First person? Present tense? Constant cussing? Two different frames of mind in the same character? THESE ARE ALL THINGS I HATE IN FANFICTION. WTF IS WRONG WITH MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE~.

Naw, but I the reason I normally hate all that stuff is because it isn't done well. I'm not saying I do it well, but I guess I've always wanted to try, secretly. And besides, Luffy has a very singular mind that I'm not sure anyone could ever really grasp without showing you the inside of his head right in the middle of all the action, and there really is no way to do that without first person present tense. I think that when a story is told in first person, we are NOT meant to step into the character's shoes; we are meant to hear it in our minds in their voice. It should be like listening to the character tell their story as they go along. It should be a distinctive voice at all times, and it shouldn't always make sense to us, since it's in the other person's head and can therefore be as nonsensical as it wants. But no, the two different frames of mind for Luffy were so freaking difficult to align. I mean, he seriously did go for several days with no sleep, with extremely sporadic feeding (he only got fed once when he was in Impel Down, and even that was only after being there, what, two or three days? And also after getting poisoned and tortured. Mustn't forget that). Once he got free of Impel Down, he still was shitting a brick all the way to Marineford because he found out a friend just probably died for him and he thinks they've moved up Ace's execution. THIS GUY IS NOT GOING TO BE MENTALLY STABLE RIGHT NOW. Not that he ever was. I tried to make his thoughts jittery and tense to parallel that, but still unmistakably him. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. I think it was worth it, though. This was an experiment (and also my way of flipping my bow fingers at the canon because goddamn it Ace shouldn't have died), and I hope I've done something kind of cool with it.

DISCLAIMER: When you see my freak brain babies appear in the manga WORD FOR FREAKING WORD, you know I own it. Until then, alas, alack, forsooth, no such joys visit me.

He's right there. Fuck; I can see him all the way from here. I can see the look on his face, the scabbed-over wounds all over his chest and arms. Why the hell is he still so far away? Whose bright idea was it to make execution stages so tall? What do they think my brother's death is, a spectator sport? Christ. My legs and arms are tired as God-knows-what 'cause I don't think I've slept in about a week and I haven't been eating right, since food is a damn hard thing to come by in a prison specifically designed to torture its inhabitants… but that's not the point. I'm super-grateful to that one guy whose name I seriously can't remember who managed to make a pathway up to Ace. Bless him, and when we're all out of here safe and sound, I'm gonna remember his name if it kills me.

Okay, Admirals are douchebags. It's official. The guy just breaks the bridge/pathway/whatever-the-fuck-it-is. Not cool. Not even a little. Thank God I'm the freak of nature I am, because I still managed to get a good grip on the platform from a good hundred feet down. For all that I haven't slept in soooooooo looooooong, I'm actually doing okay, all things considered. I mean, I made it all the way here. And there he is. Ace is right fucking there and there's seriously nothing I want to do more than jump into his arms… which are still handcuffed. Okay, that's a problem. But not for long! I can't believe I almost forgot about Hancock's key. Somebody saint that lady; she deserves it, for all that crazy of hers. I'm vaguely aware that others are holding off the more irritating opponents so I can get Ace the fuck out of here, but there's yelling and all sorts of bullshit that makes me think there's something not-too-pleasant on the way. Better hurry. Crap; my hands are shaking. I really need some sleep. Maybe then I won't be this grouchy and foul-mouthed. Headed. Something. And maybe my damn hands won't shake like there's an earthqua- oh, wait. I forgot the old guy's powers – there might actually be an earthquake. Okay, I feel slightly better about myself. I'm still retarded, though.

