Fandom: One Piece
Pairing: Smoker x Ace
Rating: NC-17 / M
Warnings: Language, violence and sex. All the good stuff.
Summary: Impel Down timeline; Smoker grudgingly closes off his sense of justice to save one man he shouldn't want to save.
Disclaimer: Characters from 'One Piece' series belong to Eiichiro Oda. I'm just borrowing them for fun, so don't sue, I don't have a penny. Original characters belong to me.
Author's notes: Well, at least this update came out quicker then last one I do plan to have at least one more chapter done during Christmas break, but I can't promise anything.
There are a couple of changes worth mentioning. I got the events in the overall storyline figured out and the whole fic will close in 9 chapters. It's possible that the last one will be a short epilogue; it's still unknown at this point. I have decided to drop the Roman number system for marking the timelines in chapters, as it proved to be confusing for some people. Regular separating line was left in their place. The general rule still exists – parts in Italics are flashbacks and memories.
I just wanted to add that I really appreciate every single review I get – it really makes me want to write faster. Even if I don't always reply to every single one.
And I can never send enough thanks to devlinnreiko, for being made of awesome and finishing this beta before Christmas.
There is an illustration done by me for this chapter. You can find it in my Livejournal (link in profile). It's called "A reminder of fire) and it's dated 07 September 2008 (or you may look by browsing tags).
This may seem a little short. Incoming chapter 6 is going to be one of the longest in the whole fic.
"Is he going to be alright?"
Yamada looked at the young ensign's face and noticed she was casting an unsure glance towards the pirate resting in the infirmary bunk. He quickly returned back to his task, checking the muscles on woman's shoulder and causing her to hiss when his hands applied too much pressure. It wasn't a very rare occurrence for the swordswoman to get injured while training with her sword.
"Honestly, Tashigi-san?" The doctor said as he raised her arm slightly, testing the range of motion, pleased to notice she didn't break any bones. "I don't know. He seems to be healing fine considering the extent of his injuries."
Yamada circled Tashigi, coming behind her as she sat on the infirmary chair and pressed over the muscles in her shoulder blade.
The elderly man sighed; he really shouldn't be surprised that the young officer was more interested in the pirate's status than her own.
"Ace-san seems to be doing fine, but I don't believe he's recovered yet from the trauma that Impel Down can inflict on its prisoners. He did, after all, have moments where he couldn't recognize either of us, captain included."
She just nodded, her gaze stuck on the figure in the bed. Ace usually slept soundly – she noticed that much from his frequent narcolepsy episodes, but here he definitely looked uncomfortable and even more tired than when they had escorted him from the prison. His head would turn slightly one way and the other from time to time, or his hands twitched under the mass of white bandages that looked so out of place. Tashigi didn't really have the opportunity to talk to the pirate since he had woken up and she had to admit, she did miss the conversations they used to have. Of course, eventually they ended up with Ace teasing her mercilessly and that resulted in her turning the lovely shade of burgundy. But, still…
"As for your injuries, Tashigi-san," Yamada rummaged through one of the countless shelves he had in his infirmary, finally fishing out the well-used jar of cooling salve "It seems you only pulled the muscle in your shoulder really hard, so I suggest taking it easy for the next week or so. I believe you know how to apply this salve."
Of course she did, it wasn't exactly a secret that she was a big klutz.
A soft sound of muffled pain reached her ears, coming from the occupied bed in the corner. Ace apparently tried to switch to lying on his side, but the sore ribs refused to cooperate. Even in pain, the boy still did not wake up.
She didn't exactly know what happened in Impel Down. She was one of the small groups of fortunate Marines who did not have to be stationed at the prison, unlike her Captain. But even without the first-hand knowledge the tales she had heard and the glimpse of hell she saw when they were pulling Ace out… that alone was enough to give Tashigi a pretty good idea about what was happening in that place. Pain and fear, fighting for life, and Marine-induced torture- scars on Ace's body were proof enough.
Ace didn't quite remember the moment when he was brought back into the cells.
