Sora ran in the opposite direction from her crewmen and villagers that were trying to evacuate the village to reach the beaches. Her men did not stop her as she weaved between them, her breathing heavy. She pushed herhakiout, scanning the area for Ken's aura. Her strength exploded from her body, an invisible force field consuming the town, honing in on Sora's most precious person. She felt his presence, slowly fading and changed directions, darting through an alley to reach the street over.
It was instant. Adrian, his wrath blending in with the flames that consumed the village, eyes darkened as he stared at Ken.
"Ken!" Sora cried, flying towards Adrian with her sword out. Adrian flicked his wrist, popping something in his mouth before catching Sora's blade, sparks flying from his hands. Sora stared in bewilderment. Adrian's flesh was steel?
"You still are one sexy bitch, Belleville," Adrian snarled, flashing her a grin that looked more like baring his teeth.
"Adrian," Ken choked, lifting his head from the dirt. His face was drenched in blood, dying his silver hair crimson. "You promised."
Adrian pushed Sora back with all his might, the woman falling to the earth. "Yeah, yeah," Adrian scoffed, backing up. "If I stayed, I'd die anyway. Nice seeing you, Belleville. We're leaving now."
"Adrian!" Sora roared, running at him, but Adrian disappeared in a blast of smoke. Sora dropped to her knees instantly, inching towards Ken. His clothes were tattered and his crutch was thrown aside, slashed into pieces. Masamune was stuck in the dirt, useless. "Ken, what happened?" Sora sobbed, brushing the matted silver hair from his face.
"Seems like I got myself in a little mess," Ken said, smiling weakly.
"Ken, what promise were you talking about? Why would you make something like that with Adrian?" Sora asked, rain pouring overhead, blending with her tears. Ken's body felt so light, like a part of him had already left.
"He promised he wouldn't hurt you."
"What?" Sora asked, incredulous. "Why would he make such a promise?"
"Because I gave him my life," Ken said, smiling.
Sora felt her chest clench. "Ken, that was the stupidest thing you've ever done. You can't—"
"Don't lecture me, silly," Ken chuckled. "Your hair is really pretty now. Growing it out like I asked. I told you that daddy makes the rules."
"Ken," Sora sobbed, shaking her head. "Shut up. We have to get you to a doctor."
"You can just tie it instead of cutting it. Sophisticated is nice, but when your hair is long you really look beautiful, you know," he said, lifting his hand to try and touch her hair. He ran his fingers against her cheek, blood smearing on her face.
"Stop talking. Come on, let's get up. We have to find—"
"I won't make it," Ken said quietly, and Sora looked down at her husband. She felt her entire body freeze upon seeing tears running down his face. "I want to spend my last moments with you. I know…that things haven't always been fair with us. We've gone through a lot of hurdles to try and be together. But I truly believe that we were meant to be, Sora. Even if our time together was brief."
The woman shook her head, her body shaking with sobs. Her hands and the earth beneath her were stained with blood. "Ken, stop—"
"I was really honored to have a woman like you stand by my side. There's simply no replacement, and I wouldn't have lived my life any other way," he continued, smiling up at Sora, despite himself.
"Get up, come on, Ken. Let's go to a doctor, please," Sora begged, but Ken captured her hand gently. "Come on, Ken. You can't die!"
"You're so bossy," Ken said, chuckling a little. "Stop ruining our romantic moments."
"There is nothing romantic about this!" Sora screamed.
"It's okay, Sora," Ken said, tears flowing freely now. "Live on. You're a strong woman. The strongest I've ever known. You'll be able to do it."
"That's my line," he said, and smiled at her. "Cliché, but…I want my last words to you to be that I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. Don't forget that."
Sora choked out a sob as she felt Ken leave her, his body becoming limp in her arms. "I love you, too."
Sora awoke with a start, breathing hard. That was the first time in years that she had dreamt of Ken's death. She always forced herself to awake before the dreams got that far. She touched her cheek, noticing that it was wet, and smeared her tears away.
She took a deep breath and sat up, expecting to see Ace at her side, but the bed was empty. She reached around, feeling that it was cold. He hadn't been here for a while. Sora turned her eyes to the clock. It was nine – she normally woke up around this time to get to work – and Ace was normally sleeping. Had he gotten up early?
Sora swung her legs over the side of the bed, shielding her eyes from the faint light dripping in from the windows. A sticky but seet smell drifted in through the screen. It was raining. Sora understood a little why it was raining. Her haunting dreams had probably brought in heavy clouds.
Getting dressed, Sora decided to head downstairs to work and try and push her haki out to clear the skies. Ace was probably waiting for her, too.
Ace sat planted in his chair. Numb.