Okay, so that part where I said something not-too-pleasant was en route? Yeah. Nailed it. Some douchebag (didn't catch who exactly, although I think it might've been an Admiral or someone equally punkass) decided to blow up the whole damn execution platform with us on it. Apparently, that's a better option than actually fighting us. I should be kind of flattered, but since I just almost got blown up, I'm thinking I can forgo it just this once. Yeah, you heard right: almost. I got the key in the damn lock just in time, it seems, and Ace took it from there. God, my brother is freaking boss. I still want that hug, but I'm not sure the battlefield is the best possible place to get all sentimental. It doesn't stop me from giving him those doe-eyes of mine. I didn't even realize I was making them until Ace rolled his eyes at me like he always does when I give him that look. It's just such a reminder of home that for a second, I thought I was going to black out. I mean, I haven't slept in, like, a week, and I've probably been going on the adrenaline rush alone. Seeing Ace all right and mostly free, acting like himself and feeling his presence so near me… it's like my stress just evaporated, and without the adrenaline, there's really not that much keeping me conscious. Or, I think that's how it works. I'm making this up, but it's sounding legit, so let's just leave it at that.

There's still a bunch of Marines everywhere. They're like bugs; they keep crawling out from under the rocks no matter how many you manage to take down. Your only hope seems to be seen as so destructive and dangerous, people get the hell out of your way. You've got two guesses as to what the D in our names means. Haha, just kidding, but it'd be funny as hell if it really did stand for those or something like them. Coolest. Middle. Name. Ever. I'm off track.

Shit-ton of Marines. That's right. So I haven't fought at Ace's back since… well, I think since he left home about three years ago. Has it been that long? I can't remember if we pulled a team fight in Alabasta. Either way, it feels damn good to have him at my back (or my side) again. We're already falling back into old patterns of attack we used to use on the bigger enemies and by God it feels so good. Downright cathartic. I'm not even sure what that word means, but I think I used it right. For the first time since I heard Ace was supposed to be executed… I think I'm doing okay. Better than okay. Ace is right next to me and fighting with a giant grin on his face. The world couldn't get more right. I love my brother so damn much. I missed this. I missed him. I can't believe I might've actually lost him… the thought is so terrifying, I'm trying really hard not to think of it. If I do, I might freeze up in the middle of battle and then I'm no good to anyone. If Ace is at my back again, the least I can do is be at his. He's probably had a shittier week than me, so I bet he's feeling just as nostalgic and touchy-feely and crap as I am, in that pyromaniacal way of his. Whatever floats his boat, 'cause damn if neither of us can swim.

I think I lost track of what was going on. I've just been attacking anything in a uniform and I haven't been paying attention to anything but those warm bursts of air that result when Ace starts lighting up. I missed them. They're like long-distance hugs to me, although to anyone else they're probably scary or something. Well, if I thought I was about to be set on fire, I'm pretty sure I'd be a little worried, myself. Bad shit goes down when someone actually manages to set me on fire. Don't laugh. It's happened.

I still think Admirals are douchebags. One of these days, I'm gonna get my words mixed up and refer to an Admiral as "douchebag" and whatever happens next is either going to suck royal balls or is going to be the most awesome thing to ever hit the history books. Maybe both if I play my cards right. Frankly, both sound like adventure to me, or at least they would if I were in better condition and did not have a steadily weakening big brother at my back. I can feel him slowing down. I think he was getting by on adrenaline alone, same as I was. This… isn't good, is it?

Do I look weaker? Am I weaker? I know I was when Ace first left the island, but it's been such a long time, and who knows how much stronger I've gotten? So why did Akainu decide that I was the first target? I don't get it. Maybe he's so horrible a person that he wanted to make Ace watch his little brother die in front of him or something. Maybe I was just closer, more convenient. I have no idea, but I think I'll be wondering until the day I die. Or maybe it really doesn't matter. I feel a scalding hot hand on my arm and I just… I just knew. My body knew before my brain quite did, so for a second or so I just felt blind terror and wasn't sure why. In the next second, I figured it out.

No. God, God, God, please no. Take me. Please take me. Anyone but him.

I can't lose another brother.

Don't make me alone in the world again.

Please take me. I'll do anything.

Take me.