The first sensation that broke through the haze of unconsciousness, confusion, and pain was someone else's hands trying to pry off the knife pouch he still had strapped to his thigh.
His first thought was a silent wonder that the Marines still left him with a potentially dangerous weapon, which didn't really make much sense.
There was no second thought as he grabbed the unknown limb, his other hand shooting out for the said knife before it was stolen from him.
Later on he remembered he crawled back to his niche in the rock wall, for unknown reasons still unoccupied even after all the time he was gone. How long he was away he couldn't tell; there were too many episodes during which everything faded to black and he wasn't aware of what was going on around him. He suspected he wasn't out of it for very long – she definitely wouldn't let him.
The pain faded into the background of his mind as he tried to isolate it, close it off somewhere where it wouldn't bother him. Ace was pretty sure one of his ribs was cracked after the first beating that Ophelia's grunts had done. He was breathing shallowly, hoping not to jar his ribs with sudden movement or deeper breath. Strangely, he could feel everything around him – the roughness of rock scraping his legs and back, the chilled air that covered his skin in goose bumps. His fingers needed to be set, Ace noticed absent-mindedly, as he calculated the damage. He would take care of that issue in a moment.
He curled more into himself, his back molded to the damp wall – its cool surface brought some relief to the angry red welts on his back that he knew would bloom into ugly bruises by the morning. Whenever that would come.
It was not like he was completely unfamiliar with torture. During those first few years he had been sailing by himself, then with Whitebeard, there were times where their enemies managed to get their hands on him. He knew the sensation of being restrained in seastone cuffs, of being beaten, half-drowned or even flogged. But this... this was different. During the previous, painful episodes there was always a small, confident voice in his mind telling him that later on his fire would heal him, eradicate the signs of cruelty from his body and comfort him with its warmth. Ace knew that later, when his men – Whitebeard's men – would save his hide, he would let his fire reign free and unbounded; turning the men who did him wrong into ash left by its wake.
But now, now it was different. With regular seastone cuffs he could still feel his logia, curled up deep inside him and dormant, like a tiny flickering flame, but never disappearing. It was a comforting feeling, knowing that the power that made his being was with him always, even if he was temporarily unable to use it. But under the heavy touch of pure seastone shackles, under the mass of sea that pressured the prison walls...
Ace didn't feel anything.
The fire coiling deep in his chest and belly was extinguished. He tried to reach in deeper, seeking the familiar source of comfort, looking for it like for a long lost friend. Ace couldn't find anything. There was no spark of what made him who he was, that defined his life for a good couple of years now. He got so used to it, so dependant on its presence that from the moment his strength was cut off he felt so terribly lost. Lost and confused and empty. The lack of his logia made him feel nauseous by the very idea of its absence.
The Marines who came later with food rations were not even surprised at seeing a dead body in the small pool of blood before they sent for someone to clean it up.
Ace was shaking. He was a pirate; it was not uncommon for him to take a life when he needed to, especially in self-defense. What scared him more was the fact he did not remember the moment of kill.
He shook his head, trying to get rid of the offending thoughts, muffling a hiss when the movement resulted in pain blossoming behind his eyes. Grabbing the dislocated fingers with his other hand he pulled, setting the joints back into place. Agony rushed through his palm but he did not dare to scream, as that would alarm the other prisoners.
Wounded predators never survived long.
Smoker shivered in the chilled air of his cabin, wishing they would finally leave the string of islands that brought in cold air and shorter days, as the daylight faded quickly into darkness. He rubbed his fingers briefly together to add some temporary warmth, his eyes focused on the newspaper article he was reading.
Ever since leaving Impel Down they had been sailing along the archipelago of winter and autumn islands; many of Smoker's men complained about the temperature and Yamada had been busy with colds and frostbites, no matter how many times he lectured the crew members about necessary layers of clothing and not staying on deck for the whole night. Smoker suspected some of them just refused to learn on the principle.