"Son," Whitebeard's low voice rumbled through his ears. Ace looked up to see the rest of the division commanders engaged in conversation on their own. Their meeting was over. Whitebeard could only be talking to Ace.
The dark haired man looked up. "Yeah, Oyaji?"
"You have to be the one to tell her."
Ace looked down at the table, running his eyes across the grains of the wood. He swallowed a lump in his throat. "Okay," he said after some time. "I'll tell Sora."
"Tell me what?" Sora asked, and Ace stood up, surprised. Sora tilted her head, confused at his reaction.
"Tell you that…we're going hiking today," Ace said with a smile, patting her on the head. Whitebeard watched out of the corner of his eye, wondering how Ace was going to react. It was as he expected. Ace couldn't bring himself to say it yet.
"Hiking? It's raining," Sora said, furrowing her brows.
Ace looked confused now. "Um, no it's not," he said, gesturing to the window. And indeed, it was sunny out, the streets lit brightly. Sora blinked several times. She was sure that she smelled rain.
Oh, well. Maybe it was just some remnants of the storm from her dream that was making her imagine things.
"Wanna go change into hiking clothes?" Ace asked, and Sora shrugged.
"As long as I have my boots," she said, gesturing down to her worn out footwear. "We should go now, before Eiichi scolds me."
Ace grinned. "Yeah, okay. Let's go." He took her hand and darted out of the bar, taking her advice on leaving before Eiichi cold bug her.
The two of them had spent the past few days together, as usual. Now that Ace had fended off Morganna, Sora seemed much happier and Ace wouldn't have it any other way. He was actually becoming accustomed to life here. Arashi Island was some place that he could call home.
Sora was someone he could call home.
These past few days, he wanted to tell her. He wanted to sit her down and really talk to her about his feelings for her. But he couldn't. And today's division commander meeting really reinforced that thought. He couldn't tell her.
"What's up?" Sora asked, tugging on Ace's arm.
"Hm?" her voice had snapped him from his thoughts.
"Is something wrong?"
Sora knew him too well already. She could tell when he was tense, the same way that he knew when there was something bothering her. "No," he lied. "Nothing's wrong. Why?"
"I dunno, you're being weird," she laughed, shrugging. Ace raised an eyebrow as though asking her to elaborate but she just lifted her shoulders again. "I dunno, can't explain it."
Ace chuckled, shaking his head. "You're the one that's being weird. You thought it was raining. What could possibly make you think that?" He gestured around him, to the perfectly clear sunny day. There wasn't a gray cloud in sight.
Sora smiled. "I don't know. I just smelled rain."
It was that weird feeling. Maybe Ace could compare it with the way that Sora had described her feelings for Teach. Ace felt a little uneasy, like there was something bad headed their way. He sighed inwardly. Of course there was something bad headed their way. News at this morning's meeting hadn't exactly been the easiest to stomach. Maybe that's why he felt a bit nauseas.
"Hey, was that a division commander meeting?" Sora asked suddenly, and Ace felt his chest tighten.
He forced his face to remain neutral. "Yup."
Sora's face lit up, and she smiled. "Oh, I miss those. I never paid attention. What'd you guys talk about?"
Ace shrugged. "Ah, I don't really pay attention much either," he lied again. "And it probably wasn't that important."
"Did Oyaji talk to you guys about when you're leaving?"
Lie. Lie. Lie! "Nope."
"Oh, okay," Sora said happily, squeezing his hand. "You get to bother me for a while longer then, huh?"
"Yup," Ace answered, glad that she enjoyed his presence. This was what perhaps made it so hard. Ace felt like he was finally getting somewhere with Sora. He had been patient and waited and inched his way further into her heart and he was finally somewhere special. He was finally able to reach her – to be with her. Just a little while longer and maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that they could be together for real.
It was difficult because a part of him knew that they couldn't be together for real. Not right now. It tore him apart.
"Hey, Sora," Ace started as they began their trek up the path. "If I said I wanted to stay here instead of be a pirate, would that be okay?"
Sora turned to face him, furrowing her brows. "What?" she asked in disbelief. "You're thinking of not being a pirate anymore, Ace?"
"No," he answered, holding his hand up, seeing as this made her feel a little upset. But he couldn't lie anymore. "Well, maybe. I don't know. It was just a thought."
Sora turned to face forward again, but now she didn't seem mad. "I can't…really tell you what to do, you know? I'm not really in a place to do something like that."
"You are," Ace assured her.
Sora took a deep breath. "I honestly don't know. I don't think that I should be the one to tell you how to live your life. If you really want to find out about whether or not you're supposed to live, I think that you need to go out and do it. You need to live."