I don't know how I did it. I didn't think I could react that fast when my body was so worn out, so beaten beyond belief. Regardless, I am so, so grateful. Ace, you can't possibly think I'd let you leave me behind. Idiot. You will not take my place in a grave. Not now, not ever. I don't care what kind of noble brotherly shit was going through your head when you decided suicide-by-Admiral was a good idea, but it's a good thing I'm here to set you straight. Just... don't look at me like that, okay? Don't look at me like your heart's breaking and your whole damn world is crashing down around you. I'll be okay. I've survived worse. Probably. You may not have noticed, but I'm one difficult bastard to kill. There's a guy named Crocodile hanging around here somewhere who can attest to that.

What's that smell? Burning rubber, huh? Yeah, saw that coming. Ace, you better leave now. Burning rubber releases some damn toxic smoke. If you try to save me, you'll only get poisoned yourself. Not advised. Akainu already figured that out the hard way. Oh. I guess tying a bit of cloth around your nose and mouth might work. Never mind. Well, as long as you've got all that going for you, I'm about to black out, so… Help me?

And suddenly, it's there. Finally. The hug I've been waiting for, desperately needing all week. One arm is around my waist and the other clutches me close, a hand on my head, caging me like I'm going to slip through his arms if he dares loosen his hold. It's all I can do to grip him back, weak though my arms are. He's so warm. He puts his arms around me and I'm home.

And seriously, that's where my memory ends. I might remember a blur of grays, and maybe that was me collapsing, but I'm not sure if it's a real memory or something my brain made up, 'cause that happens sometimes.

All I know is that I want to wake up in my brother's arms. Although maybe I should be content if I ever wake up at all.

Something is bright… what the hell? And whatever it is I'm sleeping on isn't very soft. The sheets are all tangled, too, and my toes are so not cool with this. But, uncomfortable and bright though it may be, this bed is really warm. I can't tell you how much I don't want to get up. Add that to the fact that when I try to move, my whole body screams at me… You get the point.

There's that guy with the spotted hat and the sword who was on Shaboady. I think his name was Law or something. What's he doing here? And wait, I think I remember there being a crewmate of his who was a bear who could talk and fight and had serious self-esteem problems… Okay, talking bears aside. None of that was important. It really should've been the first thing I thought of, but I guess it took me a while to come to: Where is Ace? I need to see him. I need him to hold me close again, no matter how much my body might hate me for it.

I ask Law where Ace is and my voice is so scratchy, I'm a little appalled. Just how long have I been out?

"Hey, don't strain yourself, kid. Your brother's fine. Well, not fine, exactly. They didn't exactly treat him like a king in prison. But he'll live without a scar to show for it, which is more than I can say for you," he says.

Now that he says it… it is kind of peculiar. "Why am I still alive? I'm pretty sure I a) got a magma punch straight to the spine and b) got poisoned from my own burning flesh. There's no way I'm that lucky."

Law just grins, but his eyes just look curious. "T'weren't luck, kid. You just gotta go and make the rest of us rookies look bad, huh? They already jacked up your bounty another 100 million. Captain Kid is gonna be pissed, since he used to be the high roller among us. But even with all that, you wanna know something funny?" I nod yes, hoping he'll get to the damn point. "That punch should've gone straight to your spine, yeah, and it should've gone out the other side, too. Pretty fancy shit you pulled. There's a guy who explained it to me a little; called it haki. Apparently, you can harden parts of your body to withstand attacks. I'd heard of haki, but I didn't know you could do this kind of shit with it. Regardless, you must not have done it that well, because only a bit of your back got tougher. The rest of you burned like a bitch. It was enough to stop most of the damage, though. You're gonna have an awesome sun-burst pattern in burns on your back. It's bound to look damn cool once it's not all bloody and gross and stuff. Don't worry, though, I've caked on enough aloe and bandages and antiseptic to hopefully stave off infection. Some of it's second degree, but a lot of it's third degree, so I'm afraid there's not much I can do about the pain you're in for later. It's gonna suck; trust me. But as for why your own burning flesh didn't do you in, I think your brother might've had something to do with that. I didn't ask."

