' right, so desperate for slaves that they hadn't dreamed of such consequences.
The boys skid to a halt, narrowly avoiding slamming against the iron bars, breathing hard and fast. Ace looks to Sabo, and he dutifully brings out the set of keys he'd plucked from their guard's dead fingers. He plunges it into the lock with steady hands, twisting it. The gate gives with a groan of metal against stone, and as one they burst through the rusting metal barrier.
The feel of soft grass and mud on Ace's feet nearly brings tears to his eyes. It's been so long.
But they don't stop. The riot has bought them time, a distraction, but only for so long. Now they have to make it across the garden, past the courtyard, through the main gates and into the city without being noticed.
They're so close.
A stray guard, beaten and bloody from an encounter with one of the heavier set slaves, catches sight of them making a break for it, not joining in the escalating fight around them. Ace spots him too late, and in the blink of an eye the armored man is upon them, his spear raised to strike, a yell tearing from his throat. Ace can only skid in the mud, too slow to tug Luffy back –
The guard is fast, but Sabo is faster, and grabs the sea stone spear by the rod between his teeth, inches from Luffy's head, wrenching it from the guard's grip, slack with surprise. The man goes sprawling to the grass, and shrieks in agony when his own weapon is plunged into the back of his leg by the enraged blond, pinning him to the grass. It's an ugly sight, watching the blood pool from the open wounds. Ace feels no sympathy, and Sabo's glare is vehement as he snarls at the guard through his teeth. Luffy, clutched close to Ace's chest, is unreadable.
They don't stick around to watch him squirm, grimly satisfying though it might be; they keep going, ignoring the screams, explosions and gunshots ringing in the night-time air, choking on the smoke and sulfur. They leap over shrubs, stumble across the cobblestone path turned hot from the heat of the flames licking and devouring the castle behind them. They don't look back, not once. There's nothing there at all for them to mourn.
So close so close almost there keep running keep going –
The front gates are wide open, no doubt for the royals and their ilk to escape first – Ace doubts they have, or if they have, only very few of them due to the fire, the riot, the bloodthirsty slaves demanding their comeuppance – and it feels too easy, too good to be true after all these years. But it's as easy as breathing for them to run past the gates and into the streets of the town, where many citizens are flocking in worry, curiosity and fear to gaze upon the burning home of their king and queen. So enraptured they are by the sight that no one notices three boys, thin and ragged, barefooted and clothed in rags, fleeing from the scene, vanishing into the night.
Only when he's certain they're safe from imminent danger does Ace dare to stop at last, turning into a barren alleyway and pulling his brothers down behind a pile of empty barrels. They're wheezing for breath, boneless and dizzy, but the dirty concrete and the wall at their backs is blessedly cool against their flushed, feverish bodies.
Ace tilts his head back, bleary eyes gazing up at the open sky for the first time in years. He sees the stars through the smoke billowing from the castle, dancing in the midnight blue, the moon a blinding, beautiful white. A small, almost delirious chuckle escapes him, along with the barest of smiles, a real one.
We're out. We're actually out. We made it. We're free.
(He ignores the sea stone bracelet encircling his ankle, and the one around Luffy's. They'll come off soon enough.)
A sniffle brings him back to the present, and he looks down to find Sabo hunched over, hands hiding his face as his shoulders tremble and shake. Luffy's hand rubbing circles on his back does nothing to soothe him, and his eyes are distraught and confused as they turn on Ace, desperate for a solution. Ace feels his heart break, and shuffles closer to his twin, brushing a hand through Sabo's mess of dirty blond curls.
Sabo stiffens. Slowly, he uncurls from himself and lowers his hands. The scar over his discolored left eye seems to glow in the light of the moon, along with the tracks of tears streaming down his cheeks. Ace swallows thickly, for he knows these tears are not born from fear or sadness, not anymore, and never again for as long as he lives and breathes. He reaches out, cupping Sabo's cheek, wiping away the tears over his scar with a swipe of his thumb. He smiles, wobbly but sure as the sun rises and the chance they have to see it.