Ace still slept for most of the time. Sometimes he would wander around the ship with no real goal; other times he devastated the galley, much to Smoker's cook horror, but mostly he could be seen in infirmary bunk or Smoker's own bed, curled up into himself for protection against the cold as much as his ribs allowed him. His back had started to heal, with Yamada checking up for the return of infection every day, but so far the boy seemed to be fortunate enough not to fall into relapse. His logia hadn't come back yet, which disturbed the Commodore. Without it, Ace was left weak and the boy would tear him a new one if he ever heard that thought. Without fire Ace's body didn't heal quickly enough and didn't have the strength to fight off the remaining effects of seastone coma. That, in turn, had left him without real energy to do anything else then rest, and the cycle repeated itself. Smoker didn't exactly know of any devil fruit user who had lost his or her power for longer than a week; he refused to worry, since that would bring more thoughts and questions he really didn't want to answer.
Smoker had gotten used to silence when the boy was around, which was unthinkable a few months ago. He often caught himself staring at the pirate from his desk when he was fighting an unholy amount of paperwork that his ensign dumped on him. Ace, in the clothes Tashigi had dug up somewhere for him, had been sleeping in his bed. Portgas had better and worse nights and now Smoker could recognize them from first glance. The good nights offered healthy rest and dreamless sleep. The bad ones, however...
Smoker looked up from his paper when a small distressed sound reached his ears. Ace looked uncomfortable in his sleep; his expression strained and shoulders tense, bandaged hands sometimes twitching upon where he curled them over his stomach. The setting sun was illuminating the cabin with soft, orange glow that in any other time wouldn't bother him at all. But during these nights, these long nights haunted with nightmares, the setting sun served only as a reminder of what he had lost and not yet recovered.
Ace dreamed of fire.
Leaving his paper on the desk, Smoker reached the bed and sat down on the edge. Reaching for the pirate, he lightly grasped one shivering shoulder and gently shook the boy, wary of the bruises and broken ribs.
"Wake up, kid."
At first he thought Ace didn't hear him, but then his eyes snapped open as the pirate was jerked back into reality from whatever was haunting his dreams. Smoker expected the boy to lash out at him and he tensed, all his senses focused on repelling the incoming involuntary attack.
Nothing happened. Ace's eyes didn't seem to notice what was around him for couple of seconds, but then he merely rubbed his face with one bandaged hand and sighed heavily, eyelids closing yet again.
"Well, I guess you can call that a progress," Smoker relaxed when the blow he expected didn't come, his hand still resting on Ace's shoulder. He didn't miss the way the pirate's frame shivered underneath his palm, or how the shaky breath Ace released sounded somewhat like a concealed sob.
"And here I thought you didn't mind a little rough play in bed, junsho," Ace smirked, which looked more then a little forced, but the older man didn't call him on it.
Maybe he did, once. He wasn't so sure these days.
Without further comment, Smoker pushed the boy lightly to make him scoot over from his warmed-up spot in the bed, deciding that the rest of the papers could wait till next morning. He slipped under the covers, his body melding with Ace's, wide chest to scarred back.
"My, junsho, I always knew you were a cuddler, just afraid of loosing that manly man image."
That joke sounded more natural then the forced smile from just a minute ago, so Smoker didn't hesitate to let out an irritated sigh.
"I'm cold and you're hogging all the covers, idiot," Smoker wrapped an arm around the slimmer waist, his fingers resting against warm bandages, body pressing into the thin frame of the pirate. These days Ace was all angles and bony knees and hands, weeks of semi-starvation taking a toll on his usually muscular silhouette. Sleepily, Smoker thought he might have to force more food into the boy in next few days. "Go back to sleep."
"Tell me, number sixty-seven," Ophelia crouched next to him as he shivered from the freezing water that one of her grunts threw at him to wake him up. His body was doubled over so much that he could rest his forehead on the dirty stone floor, wrist still shackled to the wall behind him. "You had your logia for how long now?"
He said nothing, spitting out the small amount of the water that he almost inhaled.