Woah. Kind of a lot to take in. Haki was that thing Margaret mentioned, right? I still have no idea what that crap is, but it saved my life, so… maybe it's something that ought be explored? But not right now. Ace is first on my list of priorities. "Thanks for patching me up, man."

"No problem. I'm a surgeon myself, so it wasn't out of my way."

"Then is there some way I can get in to see Ace?"

Law looks at me like I'm crazy. "I'm not letting you out of that bed for at least the rest of today and some of tomorrow." He must see my face getting angry or something, because he starts explaining himself straightaway. "You're not supposed to move, but there's nothing preventing him from coming in to see you. If he's not asleep or eating, you want me to go get him?" he asks.

"Thank you so much. If you could, that would be great." He gets up and leaves. I turn and stare at the ceiling, still kind of in shock. Still in that 'holy-shit-I'm-alive' stage. It's not even so much awe that I'm still alive as awe (and a little disbelief) that Ace is okay and dandy, too. Hot damn. I might have one hell of a bark, and my bite might frequently measure up, but for all my squawking, there was a point or two where I honestly thought both of us were dead in the water and should just accept it. Or, rather, that there was no way both of us could survive. Whatever God is looking out for us… Thank you. I won't forget this. Thank you.

The door opens, and I hear Ace rasp out, "Luffy!" like I'm the second coming of Christ. He comes over as fast as he can, which doesn't seem to be too fast at all, and grabs my hand. He's covered in bandages himself, but I notice he hasn't bled through any of them, unlike me. I guess Law wasn't kidding when he said I was in much worse shape than Ace. Regardless, Ace has this look on his face like I'm the most precious thing in the whole damn world and he's about to cry because that's just how happy he is. I pull his hand to my chest and give him a smile as best I can. I think that might not have been the best thing to do, because he makes like he's about to hug me, but then his face falls a little and he settles back down.

"You can hug me, you know," I tell him. Hell, I really wanted that hug. I don't get enough of them, and I'm not entirely sure I ever will.

I can't believe it. He fucking looks at Law for permission. Screw the doctor's orders! I want my damn hug! Praise his lucky stars that Law gave him the okay, because otherwise, I might've had to smack both of them upside their idiot heads. Not that I think I could have reached with all the bandages keeping me relatively inflexible. If I tried to stretch, they would just tighten and cut off circulation, and I've got no desire to hurt myself worse than I've already succeeded in doing.

His hug now isn't like the one back in Marineford. It's not fast or anywhere near as tight. He's just as close though, and just as warm. His arms are so soft, and instead of conveying perfect safety and strength (although they do that some, too), they're mostly there to convey just how much he loves me. There's tenderness this time that wasn't there before, because we didn't have time for that then. God, I want to cry. I don't even quite know why, because I'm safe in my brother's loving arms and nothing can hurt me now. I should be at peace, but some of the fear from the execution site is still fresh in my head, and I guess the very idea of losing this, of losing Ace, suddenly is at the forefront of my mind.

Shit. Somewhere along the line I broke down and really did start crying. Now Ace is going to think something's wrong when technically nothing's wrong at all. Great. I didn't mean to make him worry more. Oh crud, he's crying too. Why is he crying? He's holding me a bit tighter and it kind of hurts, but there's nothing you could pay me to make me say it. His arms are clearly trying to avoid my back, where most of the damage was done, but I really wish he wouldn't. If my brother needs me and I need him, pain is one of those things where I really can't recall where I put that rat's ass I could give. But still, he pulls away. It's a lot colder all of a sudden. He's holding my face in his hands, pressing a kiss to my forehead. I guess he's trying to get across what he can't say. He's right in doing so, I think. The language we use is too weak, too small to convey the enormity of what either one of us is feeling right now. The motions are all we have. Ace doesn't seem to have accepted that, though, because he keeps opening and closing his mouth like a fish, trying to say something but coming up blank. Speaking of fish…

"I'm hungry," I say. I don't even mean to say it out loud, but there it is. Apparently, it's both the perfect thing to say and the worst thing to say, because Ace starts laughing his ass off and making motions like he wants to sock me upside the head.