"It'll be alright now," he says, looking between Sabo and Luffy watching him with wide eyes. "We'll – we'll be alright now."
Sabo's breath hitches once, reaching up to grasp the hand on his cheek. He sniffs, and then his own smile claims his lips as he nods. "…r-right," he says, sitting up straight, lacing his fingers with Ace's free hand. "Right."
Ace's smile pushes the edges of a grin hard enough to make his face hurt. There's another wet sniffle, and they both turn to Luffy. Normally the sight of tears on their youngests' face would be a cause for alarm, or in other cases, retribution. But the boy is smiling fit to burst even as the salty drops cascade down his hallowed cheeks, the softest giggle escaping his cracked lips. He scrubs his dirty face with the backs of his hands, meeting their gazes.
'Are we really free, Ace?' he signs, signing for the letter 'A' and poking his damp cheeks for Ace's freckles.
Ace snickers softly. He's always liked the way Luffy describes them. He releases Sabo's cheek to card his hand through Luffy's hair. "Almost, Lu," he says, lowering his hand to brush his thumb across the six-year-old scar underneath his left eye, the boy leaning into his touch automatically. "Almost."
Escaping the castle isn't enough. They have to get off the island. Whether or not the king and queen and their unsightly progeny have survived the flames, or the riot, remains to be seen, but if they're spotted by the guards or any marines near the scene of the crime, they might be suspected and taken into custody. Or worse…
They need to find a boat, or a ship they can sneak aboard until the next island. Until they can find their way back home, or make a new one of their own somewhere else. But first, they need to find the harbor. Sitting in a dank alley won't help, so Ace stands, taking Luffy's hand and Sabo's, hauling them to their feet. They'll need to lay low as possible, with no cloaks or any sort of disguise or cover…but if they can escape a castle with barely a scratch, surely they can reach the harbor.
With little time to waste, the brothers vacate the alley and enter the city once more.
It takes them until the first rays of sunlight to reach the docks, hindered only by their lack of cover as the commotion from the castle brings yet more and more onlookers from their beds and into the streets. They stick to the alleys for the most part, less ventured by the public, disgusting though it is to trudge through waste and trash barefooted. No one complains. They've trudged through worse in shoes in their short lifetime.
Luffy, exhausted from the night's events, exhausted in general, too weak to continue under his own dwindling power, lies fast asleep against Sabo's back, the blond carrying him piggyback style as they near the harbor. Ace would have offered to carry Luffy – the boy weighs virtually nothing, a blessing and a curse – but due to the...circumstances concerning his back, Sabo had insisted. Ace had relented, unwilling to argue with his twin over the issue when they have bigger issues to tackle.
He did manage to swipe a torn but large blanket from another alley, draping it over Sabo and Luffy when the younger had started to shiver. The air, blessedly clean though it is, is crisp and biting this time of year. The last thing Ace wants is either of his brothers getting sicker than they already are.
Taking temporary cover behind a fisherman's shack by the shore, Ace peers around the corner, casting his eyes across the port, too early yet for people to be wandering about, not even the coast guard. There are quite a few ships to choose from, surprisingly. Well, not really. The king had hosted a grand party for his daughter's eighteenth birthday last night, inviting all from the nearest kingdoms to attend. Ace had never seen so many outlandish dresses or pompous assholes in his life, not even in High Town back on Dawn Island.
It makes him sick, being surrounded by those who value money, status, material things over human lives. He's more than glad to see it all go up in smoke, or some of it.
He shakes his head, banishing the thoughts. He needs to focus. Pick a ship, sneak aboard, hide until the next island. But which ship to take? Certainly none that bear the emblem of any royal family, which he can see quite a few of. Get discovered on one of their ships, it's either immediate slavery or you're thrown overboard.
And then a fluttering, black flag catches his eye.
It's by far the smallest vessel, not even a ship, really. More like a large boat to transfer cargo and such. But the flag she bears, waving high and proud in the chilling winds, is none other than a pirate's jolly roger. It's an odd looking one; standard skull and crossbones, but with a curved mustache above a proud grin. Something about it niggles with familiarity in the back of Ace's mind, but he dismisses it for now.
