Thanks to yo wuz up for betaing. There'll be a mini essay about why it's taken awhile to get this done (and a few other things) at the end.
Shizunkana Hibi wo Kaidan wo
The Day Before
Luffy had been making plans for the big hospital visit all week. He had managed to get everyone to agree to spend the night before at the flat and was planning a camp out in the living room. Even Sanji had managed to get the time off to be there, though he had made it clear to everyone he was going to suffer for the favours he now owed.
He felt like he had been waiting months for this but it was finally Friday. All he had to do was get through school and then everyone would be coming round; they could play games, watch dvds, eat Sanji's delicious food. It was going to be great.
"I finally figured out the best way for the furniture to go so we can all camp out in the living room," Luffy announced. "So don't forget sleeping bags."
"Wait you expect me and Vivi to sleep next to you guys in sleeping bags?" Nami questioned.
"Of course, you're going to sleep between Usopp and Vivi."
"There's no way, I'm sleeping next to Usopp."
"But you don't mind sleeping next to Vivi?"
"Why would I mind sleeping next to Vivi, we're both girls. You guys are uncouth boys."
"You could sleep next to me or Zoro or Sanji instead," Luffy suggested.
"What part of uncouth didn't you understand?"
Luffy had to think for a moment. His carefully thought out camping plan was ruined if he couldn't think of where Nami and Vivi would sleep. It struck him that there was one place, it wouldn't be as fun since they wouldn't all be sleeping together anymore but it would be better than not having them stay over.
"You and Vivi can have my room. There's plenty of room for two in the bed isn't there Zoro?"
Luffy turned to see the green haired teen asleep on his desk; he hadn't heard a word Luffy had just said.
"Well, there is plenty of room. So you'll be comfy and have room to play games and you won't be lonely if you share with Vivi."
"That's better, as long as some clean sheets go on the bed," Nami agreed.
"I'm guessing you don't have much food in as usual," Sanji said.
"Hmm, I don't think so. We had some meat for breakfast but I think that was the last of it," Luffy replied.
"If you and Ace ate it, it was probably the last of it. I'm going to need to do some shopping if I'm going to make three meals."
"I've been pretty patient with all of you at the back. I don't see what is more important than this lesson, that you haven't been able to stop discussing it," Nico-sensei cut in.
"We're having a sleep over tonight and going to visit Usopp's friend Kaya in the hospital tomorrow. So we were just making plans for that."
"Well if you don't stop you'll find yourself in detention. I'm sure that'll spoil what plans you've already made."
Luffy closed his mouth so tight his lips almost disappeared. She smiled down at Luffy. It seemed the message had been received and understood, Luffy was going to keep his mouth shut.
Ace knew how excited Luffy was about their weekend plans. He had spent the past week watching his brother re-arrange the furniture to find the combination that gave the most space. Despite the fact that it had pretty much been a useless endeavour as the different combinations tended to give the same amount of free space Luffy had happily tried every one he could think of.
Even though he had enjoyed seeing his brother so excited he couldn't share the feeling. He was looking forward to meeting Kaya; from what everyone had said about her she seemed like a kind, not to mention very brave girl and she clearly meant the world to Usopp. He really did want to meet her. He just wished it could be somewhere other than a hospital.
He noticed Tashigi staring at him as if she was trying to figure out if something was wrong with him. Ace knew he had probably been spacing out over hospitals again. He had been doing it a lot at home too; Luffy had been noticing it over the past week.
"Is something wrong Ace?" she whispered, trying to avoid Smoker-sensei's eye.
"Nothing much, it's just we're going to visit someone in the hospital tomorrow and I'm worried that Luffy might run riot through it even though there's gonna be a few of us there to restrain him."
"I can see why you're worried but I'm sure between you, Zoro and Sanji you'll keep him in check."
Ace had no choice but to agree with her. He couldn't admit to her that for most of the time it would be only Zoro and Sanji on restraining duties due to his fear of hospitals. Even though Luffy had promised to behave that was still a potential disaster for a hospital.
He had to stop worrying about it. Zoro was an incredible influence on Luffy. If he had managed to get Luffy into his tie with minimal fuss Ace was sure he could get him to tone his behaviour down whilst they were in the hospital. He just had to hope that Luffy would listen.
"Stop looking so worried," Tashigi insisted. "I'll admit Luffy is a handful but he's a good kid, I'm sure he'll behave in a hospital."