"We can get you some food," he wheezes out between the bouts of laughter. "Lord knows we've got enough."

"So where are we, anyway?"

It's Law that answers this time. "It's my ship, if you want to get technical about it, but we've got the Whitebeard pirates for an escort. These guys act like my ship's a damn metro station and when I deem you fit to get the hell off my property, I'm gonna be all too happy to see them go with you."

"Huh? They're staying for me?" I don't really get it. I'm not one of their own. Ace might be, but he's clearly okay enough to get around on his own.

"Whether they're staying for you or for Ace is kind of unclear right now," Law says. "Possibly both."

"I refused to leave you here," Ace says. "If they think I'm going to leave your well-being in the hands of some random nutjob I don't even know-" Law raises a stink in the corner over this "-then they've got another thing coming. But all this being said, where's your crew? Where are your guys? I thought for sure you all were inseparable."

I try to laugh it off, but apparently my lungs don't like me overmuch. "Uhhh… There was this incident, and we all sort of got separated by accident. Trust me, I wouldn't have gone alone if I had the option of taking my guys with me. I don't really know where any of them are right now, although we agreed on a meeting place and time."

"Where? When?"

I pause. I don't actually know what day it is today, but I know damn well it's past the meeting time. "Probably a few days ago, now. Maybe a whole week?"

"Little brother, we need to work on your punctuality."

I give him a look. "Well, we weren't expecting to be scattered to the four winds when we made up that meeting time. I'd be surprised if anyone made it on time. Zoro might be strong enough to get through the Grand Line in three days, but he'd probably get hopelessly lost on the way and end up missing it anyway. Nami might have made it. She's good at that sort of thing."

Ace is looking a little bewildered. "So… what are you saying? You want to still try and make the meeting place?"

"I guess? There's no hurry. I'm wondering if it might be better to ask the guys for a little break. Change the meeting time so we've got a chance of actually all getting there on time for once."

Ace now has a new look on his face. I think it's hopeful. "So if you manage to get the word out, where are you planning on staying in the meantime?" Ah. That explains it. He wants me to stay with him.

"If Old Man Whitebeard is cool with it-" and that's as far as I get, because Ace wraps his arms around me neck and starts cuddling my head, practically bouncing where he sits on my bedside. Okay, so he's really happy. When he pulls back (I guess he realized at some point that breathing is something even rubbermen need to do on occasion), his eyes are shining like nobody's business. He looks like a kid at Christmas and this is the best present he's gotten his whole life.

"Do you want to? Do you really want to?" he asks.

"I feel like if I let you out of my sight, bad shit's going to go down! Of course I want to keep an eye on you!"

"That's my line, asshole," Ace says as he ruffles my hair. "I still think you're nuts for trying to come after me. It's still one giant mystery how you didn't die even after wreaking hell on Impel Down."

"You all should know by now how difficult a bastard I am to kill."

"Lu, I'm serious." I know that by now. The look on his face is damn near unmistakable. "Difficult to kill or not, we both know it's not impossible, so taking risks like that… Hell, what you did at Impel Down gave me heart attacks enough! But please, please, please for the love of God, don't you ever, ever pull that shit on me again." His hands are on my shoulders and his head is hanging low so I can barely see his face. I can feel him shaking. I'm not even sure if it's from anger or sadness or what. I just don't want my brother to suffer, especially if it's my fault. I'm not even 100% sure just what he's angry or sad about. Is this about me coming to save him in the first place? Or following him to Marineford? Or is this about Akainu? Somehow, I feel like it's that last one.

"I thought you were dying," I hear him whisper. Okay, so I called it once again. This is definitely about that whole thing with Akainu.

I wrap my arms around his shoulders, trying to bring our foreheads together so I can actually talk to him. "Listen to me, Ace. You were about to sacrifice yourself for me. There's no way on God's green earth that I was going to let you do that. Do you know just what all I went through to get you back? Hell, do you know even half of how much I love you? And besides, I lived. I'm here. It's okay." He's crying again. He's going to get really dehydrated if he keeps doing that. "Shhhh, it's okay…" At some point, I've started rocking him back and forth.

