BWAH! What a doozy this was! I hope you all enjoy this chapter as I worked very hard on it to keep everyon within character and finished watching the Whitebeard Saga, and I hve to say, I HATE AKAINU! Hence, that was where this idea spawned from. Anywho, I hope you all rave, review, and enjoy this little surprise I've cooked up for ya'll.

The next chapter will be double the length or more, ye have my assurances! (sorry, watched Pirates of the Caribbean on stranger tides the other night) and for those of you who have seen all four films, well, yeah.

You'll see what I mean in this chappy, savy?

The Whisperings of Fate

He knew it from the very first bite.

'Uck!'

Something was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Not only did this strangely shaped fruit taste strange, but the effects of it were even stranger. No sooner had he swallowed the first morself of his meal, then the sweet nectar of his mid-afternoon snack turned to ash in his mouth. For some reason, he decided to swallow; despite the sudden surge of dread that swelled upward from his stomach. It was a costly mistake. No sooner had he taken that first, fateful bite, than a strange, prickling sensation trickle up his spine.

Then came the burning.

"Hot!" He yelped, for his body was suddenly incomparably so. Flames swept outward from his lips, scouring the ground black beneath him. He couldn't breathe. He felt a deep hollow enormity swelling upwards from his throat; because in the next instant, his fingers morphed into flames. No, not just his fingers. The blaze was spreading, and already he was growing numb to the searing instensity of the inferno that swirled around him.

"What...

His hand.

...the...

His wrist.

...hell...

His arm!

..is this!"

In his desperation, in his overwhelimg desire to quench the flames that spread from his body and consumed him, the boy didn't hesitate. Although the water beneath him had begun to boil-his legs were only partially submerged in the shallows-he didn't even consider the reprecussions of hurtling himself into the water's embrace. Jettisoning himself from the riverbank that had become his favorite fishing spot, he all but flung himself into the lake.

Finding a strange fruit in the river and thoughtlessly wolfing it down; now this.

This too, proved to be a costly mistake. He felt as though he was trapped deep under the ocean. His joints creaked, his muscles ached, and it felt as if a giant had just clapped its hands over his ears. And yet he felt nothing. That was not to say that he was not frightened. He was simply incapable of moving at the moment. Rather, he could move, but his body refused to respond.

How was that possible?

The water was shallow, and he, had fifteen years of swimming experience from when he was a babe.

'I can't move!'

He swam everyday. Hell, he'd even gone swimming the day after "The War of the Best" had occurred. Surely his swimming skills hadn't dulled. Or had they? Only yesterday he'd snuck out of the village to commence his daily ritual of swimming upstream. So why was it now, that his body betrayed him? Oh. With a merciless swiftness if occurred to him; the possibility of what it was that he had just eaten. A strange fruit. Suddenly becoming a hammer when it came to swimming. Feeling the life leaching out of his limbs as he struggled toward the surface.

'Move!'

Oh no.

"Move!'

No.

'MOVE!'

"No!" He screamed at himself as the current took him; subsuquently exhausting his air supply. No no no NO!

Try as he might, the lad couldn't swim. He had no strength. It was all he could do to wrest his hand outward, flailing wildly for anything within reach as he began to sink. That was it, then! Devil's Fruit! He'd eaten one! But how? Best to save that for later, he mused. If, in fact, there was a later. With the last few precious seconds afforded to him, the boy thrashed desperately, struggling to find purchase upon the slippery stones that swept past him in the current.

'Somebody!'

The water was hot, stinging hot. He felt himself twisted; turned upside down, and then his head breached the surface. He gulped down a mouthful of air before the current had a chance to drag him under again. Now the water was pressing on every side, tight and constricting. Some part of him marveled that he was still alive. He counted the seconds, and at fourteen seconds, his lungs were already burning.

The pain was nothing, he told himself.

'Anybody!'

His back scraped against a rock and suddenly the pain was undeniable. The air was pressing its way up his throat, begging for release. It hammered at him. Just a little release, just a little. Abruptly, all forward motion ceased. The shock of it made him open his eyes. Hot, sour water attacked his eyes and he coughed. An enormous bubble of life-giving air rushed from his lungs.

He had less than a lungful of air and he wasn't going to make it another twenty seconds. His lungs burned. He surrendered and breathed. Scalding water poured into his lungs, drowning out all sense of self–followed by air. The blond coughed and the hot, acrid stuff shot from his nose and mouth. It seared his sinuses, but a moment later, sweet, cool air replaced it.

"You owe me, gaki."