"It's been a couple of years, hasn't it?" His interrogator didn't mind answering the questions herself. Ace didn't know why she bothered to ask in the first place, as if she already knew the outcome. "I wonder how does it feel to suddenly be left without that power, hmm?"
"It's fucking fantastic, thanks for asking."
"Yes, I can't say I didn't expect that answer. Do you miss it? Your fire?"
She straightened up again, taking a sip of the amber-colored liquid she had brought in when she arrived at the cell. Ace would be able to literally kill for some of that whiskey, just to recall other taste than moldy bread and copper in his mouth, neither of the flavors very appealing. He could kill for it, but he would not beg.
"It had its perks."
"I bet it did. Fire is such a rare gift, number sixty-seven," She placed the glass back on the cell's small table, filling half of it again with alcohol. "Admiral Akainu, who can control magma and flaming rocks; your comrade, Marco the Phoenix. Who knows how many more are out there, that can use some form of it. But you, you are different."
Ace finally raised himself up from his slouched position, resting his back against the cold wall and looking at her. Her gaze was curious and scheming. That was never a good sign.
"You have the unique ability to become fire, to turn yourself into it and just be a force of nature. You will hold that power until the day you die, and even then who knows how many years will pass before Mera Mera no Mi surfaces again."
"And here I thought you like me just for my charming personality."
She simply looked back at him, saying nothing. After few seconds of the staring contest she shifted he gaze towards a bulky Marine waiting for her orders and gave him a quick nod. He moved fast, or maybe it was Ace who was too tired to follow, but next thing he knew there were fingers digging into his jaw, pressing against the joints and prying his mouth open. Ace tried to fight back, but a fist to the ribs from the other Marine was enough to make him still for few moments. It was enough time for her to approach and pour the drink into his mouth. With his jaw snapped closed once again he could feel the burning warmth of the drink going town his throat and warming him up from the inside.
"I've seen you looking at the bottle for better part of the evening; figured you could use a drink."
"Well, you could have just offered. It's not nice to turn down a lady's offer."
"But it wouldn't be that much fun, wouldn't it?"
Ophelia knocked on the door to the cell and Ace half-expected her to go and leave him for the grunts, who would take them back to main cell. He was in her interrogation cell enough times already to know they would probably give him another round of beating, but that would be all for the day. However, she didn't leave; just pushed the door open and let in two other Marines Ace didn't know. They placed something on the floor that he couldn't see yet and left. Ophelia was smiling and by then Ace knew he was royally fucked.
"You said you miss your logia. Well, I have good news for you. I plan on giving you some of that heat back," She motioned at the item and her grunts brought it in closer.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Ace knew it wasn't a good thing to show fear, but even he had his limits. This – this was definitely beyond said limits. Involuntary, he tried to push himself further into the wall, but the stone against his back was unyielding.
"Hold him down."
This time Ace did fight back, as if he had an escape route from the prison. Anything was good enough to delay what was about to happen next. The Marines had him shackled, twisting his arms so that his cheek was pressed hard against the stone floor again, arms immobilized by the two men at his side.
"I would say this shouldn't hurt, you being Mera Mera user," She used a piece of thick cloth to take the handle of a red-hot poker from the burning coals. "But who am I kidding. This is going to hurt. A lot."
Ace said nothing, eyeing the end of metal rod, heated up so much it turned white.
"Unless, of course, you give me what I want. And I want Moby Dick's coordinates, number sixty-seven."
Ace swallowed once, twice, thinking about his captain. Wondering and weighing his options. He knew perfectly well Whitebeard would never hold it against him if he told what he knew. Not in these circumstances. Not with this psychotic bitch who found way too much pleasure in what she was doing. His captain was like a father to him and in Ace's mind there never was any shadow of doubt that he would understand.
He blinked hard again, focusing his eyes on the image of a woman waiting for his answer.
"Go to hell."
Ophelia merely shrugged, crouched next to him and yanked his hair back, exposing the skin of his neck, holding the burning poker above it. He could feel the scorching heat even without the metal touching him.
"In case you haven't already noticed, you already are in hell."
Ophelia pushed the iron down.