"Oh," Ace said, finding her little spout quite close to something that his grandfather may have told him. "Do you want me to stay?"
"I can't answer that," she said again, smiling at him gently.
"That's not a good reason," he teased, nudging her. "Yes or no?"
"Yes," Sora answered, keeping her eyes in front of her. "And no."
Ace sighed exasperatedly. It was so hard to ever really get a straight answer from Sora when it came to sensitive things like feelings.
"You need to make that decision on your own," Sora insisted. "If you stay, then you'll give up being a pirate, and that is probably the worst feeling that I have ever experienced. Besides, you know, Ken dying. But if you leave," she said, and seemed to think for a moment. She smiled up at Ace. "There really isn't a downside to that, is there?"
"Of course there's a downside. I wouldn't be able to see you," Ace replied immediately.
Sora laughed a little. "If you leave, we'll still see each other, Ace. Oyaji brings everyone here now and then, so we'll see each other in a few years."
No, we won't! Ace wanted to scream, but he didn't. He just smiled down at Sora. "Yeah, you're right."
"See? You kind of already made the decision, didn't you?" she asked, and Ace noticed that her smile wasn't creased with dimples. Was she forcing it? Did she not mean what she said? Ace didn't really understand how she could say that there was no downside to Ace leaving. Did she even care?
Ace forced himself to calm down. Of course she cared. Of course she would miss him. Right? No, there was no questioning it. Sora did care about him, she just didn't know the whole story. Maybe if he just told her what the division commander meeting had been about, they could have a serious talk about it.
But now wasn't the time. He wanted to treasure this hike today. It would be their last.
The conversation changed to lighter topics. Ace didn't even really know what they were talking about, but he just knew that it felt right. Being here felt right. He wanted to stand by Sora forever, for the rest of his life. Here was a woman with whom he could talk about things like favorite animals and favorite foods, and talk about pirate stories, and Whitebeard's crew. She was strong, and funny, and beautiful – she was the perfect woman for him.
"Did you want to go to the waterfall?" Sora asked, remembering how excited Ace had been about the waterfall.
"How about we go to the top?" Ace suggested. "I've never been to the top of the mountain, and on the way back down, let's go pay our respects to Ken, splash around in the waterfall, and head back down for lunch."
He grinned and Sora smiled, approving of his answer. "Sure."
Sora wondered if Ace had really thought about staying here with her. There was nothing in the world that Sora wanted more – to stand beside him. But at the same time, standing beside him also meant standing in his way and she couldn't do that. Ace was a man who couldn't be stopped, and Sora didn't want to be the reason why he gave up on his dreams. There had to be some way that she could keep him here and let him go at the same time.
But that was selfish, though, wasn't it? It was selfish to want Ace to herself and Sora knew it. However, she couldn't help it. Her relationship with Ken had always been selfless, that she never had the chance to act like a child – she never had to chance to really express the fact that she wanted to keep someone she cared about close to her. Ken was always away and it was hard for her to remain mature about the distance between them, but it was Ken; she thought she would have forever to spend with him. But sometimes forever didn't last very long and now Sora was alone again.
Until Ace. She wanted to keep him, she did. But she knew…that she needed to let him go. Sora just wished she knew when he was leaving so that she could talk to him about all of this. Maybe it would set his mind at ease.
"It's beautiful," Ace's voice snapped Sora from her thoughts. They were at the peak of the mountain now, looking over at the sea. Blue stretched above them and below, the sky and ocean disappearing into the horizon. Wind whipped around them, blowing Ace's hair back as he glanced around with a wide grin.
Sora just smiled, reaching over and taking his hand. Ace seemed surprised, but squeezed back, leaning over to kiss her forehead. He would miss times like these.
He gazed out again, glancing to the right where there seemed to be something docked on the far side of the island. He furrowed his brows. "Hey, Sora, did Morganna leave?"
"Hmm? Yeah, she left a few days ago," Sora said with a scoff. She put her free hand on her hip and grinned up at Ace proudly. "Her face was still bruised. I'm the strongest warrior in all the land."
"Whose boat is that, then?" Ace asked, pointing to the ship in the distance. Being a little shorter, Sora couldn't really see as the ship was concealed, so she moved slightly to take a better look and Ace felt her entire body freeze, right down to her bones. She would recognize that jolly roger anywhere.
Her voice was merely a whisper but before she even said it, Ace knew the answer: "Adrian."
AN: I apologize for all the typos. I don't bother to recheck everything because this story is really long and I'm not even really interested in writing anymore, probably because the actual One Piece manga has been extremely slow and boring right now. I will try to finish this story but I can't make any promises. Sorry.