Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece or its characters.
Beta: Big THANK YOU again, dear xanthos!
Warnings: SLASH (two male characters will be in a romantic relationship together). Further warnings will appear chapterwise, I'm sorry that I can't tell yet whether the rating might go up later on.
Spoilers: Story begins after Manga chapter 441 / Anime episode 325 (Ace-BB-fight), storyline from then on will differ from canon. Expect still spoilers to appear, if you're not familiar with the Blackbeard / Impel Down situation.
The Dumb Smile of the Knowing
Part 1 – The Second Encounter
The second encounter of Fire Fist Ace and Smoker, the White Hunter, had to be as surprising and unpleasant for the pirate as their first encounter had been for the Marine.
That was what Commodore Smoker thought upon entering the brig of the Marine ship where the captured and heavily wounded pirate was kept - even though an infirmary might have been a bit more humane in this case.
The small barred window, located on the right side, near the door, only a few inches under the low ceiling, was far away from the last cell on the left side. The few rays of sunlight that made it into the cell area were almost completely swallowed by the cold, dark material that covered the walls.
Seastone tiles were not more expensive than gold because they were beautiful decoration, the Marine felt himself reminded, they were an awful passive weapon and awfully effective as well.
The stones radiated discomfort to every Devil Fruit user.
Smoker could imagine how unpleasant it must be to sit on them, leaning ones back against them and all the while not being able to see the sun.
Yet he didn't really mind that kind of treatment, since pirates were scum. Although Smoker himself would have followed the official procedures of handling wounded captives until the final sentence was spoken, he still couldn't manage to feel sorry for the current situation of the infamous criminal in front of him.
Lumped together in the corner of the surprisingly huge looking cell, the youth was nothing but an unsightly bloody mass, arms and legs enchained in seastone cuffs as well, appearing already ghostly while still at least a bit alive. If there wasn't the regular breathing that - although it sounded unnatural - was still there, Smoker might have doubted the fact.
The Marine observed 'his' captive, fully aware that he wasn't the one to capture him, who, with his head hanging low over the chest and certainly painfully close to the cuffs on his arms and stickily bloodied strands of black hair hiding his face, was still supposed to be one of the most dangerous pirates of the Grand Line.
Looking at him now, Smoker had to correct his first thoughts, because the brat wasn't likely to realize the situation he was in yet, let alone recognize the person in front of him as an opponent he had fought (and mocked) before -- if he was even conscious at all.
Looking at the wrecked body, thinking of who that was or rather whose direct subordinate and the significance of that capture, a very small sigh threatened to built up inside the Commodore, one that never made its way from a sheer feeling in the stomach region to some kind of audible sound, simply because Smoker wasn't one to let his thoughts slip so easily. But really, if he survived, that damned little shit was clearly on his way to be causing even more trouble than his idiot brother had managed so far. He briefly wondered whether the brat had the brains to understand that.
The job to bring the captive to Impel Down wasn't anything Smoker had enjoyed doing.
The pirate was already captured, beaten up so badly that he couldn't possibly be a threat to anyone and secured so heavily that his fragile health was undoubtedly in more danger than any passenger on the ship. Why – under these circumstances - a Commodore and an Admiral were considered necessary to escort that half-dead body to prison, was beyond Smoker.
The only real threat was the man dying before getting sentenced and punished. Still, the direct order from the Fleet Admiral had forced him to pause on his search for the Strawhat crew and to conduct this ridiculous job as a glorified warden.
Even worse, Sengoku hadn't told him any details, and Smoker had few doubts that whenever he didn't get information because it was supposedly "highly confidential" that usually meant the involvement of some rather shady deals. This time though, the secrecy carried another significance for him as well.
Smoker certainly wouldn't have to deal with the wrath of the mighty Whitebeard, an admittedly troublesome opponent, but it also meant that Strawhat wouldn't know, hence wouldn't come.
And this had been the only way Commodore Smoker had ever been interested in Portgas D. Ace - as some connection to the highly interesting little idiot rubber boy with the blurry, insane aura of change and history about him.
While Smoker had first wondered back there in Arabasta how the strong Whitebeard pirate could possibly be related to the weak idiot with the Strawhat, he now looked at the broken body and just couldn't see how this was the elder brother of the boy who had declared war on the World Government. The boy who had marched into Enies Lobby, who had defeated the Shichibukai Crocodile and, perhaps even unwillingly, saved a whole kingdom.
"You can wait there till you die of old age, damn Marine, won't tell you a thing. Forget it," came a low hiss from the corner where the lump of flesh was located. Smoker looked again, surprised at the clarity of the statement and perhaps just a little impressed that the pirate hadn't drifted into blissful unconsciousness.
"Here I thought you were sleeping peacefully", he growled back, "Portgas D. Ace."
The way his name was spat out like the cow manure Smoker took every filthy pirate for, must have somehow managed to trigger a memory in the one right before him. The youth still hadn't looked his way, quite possibly didn't even have the strength left to raise his head enough to do so, but he still must have recognized him.
