Title: Beneath a sky of steel
Rating: T
Word Count: 2042 (According to OpenOffice)
Pairing: Ace x Luffy
Topic: Straightening out mistakes
Type: Challenge, AU, Chrono Crusade/Fullmetal Alchemist inspired setting.
Theme: Science Fiction, angst, romance
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from One Piece.
Green-san: This is a Challenge Veronica the Mischievous gave me some time ago which I felt like uploading here. You can also find it on my LJ-account! ^w^ 's my first taking on AceLu, so please be gentle~

He wandered the pawed ground slowly, his hands tucked deep into the pockets of his black pants and the brim of his hat protecting his eyes from the cold sunlight. Cold... Yes, the light which shone down on this once happy and cheerful little town from a light blue sky was now cold as in the winter, even if it was long into summertime.

A wind blew past him, rustling in dead branches and carrying a piece of paper with it which collided with his boot. He bent down and picked it up, looked long and hard on the faded picture of colourful balloons, a flyer for a festival from long ago, before he scrunched it and threw it away. He didn't have time for old memories. The wind howled in abandoned houses, going in through an open window and out through a broken door.

He didn't care to look into those empty buildings, there was no point in meeting that guilt now. Besides, he already knew what he would see if he did. Cold bodies, frozen in whatever position they had been in nine years ago. Sitting down eating breakfast or reading the newspaper, sleeping in their beds or in the arms of loved ones, like statues in a park with a taste of morbidity.

Then there was running steps behind him which took hi out of his own mind's labyrinth, and he turned around to face the soldier who stopped and did a salute, all in accordance to the rules. Impatience growing, he pushed his cap up so that he could look the man in the eye.

"Well? Is it ready yet?"

"Sir, yes sir! It's all ready to be activated!" A broad smile tugged at the raven haired man's freckled face as he walked past the soldier and clapped him on the shoulder, a superiors' way of showing appreciation.

"Good, good! Let's get started then, shall we?"

He walked with fast strides, forcing the poor man behind him to almost run to keep up with the eager officer. They hurried past the "empty" houses, over the small bridge and the silent flower field where no flowers grew. Up to a small hill upon which a giant oak used to grow, before that horrible accident.

Now, the huge stump was surrounded by machinery, blinking lights and beeping sounds filled the barren air as wires connected the different devices to each other, creating a giant yarn of colourful plastic and glimmering metal. Ace didn't know what half of the, no a third of the machines did. All he knew was that these apparatus together could make time start up here in this frozen town again, as if it never had stopped. A man in a white coat pointed at a green monitor with a white line going up and down on it, a high-pitched beep coming from it every time the line went up. Which it did almost every second.

"Sir, according to the parameter, the nero-particles is in an extremely high density right now, we can actually fire it any minute if we want to!" The excitement in the man's voice was big, like a child on Christmas Eve who was about to try out the new toy he had always wanted. But it was nothing in comparison to what Ace felt, not even close by one bit.

His heart beat fast and steady, adrenaline coursed through him and his mouth was dry from the nervousness. A slight shiver travelled up his spine and the hair at the back of his neck stood up before the chance of straightening out everything, all those idiotic mistakes he had committed as a foolish child. He watched the thin white line go up to in the next second just to go straight up again in the next. Straight it all out...

"Then, what are you waiting for? Do it!"

"Sir yes sir!" Then there were suddenly a rush of movements, men clad in dark grey uniforms and/or white lab coats running around like ants in a nest, moving machines, plugging in wires in and taking some last minute notes before the experiment would finally take place. Feeling out of place, the freckled man took some vary steps backwards so that he wouldn't be ran over. Still, his heart beat hard as a drum and he licked his lips repeatedly to try and get some moisture to last in the dry and dead wind. That wind had been blowing here for the last eight years, no wonder it no longer held anything a human needed from the space around her. No smell, no small water drops, no warmth.

Nothing.

The scientist who had told him about the particle-volume, who's name he didn't remember, jumped up on top of the stump with a switch in his hand, the wire leading down into the biggest machine into which everything streamed together. He looked at the raven haired man, a sparkle of pride in his eyes when he spoke up.

"Captain Portgas, please turn around so that you can see this city be released from this hell!"

Following the suggestion, Ace slowly turned around, a lump suddenly in his throat which made it hard for him to even breath. The dry air was like wallpaper paste for him, he couldn't force it down his lungs as the man on top of the tree stump pressed the big, red button.

The machines buzzed and beeped, small bursts of electricity passed through the plastic protection on the wires, yet the machinery proceeded with its task. The beeping increased and extended into one long sound and then everything went silent. He couldn't eve hear the wind rustling their clothes nor the hammering muscle in his chest pump blood through his body.