Ace forgets about my injuries (finally!) and just throws his arms around me. I can hear him faintly whisper stuff like, "I love you. I love you so much. Please don't ever do that again. I could have lost you. I almost did. Oh, God," over and over again. Some of it is gibberish I can't understand, but his general meaning is clear. He just needs me. That's all. As much as I need him, he needs me. This whole 'brotherhood' thing is one heck of two-way street, no matter how much Ace has tried to convince me that he should be the one looking after me and that's how it's always supposed to work. I don't think he gets at all how much I love him. How impossible it would be for me to stand by and just watch his death without doing anything. That alone would kill me faster than Akainu ever could.

We just sat there, rocking back and forth for a while. There was some healing to be done, and I understood that just fine. Eventually, Law (who had at some point vacated the room, although I never noticed him leaving) pops his head back in and declares that I, as his patient, need to get some goddamn sleep if I'm supposed to get better. Ace jumps on the gun and gets out of the room pretty fast at that, and I'm alone again. It's okay, though, because this time, my arms are still so very warm from where Ace had been resting. We are both okay and planning on keeping it that way, so it feels like all is finally right with the world. I fall asleep almost as soon as I get something to eat. I can't even remember what the hell Law gave me. I think bread was involved. I can't be certain. Either way, I'm out like a light, uncomfortable bed and grievous injuries aside.

The second time I wake up, it's a lot more pleasant than it was the first time. I'm calmer, knowing already that Ace is okay and I'm on my way to okay. Although I still don't see why they keep me in bed when they could just give me a shit-ton of meat and be done with it. I'd be fine in no time. But I digress. I don't see Law anywhere, so I guess… maybe no one will notice if I just…

Okay, I'm out in the hall and nobody's yelled at me to get back to bed yet. My back still isn't too happy with me, but I can get up and walk around without wanting to fall on a sword, which seems pretty good in my book. It looks like there's no one around at all. It's an unfamiliar ship layout, but it's pretty easy to figure out where stairs go. Going on deck seems better to me than trying to find Ace's room, 'cause hell if I know anything about this ship. For all I know, he isn't even on this ship, but one of Whitebeard's, where I'd expect he's got his own cabin. Either way, the deck seems as good a place to start as any.

I missed the open air. I missed having a deck beneath my feet. I'd been too busy worrying to enjoy our trip to Marineford, and before that, I'd been stuck in Hancock's cabin, so it wasn't like I'd gotten my seafaring fix. I missed that slight rocking of the ocean cradling the ship like a newborn child. I know the ocean should frighten me, but it never has. In fact, I never feel safer than when I'm aboard a ship. I wonder if that's part of the whole Devil Fruit curse: to love the sea and always be betrayed by it. Poetic, I think. The day is a little dark and cloudy, and I can smell rain that's still an hour or so away, but that's really my favorite kind of weather. I used to dance badly in the rain when I was little, especially after Ace left and I didn't really know what to do with myself most of the time. Ace used to hate the rain and didn't get why Sabo and I both went out there and played in the stuff. Sabo and I would just laugh whenever he said that, and then we'd go play and try to convince him to come with us. We never had much luck on that front.

I can see him now, though. There he is, sitting precariously on the railing of the deck, staring into the distance like he's thinking really hard about something important and has quite forgotten to blink or breathe in the meantime. I think it'll be funny as hell if I just sneak up behind and scare the shit out of him. Aww, but he might fall. No fun. And even if he doesn't fall, he'll still kick my ass. Well, I still think it would be hilarious. Comic gold, right there.

Okay, so I didn't exactly wuss out. I just went up and rested my arms on the bit of railing next to him before speaking.

"So what are you thinking about so seriously?"

I must have still managed to wig him out, because he does this awesome double-take like he had no idea I was there. "Lu? What are you doing out of bed?"