He quickly scans the boat. No one seems to be aboard above deck. But just in case…
He closes his eyes, concentrating, willing the strange, inexplicable other sense to see deeper into the ship. It's shaky at best, but he only picks up a mouse or two, maybe a rat. No humans aboard, not yet.
He opens his eyes, weighing their best options. Beggars can't be choosers, but if it were a choice between slavery under another noble or being caught and possibly killed by pirates…death is a less painful thing in the end. And at least the pirates have spare boats to steal.
He turns to Sabo crouching behind him and watching expectantly, Luffy fast asleep on his back. "There's a boat," he whispers. "No one's boarded yet, but we can probably hide in the barrels below deck. I think they're just full of grains or something."
Sabo lifts a brow. "Why do I sense a 'but' in there," he drawls. Ace scowls, but doesn't disprove it.
"…it's likely a transport vessel, meaning there's bigger ship waiting for them further off. And…they've got a jolly roger," he admits.
"Oh good," Sabo drones. "Pirates. A much faster way to get us killed, well spotted, brother."
Ace sighs heavily, rolling his eyes heavenward and praying for patience. "Look, I don't like it either, but it's them, or the royals' ships. Guess which one I'm more willing to take a chance with. Besides, worse case scenario, we throw the crew overboard and steal the boat before they reach the ship." Sounds easier said than done, but despite their appearance, they're not exactly weak. "Trust me, 'Bo. This might be our only chance to get off this godforsaken island."
He waits, watching Sabo bite his lip, battling with himself, casting a brief glance at Luffy's sleeping face perched on his shoulder. Eventually, he gives in with a sigh. "Fine. But if they lock us up, you can't say I didn't tell you so."
Ace smirks wryly, offering a hand to help Sabo to his feet. "Shut up. Let's move."
"What's with all the commotion?" Thatch asks, hefting the sack of flour over his shoulder with a grunt and letting it slap onto the wooden deck. He fights a sneeze when a small cloud of white powder puffs from a hole in the bag, and he dusts his hands off. "Awful lot of people running around this early in the morning. I heard somethin' about a fire, but…"
"There's been a riot at the royal palace," Jozu answers, carrying two barrels' worth of rum under both, muscular arms with an ease Thatch is not so subtly envious of. He sets them down and folds those colossal arms over his chest, facing Thatch. "Word on the streets are that a bunch of slaves managed to break free, start a fire and attack the guards and other nobles attending the princesses' eighteenth birthday party last night. No reports of casualties yet. Call me cruel, but I'm not too inclined to care."
Sitting on the starboard rail, Haruta snorts derisively, swinging his legs back and forth. "I'm with ya there. 'S their fault for following the Celestial Dragons' example and thinking hoarding dozens of slaves was ever a good idea." He looks back at the city and scowls at the smoke now lazily drifting in the early morning sky, the fire successfully put out. "Bastards, those nobles. All of 'em."
"Alright, alright, enough of that talk, you lot," Fossa scolds, lightly, mussing up Haruta's mane of red hair as he passes, earning a cat-like hiss from the younger commander that he dismisses with a chuckle. "Let's get these supplies back to the ship before the marines come callin'. If there's anything those guys like more than catchin' pirates, it's blamin' 'em for every bad thing that happens whether they're involved or not."
Thatch huffs a laugh, already making to pull up the anchor with Jozu's aid. "True that. And honestly? It's too early in the morning to mess around with marines. That's more of an afternoon thing in my opinion. Like, after lunch, but not right after lunch, so that you're not fighting on a full stomach, you know what I mean?"
"What kind of pirate has a timetable for when he wants and doesn't want to fight marines?" Haruta snickers, hopping off the railing as the boat starts to drift from port. Fossa's already raised the sails and is now manning the helm, setting their course for the Moby Dick, home sweet home. He stretches his arms over his head with a yawn. "I'mma go ahead and dump some of this stuff down below for now. How long 'till we reach the Moby do you think, Thatch?"
Thatch looks up at the sky, pinks and purples giving way to clear blue as the sun rises higher. "Hmm. I'd guesstimate about six hours? Maybe less judging by wind currents?"