"Smoker?" He asked, tone changed and sounding dangerously close to nice, at least in comparison to his first words. "Seems you got the wrong brother."
And Smoker would be damned if he hadn't heard a small chuckle following. He certainly didn't like the way the brat was talking to him, like some old family acquaintance, someone to make a funny joke with.
"Correct. I'm not interested in you, just giving you a ride to Impel Down."
"Change of cabin personal or did they think Aokiji wasn't enough? I must look really fearsome, I guess."
Smoker wondered why he knew that the way the pirate giggled while saying those last bits was just an act, but he was sure the youth wasn't nearly as tough about this as he behaved.
"Yeah right. This job isn't even cut out for a rookie Marine. From the looks of it, this needs an undertaker."
Upon hearing the pirate chuckle, Smoker turned to leave the brig. He would send a doctor for Portgas right now, decided the man wasn't allowed to take the easy way out.
Not on his ship and not before hearing his sentence.
"Captain Smoker," Tashigi called from behind the wooden door. Sometimes she forgot to knock first and then her voice managed to enter his space without forewarning, and he felt like she had somehow managed to stumble directly into his head. The woman could really be a klutz, but she was a good Marine and had a sense of true justice, this was enough for him.
"Come in, Tashigi."
The swordswoman entered the small room, waving with her hands before her face, indicating she didn't like the amount of smoke in the air, and Smoker shortly wondered if he had become insensitive when it came to his Logia. Wasn't the air rather clear? He had only smoked six cigars since he had come back from the brig . . .
"So, what does Doctor Shalaton say?" He asked while using his Devil Fruit ability to take in the lingering smoke from his surroundings.
"You want the full report?" Tashigi's voice was filled with sense of duty, but also enriched with the expected certainty of knowing his answer. Smoker liked that about her.
"No. Write the medical crap in the report. I just want to be sure he'll make it."
"Well. . . probably."
"What do you mean?"
"Doctor Shalaton said Portgas' body has taken a lot of damage --"
"I could see that myself . . . and I'm not interested in praises of the pirate's strength and willpower. I want facts."
"Sir? I wasn't going to --"
"Just tell me."
"The main problem is the seastone. The doctor said Portgas won't heal unless he's freed of the direct seastone contact. He suggested treatment in the seastone walled cell by removing the cuffs. And with that, most wounds might heal. Actually, Captain, he wanted to talk to you about the pirate."
"I don't have time for that. And I also don't know shit about the medical stuff. You told him?"
Tashigi nodded dutifully but obviously the topic wasn't finished just yet. "It seems there are some wounds that he doesn't fully understand and some completely unknown and unexplainable symptoms. That's why he was extremely interested in the cause of Portgas' injuries--"
Smoker snarled, dark and low, about to keep his opinion to himself, but with Tashigi he could be honest. "I would be interested in that piece of information as well . . . and those bits of information make it even more interesting," he finally hissed between narrowed teeth.
"Captain, I would suggest--", her big, imploring, eyes looked for and found Smoker's grumpy nod to continue, "—you ask the captive. Since it's him. . . I don't think he would lie."
The Commodore didn't like the way Tashigi had worded this, but probably only because he knew she was right. Unfortunately they did have a good idea about the captured pirate's personality and while he was cocky, fearless, and troublesome, he wasn't exactly shifty or crooked.
Smoker knew this was the simplest way, had actually known before and had somehow still avoided thinking in that direction.
While he just nodded now, silently accepting Tashigi's suggestion, he wondered why he had not wanted to talk about this with the pirate before. Was it that he actually dreaded the information he might get?
Everything in his stomach shouted that there was something underhanded about this, something that might defy his sense of justice and he simply wasn't in the mood for that so soon again.
The events in Arabasta were still so very fresh in his memory.
After Tashigi had left, Smoker decided that a new pair of cigars would be the right thing now, just like any time before or after struggling with the pirate. Because, while he knew Portgas would tell him the truth, he also knew there was no way, that pirate would simply consent and start talking facts without being annoying.
Thinking about him and his idiot brother, there was something else he had to consider as well . . .
Starting with the first of the three drawers on the huge wooden desk's right side, he searched through all of them, this wasn't his ship and so he didn't know where all the material was stored, until he finally found a bloc of sticky notes in the bottom one, picked up a pen and wrote down the reminder, "PREPARE FOOD", before he leaned back in the old, creaking chair, legs with boots planted on the desk, and tried to drift off for a small, hopefully relaxing, catnap.
It was actually rather scary that he could picture the pirate's reaction, and that he just knew the damned brat would try to trade the information for something better to eat, and very possibly wouldn't start talking at all until his stomach was filled with a very good and very large meal.
Putting aside the Commandment of Whitebeard's Second Division, Portgas was still just a very simpleminded criminal youth.