"Eh, I felt like getting up. And besides, I'm feeling loads better. Honest." I'm lying a little, yeah, but he doesn't need to know that. He just looks at me like I'm nuts, and I suppose it's a legitimate concern.

"Did Law say you could, though?"

"He wasn't there when I woke up. Still, nobody told me to sit my ass down, so it can't have been too crucial."

Ace just shakes his head. I'm probably a lost cause in his mind. In everyone's mind, if you can believe half the stuff Nami just tosses out there.

All of a sudden, there's an arm around my waist and another around Ace's, yanking us back. Then there are two noogies planted firmly on our hat-less heads. Ace and I both turn to start bitching, but Ace's face changes completely when he sees who it is. Crap, but I can't remember this guy's name, either. He's one of Whitebeard's guys… Mark? Marco? Marcus? Something.

What's-his-face slings an arm around Ace's shoulders with a practiced ease and peers at me. He's got sharp eyes, but he seems like a nice guy.

"So this is the infamous brother I've heard enough about to write a three-volume novel? I'm a bit surprised you weren't kidding when you told us how batshit-crazy he was. Well, crazy or not, you look like you've been through a meat grinder, kid."

"Naw," I say, "I haven't seen anything resembling meat around here, so I've probably been through some other kind of grinder. Where is the kitchen, by the way? If I don't get something to eat soon, a crewmember or two might be forfeit." He and Ace just chuckle.

"I don't think this ship's kitchen is equipped to handle your appetite, Lu. You might have to make a trip back to the Moby Dick," Ace says. "Marco was coming over here to grab me up for lunch, anyway." Marco. That was his name. Okay, so I got it right, I just didn't know it at the time.

"Yeah!" Marco's face doesn't move much, but his eyes get this intense kind of… I don't know what to call it, but it's like when Nami sees a guy walking by with huge bags of treasure and he just happens to drop, like, three of them. That face. "The guys have been hearing about you from your brother here for ages, same as me. I'm sure a couple are dying to meet you in person. 'Specially after what you pulled in Marineford. And Impel Down, from what all we hear. C'mon, sit with us!"

Well, they have food. It's not like I'm gonna say no. If they try and get me to talk right when I've got my face full though, I'm not gonna be pleased.

Okay, so I get two steps into the mess hall of the Moby Dick and I already know these guys are gonna be a riot. Three of 'em are standing on a table in the middle doing some sort of jig that looks like so much fun, I want to try, and at the same time, I don't think I could do that without getting my legs twisted up and falling on my ass. They are also drunk. At noon. My kind of people.

Ace sits me down at a table pretty far from all the hubbub in a corner, and I think he does it so I might have a shot at eating in peace, but… Yeah, that didn't work. Folk are already realizing that Oh hey! That one guy's up and around! and the occasional guy is wandering over, trying to look unsuspicious. And by 'occasional guy' I mean pretty much everyone.

"So you're Ace's brother?"

"Wait, this is him?"

"Yeah, didn't you see him in Marineford? Guy went in like a man possessed."

"No shit?"

"Hey, Norm! Look! Guess who! This is Luffy! I'm serious!"

I'm over in my little corner wondering if anything of them is going to ask me a legit question or if Ace is gonna have to fight his way through them just to get me some freaking food.

One of them parks himself in a chair and scoots forward. "Never thought I'd see the day when Ol' Whitebeard damn near got upstaged. That being said, well done. Nice to see you're not dead."

"I'm pretty happy about that last bit, too," I tell him. "Death and I aren't even on speaking terms, let alone going steady." And just like that, the ice (if there ever was any to begin with) is broken. A bunch of the guys find chairs of their own or steal somebody else's and crowd around. Half are trying to get me to talk about what Ace was like when he was little or how I got into Impel Down and back out again, and the other half are trying to tell me stories about Ace's time with Whitebeard they think I might not have heard yet. Some have started raising their hands like school kids to cut down on confusion and it's kind of adorable.