Smoker cleared his throat, drawing their attention.
"I don't know what you two think it so important it can't wait till the end of class but we are still in class."
"Sorry," they mumbled in unison.
"I expected as much from you Ace but Tashigi I'm disappointed in you."
She didn't respond all she did was blush, and turn her attention to the text book in front of her.
Luffy was like a barely contained bundle of energy at lunch. After being forced to keep quiet throughout classes Zoro thought it was like watching a cat ready to pounce. He was poised ready to spring into a hyperactive state as soon as they were all at the flat. Some of the excitement was escaping now in the enthused way he talked about what they were going to do but its full force wouldn't be seen till later.
Zoro really wasn't looking forward to keeping Luffy in check at the hospital but he knew it was going to fall to him to get Luffy to behave. He hoped he might be able to get some help from Ace and Sanji at some point throughout the visit but he wasn't holding out on that hope.
Considering how Ace had reacted to the idea of visiting the hospital he wouldn't be surprised if he didn't get any help at all. He knew Sanji was going to devote his attention to Ace. It hadn't failed to escape his attention that Sanji had some sort of preoccupation with the older brother. He didn't understand it but he was glad. It meant he could count on Sanji to take care of Ace.
"I can't wait for tomorrow," Luffy enthused for what might have been the twentieth time that day, Zoro had lost count.
"Just make sure you behave Luffy...please," Usopp virtually begged. "If you don't behave Dr. Kureha will probably hospitalise you."
"Really? Does she like treating patients so much that she puts people in hospital?" Luffy asked. "It might be fun to see a doctor put people in hospital so she has more work to do."
"It won't be fun! Luffy Dr. Kureha is practically a witch."
"Cool! So Kureha is a witch doctor, does she do voodoo too?"
"No she's not, she's practices regular medicine and she's very good at her job. It's just that her personality is a little..." Usopp paused as he tried to find the right word. "Hostile, at times."
Zoro wished Usopp would just shut up about Dr. Kureha. At the rate he was going he would end up encouraging Luffy to misbehave just to see this witch doctor Kureha.
As Usopp talked Zoro could hear his job getting harder. But at least he didn't have Sanji's responsibility. Looking at Ace he thought he was probably going to have an easier time of it than Sanji. Dealing with Luffy had to be easier than trying to help Ace with his emotional turmoil. If time and the support of his family hadn't done much to help Ace with his problem with hospitals, he highly doubted Sanji would be able to do anything.
Looking at Sanji he could see the blond was watching Ace. It was clear he was taking this very seriously. Zoro hoped he was ready to face disappointment because he didn't think there was anything he could do for Ace.
Sanji had watched Ace closely during lunch, it was clear he was trying to hide his problems but it was plain to see that something was worrying him and it didn't take a genius to figure out what it was. Any time Ace was barely fending off Luffy's food theft attempts had to mean something was really wrong.
Tomorrow's hospital trip was obviously playing on Ace's mind.
It had been playing on his mind ever since Zoro had asked him for that favour. Just looking at Ace in the days leading up to the visit had made it clear things weren't going to go off without a hitch. He was going to have to do something to try and help Ace with his problems.
The only problem he had was that he didn't know what.
There was nothing he could say or do, which would take any of the pain away. It wasn't like he expected to suddenly make everything better but to not even be able to help in the slightest was going to be frustrating.
Sanji was sure Ace being closed off must have something to do with the death of his parents. It wasn't like there could have been something worse in the older teen's life than that. If only there was something he could do to help then maybe Ace would open up to everyone. It was too bad he realised that it was pretty much impossible for him to do anything to help.
"You ok?" Ace asked.
"Yeah I'm fine," Sanji replied.
"Are you sure? You've been staring at that pepper for nearly five minutes."
Sanji looked down to see that he did have a yellow pepper in his hands. He didn't know if he'd been holding it for nearly five minutes but it was fairly safe to assume he had been.
Whilst everyone else had gone to their respective homes to ditch their school stuff and get everything they needed he had gone food shopping with Ace. The plan being that the two of them could get everything without Luffy interfering. With the younger brother gone with Zoro, no doubt to harass the swordsman's family, it was the best chance they'd have to get the food without having Luffy try to put the entire content of the meat aisle into a trolley. Then Ace could take everything home whilst he went to get his stuff.
"Is everything really alright? It's not like you to space out while food shopping."
"Yeah, everything's fine. I'm just thinking that I might have screwed myself over to get the time off this weekend. I owe Carne big time now and that guy hates me."