"Let's say five," Fossa says at the helm, eyes fixed ahead. "They're not that far out. Still, might wanna grab somethin' to eat. You got anything below, Thatch?"
Thatch gives his brother a wounded look. "Oh ye of little faith, for you to even ask such a question. Of course, I, the head chef of the Moby Dick, have food for my beloved, grateful siblings," he chastises, to which they all roll their eyes at and shake their heads. Hmph. Hooligans, no respect for his theatrical performance. God, he sounds like Izo.
"Might as well come with me, then. Take this while you're at it, drama chef." Haruta drops the incredibly heavy sack of flour into Thatch's tired, unsuspecting arms, turning on his heel with another snicker when Thatch stumbles with a wheeze. Fossa and Jozu chuckle heartily at Thatch's misfortune, and Thatch sticks his tongue out before following Haruta down the steps to the lower deck. The little bastard is only carrying two sacks of herbs and fresh fish, their lighter cargo.
The storage deck is dark, no portholes or lamps to shed light, and the temperature varies depending on the that of the waters they sail. Currently, it's chilly enough that Thatch has to stifle a shiver when they reach the bottom of the stairs. "Jeez, 's cold down here," he mutters, waddling over to the bench where he usually stacks their non-perishables, slapping it down with a huff. A small cloud of flour wafts from the sack, again, and Thatch stands back, hands on his hips, satisfied. "There. This, plus everything Marco and the others brought over yesterday, should hold us over 'til the next island. Right?"
"Should do," Haruta muses, tossing the herbs by the barrels of nuts and crates of fruit. He smirks, facing Thatch. "Considering the size of our crew and their levels of maturity, though, how long d'you think the sake will hold –?"
They freeze. Stare at each other.
Thatch blinks. "…did you sneeze just now?" he asks.
Haruta blinks back. "Um. No?"
Slowly, the two commanders turn to the stacks and crates of food and supplies against the wall. "Then…" Thatch mutters, eyes narrowing as he takes a step closer, Observation Haki beginning to flare. His hands twitch, aching for his swords at his hips. "Who the hell…?"
He catches the slightest twinge of fear in the compact space before three, black, incredibly large rats leap out from the bags of flour Thatch had just slapped down, scampering across the floor. Despite themselves, the two pirates let out ungodly screeches.
"EEE! Freakin' little –" Haruta curses as the rodents disappear up the stairs, squeaking all the while. No doubt they'll jump overboard before Jozu or Fossa can deal with them. "How the heck did we not notice we had rats?"
Shock dwindling until slight annoyance takes its place, Thatch sighs and shakes his head with a grimace. "Well, Marco's said we've been a little complacent these last few days, so I guess this proves his point. Being in Paradise does that to ya, I guess," he says. "Though I gotta admit, sneezing rats? Kind of adorable."
"Heh," Haruta waves him off. "You and animals, I swear. C'mon, let's grab an apple or something and head back up. I can't wait to get home and sleep for a thousand years."
"What are you even talking about?" Thatch teases as he grabs four apples from the nearest crate, tossing one to his ship brother and crunching on another as they trek up the stairs. "You've not done a damn thing since we got into port yesterday." Their banter continues until they reach the poop deck, where Thatch tosses Jozu and Fossa their apples and then sits back to enjoy the ride back home, the breeze cool and calm, welcome despite the chill of early December.
He can't help but frown to himself a little, though. Sneezing rats, though adorable, had never sounded quite so…human?
He hums to himself, stroking his goatee as he casts his gaze to the clear skies, watching a trail of seagulls fly overhead. If even a few measly rats could escape the notice of, not one, but four Whitebeard pirates, then what else might they have missed while they'd been ashore?
"Luffy, you have to be quieter or they'll spot us, okay?" Sabo whispers behind a crate of nuts.
The small, brown-eyed boy shrugs his shoulders shyly and rapidly signs 'Sorry. The flour tickled my nose. I couldn't help it'.
Ace shakes his head and sighs. "Your fault for hiding under the flour, dummy."
Luffy gives him a single sign in response; a middle finger.
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