A bright flash. A turbine screeching. The wind blowing so hard that he fell backwards along with all the equipment and the other men, that was all which existed in that moment.

Then, at first slowly, then faster and faster the grass on the small hill where they stood started to grow rapidly. The water beneath the bridge roared like thunder when all its pent up strength was set free by that one bright flash. And the houses...

The houses changed colour, the roofs getting older with holes growing between the now cracked tiles and the walls taking on a much rougher and damaged look. Pure white, maintained through hard work so long time ago, now turned grey from the time flying past. Flowers grew up and withered in the beds, birds chirped in a cacophony along with everything else. It was unbearable. They covered their ears, shut eyes which wanted to witness this miracle so badly but couldn't stand the sight of it, and waited for it all to ease. But it didn't.

Storms roared though their fingers into their auditory canals, biting cold bit their flesh and blazing heat burned their skin but there were no protection for any of them. Only the man who had fought the most for this, only the man who was the cause of this stigma even taking place in the beginning, were standing up. He had forced himself up though the blasts, he fought to keep his eyes open, ripped the heavily adorned jacket and the pure white shirt of his upper body to feel this. Feel this what he should have felt.

He should have gone though this, these roaring storms and these days of burning heat. But he had stopped it all, through his own idiocy...
Suddenly, it all went quiet. The birds flew happily in the now azure blue sky, chirping as if in joy of being able to move again. Flowers swayed lazily in a light breeze, their delicate fragrance reaching the crouching and hiding men, making them raise their heads and be greeted by the sight of a small country village in the morning sun.

But Ace didn't stay to look at the miracle of technology undoing dark and twisted magic, instead he rushed down the hill, stumbled on the bridge then continued down the even road he had walked before. Now it wasn't even. It was full of cracks and holes, weeds growing everywhere.

He didn't see it, not even when he fell on a giant dandelion plant, hitting his knee so badly on a sharp rock that he started to bleed from a deep cut. Yet, he stood up again and started to run.

The pain throbbed up in his leg, but his heart beat even harder, the panic not easing for one second. He didn't hear the people waking up around him, looking oddly at each other and themselves, surprised at the fact that they seemed to have aged a decade just over the night. He wouldn't stop and explain anything. Instead, he pushed his screaming legs to take him forth even faster as he all but dove around a corner, aiming for that single place...

Beneath the clock tower. On the town square. He stood there, just like before, just... older. Longer. His clothes ripped and torn, dirty from the hard gales blowing earlier. The wound on his left cheek was now just a scar...

It bubbled up from inside his chest, from the bottom of his beating and pained heart, a cry so desperate that even his men on the hill in the opposite end of the village probably could hear him.

"LUFFY!"

The boy, no, the young man turned around, faced him with at first a surprised look on his face, which then turned into a big, warm grin. He raised his arm called out to the other man, but he couldn't even get to finish his answer.

"Yo, A-" The freckled man all but tackled the younger when he threw his arms around him, around the boy he had sworn to treat as a brother but had ended up loving as something much, much more. The suffocating pain inside, it finally started to ease as he felt strong arms wrap around him, hug him back with a just as crushing grip.

"What is it, Ace? It's like you haven't seen me in years!" That voice, it was no longer high pitched and squally, though it wasn't that deep. Yet, it was his voice. How many times had he dreamt about this? To finally be able to see, touch and hear this man again.

"Lu, I haven't seen you in years..." As he rose his head from the other's neck, his arms still locked around the smaller body, he saw a look of confusion spread over his "brother's" face.

"Hah?" He loved that look. He loved every face the boy made, angry, sad, happy, confused because his simple minded brain couldn't understand the fact standing before him. A gentle smile started to tug at the captain's lips and he forced one of his arms to let go so he could ruffle that black thatch.

"I'll explain later." The hand travelled downwards on its own accord, cupping a now slightly bearded cheek. He wanted so badly to kiss those lips, a final proof that the bo- no, man before him really was alive again.

"Ace...?" He heard the whisper, but it didn't make it to his brain. It was like it went in one ear and out of the other. Swallowing, he tried to collect himself, stop this dangerous train of thoughts which were on its way to claim that one kiss wouldn't hurt, just to sate this beast eating his heart out.

But before he could do anything, those sweet lips were already pressed to his, the arms around him holding on tightly. A small whimper escaped him, a tear rolled down his freckles as he hugged the other back. It was all over now. The pain was gone, leaving a empty void within which were being filled by this tender kiss, this love he had been craving for so, so long.

And the sun shone down on the two men, warm and life giving, from a sky which no longer held the same coldness as steel, but the warmth of a flax flower.