"And looking at peppers makes you think about shift patterns?"
"I was meant to be stuffing peppers as one of the dishes I was responsible for tomorrow."
"So everything's ok?"
Sanji couldn't believe it. Wasn't he supposed to be helping Ace? Yet here was Ace trying to help him. The one person who would probably be able to help him with his problem was practically asking how he could help but Sanji couldn't tell him what was really bothering him. He couldn't get the solution from the source of the problem.
Besides the source of the problem, probably wouldn't want to talk about it now. Tomorrow would no doubt be a different matter.
Luffy was excited about going to Zoro's house and meeting the swordsman's family. Zoro knew his family really well, except for uncle Shanks and uncle Benn and that was only because they hadn't been back to Japan yet. When they got back he couldn't wait for them to meet Zoro and all his friends. It only seemed fair that he got to meet Zoro's family since Zoro knew Ace.
Besides Zoro was cool so they were bound to be.
They were still walking to his house. Zoro had told him it would only take twenty minutes but they were still not there after forty minutes and having to double back a few times.
"When are we gonna get there?" Luffy asked.
"We're nearly there."
"You said the same thing ten minutes ago," Luffy pouted.
"What's the rush anyway? We'll get there soon and then I'll grab my stuff and we can go."
"But I wanna stick around and meet your family."
"Cos I want to. They're your family so they must be cool. Are they?"
"They're just my family, you know like anyone else's. We get along sometimes, we fight sometimes, just normal. They're not really cool."
"What do they do?"
"My dad is the master of the dojo and my sister trains there too."
"Really? The one we picked you up from?"
"Yes, let me guess you don't remember?"
"I didn't see anyone with green hair there except you."
"My dad has black hair and Kuina's is blue."
"How come yours is green then?"
"I get it from my mum but things just work out weird like that sometimes."
"What's she like?"
"She was nice, died a couple of years ago though."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Zoro shrugged. "It's ok now. We've all got used to it."
"I suppose that's good but it'd be better if she wasn't dead."
"Yeah," Zoro agreed. "We're here now."
Zoro lived in a small, wooden traditional house, one of the few that had survived the fire bombings from the Second World War. It was nestled between two blocks of apartments that towered over it, with the dojo just a little down the street.
"I'm home," Zoro called as he let them into the house.
"You get lost again?" Koshiro asked as he walked into the hall.
"I don't get lost!"
"We got lost," Luffy admitted.
"This is Luffy."
"Ah I remember you from the dojo that time."
"Really? I still don't remember you."
"It was hard to miss you. Would you like some tea?"
Luffy nodded as Zoro went to get his things. He followed Koshiro into the kitchen where Kuina was sat at the table drinking tea with a packet of rice crackers in front of her.
"What's Zoro's crazy friend doing here?" Kuina asked.
"I came with Zoro to get his things so I could meet you and your dad," Luffy explained as he grabbed some rice crackers.
"Why would you want to meet us?"
"You're Zoro's family. He knows my family, I thought it'd be fun to meet you."
"Fun? You're strange."
"People tell me that a lot."
"I'm not surprised."
"You do kendo too right?"
"Are you as good as Zoro?"
"I'm still a kid and I'm a girl. How can I be as good as Zoro?"
"But I figured since Zoro's really good and your dad runs the dojo, so he must be good, then you've got to be awesome too, y'know cos you're related."
"Kuina is a very skilled swordswoman," Koshiro interjected as he put a cup of tea down in front of Luffy.
"So it is cos you're related."
"It's because she trains hard."
"Do you want to be a school champion like Zoro is?" Luffy asked Kuina.
"I want to beat Zoro one day," Kuina replied.
"Really? That's gonna be tough but if you train hard enough I bet you could. C'mon I'll help you train," he declared as he jumped out of his seat and tried to drag Kuina with him.
"What are you doing?" Zoro questioned.
"I'm gonna help Kuina train so she can beat you."
"You don't know the first thing about kendo. How are you gonna help her beat me?"
"Dunno, if we just train hard enough then she should be able to beat you."
"She trains hard enough as it is. If you help her you'll only make it harder for her."
"Ok, I won't help but when you guys have a match I want to watch. I beat it'll be an awesome fight."
"I promise, can we go before you cause any damage to my house."