Someone-or something-wrested him from the water.

They –whomever they were– lowered him gently to the ground. The boy lay on his back, just breathing. It was still dark, but high overhead, he made out a branch. Stretching beyond the canopy, the harsh rays of afternoon sunlight gently slapped him across the face. After the black waters, it felt like stepping into a universe of light. Someone was standing over him, speaking to him; because he recognized the words "ass" and "idiot" comingled with one another.

"Oi!" A man's voice growled out. "You alive, whiskers?"

"Na-Naruto." He gasped out, before a boot could nudge his whiskered cheek. "My name's...Naruto, not whiskers." If he peered closely, he could just make out an orange hat; because the man standing over him had the kind of face that suggested he didn't take bullshit from anyone. Wait a second. He was barechested, too. Why did that voice sound so familair? Still struggling to blink away the swampwater from his eyes, the blond struggled to regain his vision.

"Who...the hell are you?"

But there was nothing.

"You ate a devil's fruit." The bleary voice announced suddenly. "Didn't you, kid?" The boot nudged him again; less gently this time. The boy known as Naruto whined aloud and in protest, the seventeen year old adolescent pushing off against the muddied footwar in an attempt to regain his balance. He failed miserably. His strength promptly left him; deserting as he flopped onto his stomach.

"I feel sick."

An amused chortle echoed overhead.

"That's because you ate the Mera Mera no mi."

"Whuzzat?" The boy mumbled into the dirt. He rolled over. Struggling into a sitting position, he instead found himself forced onto his back for a second time. As impossible as it seemed, he still couldn't quite make out the man's face. Whomever this fellow was, he was well muscled, Save for his hat and black heavy shorts, he wore preciously little in the way of attire, making him all the more suspicious in the eyes of our waterlogged youth.

"Tell me kid, how're you feeling?"

"H-Hot." Naruto conceeded at last, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of a hand. "I feel-

No heat.

His entire body was warm. Not even the blazing sun bothered him now. He had surpassed it. He sat up, wondering at it, even as the water turned to steam against his back and shoulders. His orange shorts, once wet and damp, were no longer so. In fact, they were perfectly dry. Save for a thin cloud of steam leaking from the remains of his once pristine blue tee, he was relatively inact.

"I feel...good." He aquesced at last, warily accepting a hand from the stranger when it was offered. "I feel...really good."

He felt warm with energy. Something bright and full of fervor danced beneath his skin. It coursed through his veins and made his entire body tingle with…elation. Pure power, the like of which he'd never felt before, misted from his body. A stray droplet rolled from his wet bangs to his nose, plinking to the ground as steam while the rest of its bretheren began to fall around them.

It suddenly occurred to him that he knew this man.

"Oi, ossan," Naruto began, "You never told me your-

"I hate to drop something like this on you, but I'm going to ask you for a favor." His as of yet unamed rescuer declared suddenly. He reached down, tousling the boy's bangs mirthfully. "You see, my little brother's always sticking himself into all kinds of trouble." Despite the fact that he stood against and amongst the rain, he too exuded a strange, otherwordly mist about himself, much like the blond.

"You're-!"

He laughed; it was a deep, throaty sound.

"Keep an eye on Luffy, for me, neh?"

With that, he pushed up his hat with a finger and exposed his face. Lightning crackled through the sky overhead, exposing the shadowed visage that lurked beneath a pequliar orange hat. Manifesting amidst the steam whilst the raindrops plinked off his exposed and tattooed back, the man smiled, even as Naruto's gobsmacked expression widened in comical fashion for a moment.

"Oi, ossan!"" He cried out in dismay, both against himself and the thunder "You're-

But when the lightning next flashed; when next he turned to thank him, to condemn him, his saviour was gone. All that remained was a charred piece of earth where the man had last stood; leaving the blond alone with the accursed power of his flames. Naruto paused, glancing at his own smoldering digits, now eerily aware of the power contained within them; the power of heat and flame.

Naruto's mouth worked wordlessly; he curled his fingers into a fist, forced himself to exhale. He was trembling. Trembling! He'd been this close to death, only to be snatched away by the very man he'd so deeply admired as a child. Looking back, he still felt like one, having just been in the prescence of the beyond; of an event that defied the very laws of reality and time itself.

"That was...

Only six words remained of the man's voice.

"I'm counting on you, Uzumaki D. Naruto."

Somewhere up in Heaven, Portugas D. Ace leaned back on a cloud...

...and smiled.

Next time: Two years later! The beginning of a journey! Of A crew! Of destiny!