Zoro dragged Luffy outside as the black haired teen frantically waved goodbye. From the corner of his eye Zoro could see his dad wave with his usual smile in place whilst Kuina looked perplexed at the spectacle that had just unfolded before her.
He had a feeling it might have been a bad idea for Luffy to meet his family. All things considered it could have been worse; at least his house was still intact.
They were all gathered back at the flat. It had taken a while for Zoro and Luffy to get back, no doubt because Zoro had got both of them lost. Even Sanji had managed to get to the apartment before they had and he had been shopping with Ace before going back to his own place. Sometimes Nami really wondered how Zoro managed.
As soon as they got back, Luffy had given Vivi the grand tour. It didn't matter that Vivi already knew where everything was, Luffy still insisted on showing her around. Now Luffy and Usopp were dancing around the living room to some song Luffy had just made up to celebrate everyone sleeping over for the first time. The song was stupid, loud and a bit annoying but it at least kept Luffy quiet about food whilst Sanji was cooking.
Nami had been looking forward to tonight for the past week. She had come up with a plan for trying to figure out what Marshall had meant by 'interesting scars'. Tonight was going to be her best opportunity; all she had to do was accidently catch Ace in his room. It was not guaranteed he would be getting changed and that she would see anything but a chance was the best she could hope for considering she had no other leads.
"Dinner will be ready soon," Sanji announced.
It brought a quick halt to Luffy and Usopp's singing and dancing. Dragging Usopp with him Luffy charged over to the kitchen.
"How soon is soon?" Luffy asked.
"As soon as I'm finished," Sanji replied, exasperation clear in his voice.
Ace walked over to his little brother and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You know if you leave Sanji alone it'll be ready faster. So just sit quietly and wait," he instructed.
Luffy looked thoughtful for a moment then bounded back to the living room, still dragging Usopp behind him.
"Put Usopp down before you break him," Ace commanded. Luffy dropped his friend to the ground like a sack of potatoes. "I should have told him to be gentle."
"Thanks for getting him off my back."
"Not a problem, I know he's a handful. I'll be back in a minute to give you a hand with dishing up if you like, just gonna ditch my school crap in my room," Ace offered.
"I'd appreciate it or some help restraining Luffy."
Ace broke into a grin as he turned to head to his room. This was the chance Nami had been waiting for. She excused herself under the pretence of needing the toilet and followed after Ace. She was outside Ace's door, her hand closed around the handle.
"What are doing Nami-san?" Sanji asked.
"I was just about to go to the toilet," she replied.
"In that case you should try the next door along; I don't think Ace would appreciate you using his room as the bathroom."
Nami looked around herself in an attempt to feign innocence. "How silly of me," she replied as she fixed her gaze on the bathroom door. "I could have sworn this was the bathroom."
"Everyone makes mistakes Nami-san, I'd hurry if I was you though I'm not sure Luffy's patience will last much longer."
"Thank you Sanji-kun."
As Sanji turned back to the kitchen she headed to the bathroom. She didn't really need to go but now she'd been caught she would have to follow through on her lie. She wasn't sure if Sanji suspected something so she had to keep her cover up. He might act like a complete idiot around her or any other pretty girl sometimes but Sanji wasn't stupid.
Nami closed the bathroom door behind her and let out a sigh. She was tired of all her attempts at uncovering the truth coming to nothing.
The evening had been amusing as was usual whenever Sanji stayed over Luffy and Ace's apartment. The youngest brother was full of excitement about tomorrow's visit to the hospital and couldn't stop singing and dancing about it, getting Usopp to join him. Even he had joined them at one point; he really was looking forward to seeing Kaya again. Though he was concerned about how things would turn out with Ace.
Now everyone had gone to bed. Nami, Vivi and Ace had retired to their respective rooms for the night; Luffy had wanted Ace to camp out with them but Ace had declined the suggestion saying it would be too crowded. So it was just the four of them in the living room. And Luffy still hadn't calmed down.
His new game was sleeping bag leap frog. Not that is was much of a game; just Luffy jumping over everyone's sleeping bags over and over again. It was frustrating since Sanji actually wanted to get some sleep. He had to be up early the next morning to make breakfast for seven people and bentos for eight. It was going to be a busy morning for him and he wanted to get some rest but Luffy wouldn't stop jumping around.
It was a pain in his ass but it was giving him some time to think about what he had seen earlier. Nami wasn't stupid, there was no way she would ever confuse Ace's room with the bathroom. She intended to go into Ace's room. The question was why?
Did she like Ace?
Was he going to lose her to Ace?
Or was he going to lose Ace to her?
He had been trying to get Ace to open up to him but was Nami going to step in and unlock that door like she'd had the key all along?
Did that make him jealous?
And was he jealous because in that scenario he was going to lose Nami or because he was going to lose Ace?
There were too many questions. And each new question just brought up more questions but it all seemed to boil down to him losing Nami or Ace, he just couldn't work out which bothered him more.
It was making his head hurt and all he wanted to do was sleep. But Luffy wouldn't stop playing sleeping bag bloody leap frog. Usopp had joined him now, making it worse. No matter what he did he couldn't get the two of them to stop. He'd tripped Luffy a couple of times and told him to knock it off but Luffy had just responded by saying Sanji was no fun and got back to his game.
The stupid marimo was no use either. He had passed out as soon as he slid into his sleeping bag and he could sleep through anything. There was no chance of getting any help from him. Not that he wanted or needed his help.
If he wanted to get any sleep any time soon he was going to have to move somewhere else. Whilst the thought of bunking down on the floor next to the bed Nami and Vivi were sharing was appealing to him it was inappropriate.
That left Ace's room.
His mind made up to move Sanji got up after Luffy and Usopp jumped over.
"Where are you going Sanji?" Luffy asked. "Why don't you play with us?"
"I'm going to get some sleep," Sanji replied with a sigh. "Unlike you two I've got lots to do tomorrow morning and I need some rest."
"That's no fun."
"If you want breakfast tomorrow I can't stay up playing all night."
"If it's for the sake of food I guess you should get to bed."
Sanji turned and left letting Luffy and Usopp get back to their game. He headed to Ace's room and knocked on the door. He expected to wait a few minutes before he got a response since he thought Ace would be asleep but almost immediately the door was opened.
"What's up?" Ace asked.
"Sorry if I woke you,"
"I hadn't got to sleep yet."
"I wondered if I could sleep in here."
"Let me guess, Luffy's not sleeping."
"No, and he's not letting anyone except Zoro get any."
"I don't mind," Ace replied as he moved aside so Sanji could get in the room.
They both lay down in bed, Ace turning onto his side so his back was to Sanji.
"G'night," Sanji said as he turned onto his side too.
"Night," Ace replied.
Anyway as to why this took longer than it should have and to explain why it's perhaps not that great is gonna take a bit of time but I'll try condense it as much as possible. So whilst I was writing my dissertation we found out my grandma was terminal with lung cancer. It made the whole dissertation ten times worse but I got through it. My sister decided to move her wedding forward 2 years in the hopes that my grandma would be able to make it but unfortunately she died the day I handed the dissertation in, about 2 months before the new wedding date. We kept that date cos we had it all booked a a fair few things were already paid for. It turned out to be a great day but we were all really rushed in making preparations for it. Then there was my graduation and house/job hunting from a different city from the one I wanted to be in. That's all sorted now and I've moved in to my new house with some friends. Oh and I got screwed over by a guy...again so I was a little bit upset over that too.
Since things started to calm down I started trying to write fics again. I hope this is ok. But please don't expect me to update really fast now that most things have been dealt with. I started a job at the beginning of this week and I could be working anything between 30-50 hours a week so I might be exhausted. Please bear with me whilst I try and adjust to being a working girl. Though having said that I've got some ideas for the next chapter that I'm really excited about so I'll be working on it after I write a chapter for another fic first. So I really hope I don't keep you waiting too long but I'm not making promises.
So about this fic. I know a long time ago I mentioned writing an alternate ending for this fic and a few of you expressed interest in it. I was going to do it but cos I'm fickle I've had a change of heart. Instead I'm going to try writing a sequel and prequel for this. That's all obviously a long way away cos we're not even near the major developments in this fic. Though I guess I could start on the prequel as that would mostly focus on Ace and his time in the BR so wouldn't really affect anything that's going on in this fic. I'll have a think about it...
I'm going to plug one of my favourite authors now. StarkBlack is a really incredible writer and in my inbox today I was informed that she's written an Ace Sanji fic. So I seriously recommend you all check it out, I haven't read it yet cos I've not been back from work long but knowing her it'll be really good. So give her a go, you can find her under my favourite authors list.
And in One Piece news I'm so happy to have new One Piece manga updates but what's up with the lack of Zoro? There should be more Zoro!
I will write the next chapter...but will I really write the next chapter.