"Guys, guys! Settle the hell down and give the man some room to breathe," Ace calls out from the back of the crowd, juggling more food than I thought could ever be balanced safely. Marco's got his arms mostly full and appears to be spotting for anything Ace drops. "Besides, haven't you all heard enough about my brother already?"

"Well, that's just it! When something gets spoken about so much and so often with so little proof, it becomes a mythological creature in its own right," comments the guy next to me. "You can't blame us for being a bit surprised he actually exists."

"You suck," Ace says, probably because he can't think of a better comeback.

"You didn't tell us he was this cute! Look at his widdle baby face!"

"I did so! You just didn't believe me," Ace says.

"Just what all have you been saying about me?" I ask.

"Please; what hasn't the man said about you?" There's a lady with greenish-black hair down to her hips who's looking like a cat with its favorite toy. "We probably know more about you than you do, so why don't we all introduce ourselves?" I nod, mostly because not knowing any of what's going on right now is a little worrying and I don't like being stuck in the dark. "I'm Miranda. That's Nick, there's Selma, and Joshua, Norm and Norma (They're twins. Shame they don't look anything alike), Charles, Patrick O'Flaherty (He hates being reminded of his home country so naturally we call him Laddie), Mikhail, Jin, Phil, Sanderson, Richard, Ludo, Simcoe, and those three are all named Hannah, so we just yell 'Hey you!' and point whenever we need one of them. I think you already know Marco and I'm damn sure you're familiar with Ace."

"He might be," I hear Ace say. "But don't tell anybody we're related. It's not the sort of thing I admit to strangers." Everybody starts laughing and I actually get the joke for once.

"Did you get the food?" I ask before I can really think about the words coming out of my mouth. Of course he has the food. It's in his damn arms. I'm making eye contact with it as we speak. He gives me a look and slams it down on the table for answer. He probably meant to arrange it on the table properly, but let's face it: if I can see my toes, I haven't been eating anywhere near enough.

"Slow down, Lu! If you choke, I don't know how to Heimlich a rubberman!"

What I meant to say was something along the lines of, "If you're gonna go slow, you're not going to get anything at all," but what actually came out around the massive amounts of food in my mouth was more like, "Mff uuuronnuh ou oo, oo awt oing chu ge nnishin eht ooll." I'm not sure how Ace understood a word of it, but I think he got it, because he starts grabbing shit and wolfing it down, same as me. It's really hard to get that huge a mouthful down my throat without incident, but I'm an old pro, so I don't really have any problems and neither does Ace, even though his throat can't quite stretch the way mine can. We both grab our respective cups of sake and try to suck them down to clear our airways, and for some reason, people are shouting, "Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!" Please. I'd do that whether you told me to or not. I finish in unison with Ace and we just grin at each other like loons. There's nothing quite like that palpable connection with family, no matter how gross your bonding material might be considered in polite company. And, wouldn't you know it, we fell asleep in our food at the exact same time later that evening.

I swear I don't remember anything else of the party that went on for the rest of that day, but people keep telling me I was up and around, though I wasn't making much sense. I might've been sleepwalking, because no matter how drunk I am, I never just forget huge chunks of time. It doesn't work like that. I've been told that Law figured out I was up and out of bed ahead of schedule and got really pissed, so he dumped all my crap (just my clothes and hat, really) in Ace's cabin and left, making all sorts of smartass remarks about jumped-up brothers who did nothing but make trouble for decent, hard-working criminals and that kind of stuff. They also tell me that I at least had the presence of mind to scream a "thank you" at him as his ship left, which I'm grateful for. The guy did me a good turn, and I'd like to think we parted on relatively good terms.

I wouldn't figure all that out until later the next day, though. I wake up in a bed in a darkened room. I can't see much of anything, but I can smell cinnamon. And maybe that's some burnt incense. Some kind of wood or whatever. At sea, Devil Fruit users aren't overly inclined to jumping in the water to get a bath, but Ace is really particular about hygiene. He burns that stuff to ward off the smell of other nasty people who haven't bathed or showered since their last birthday, he says. But that's not the point. The point is that I know without looking I'm in Ace's room. I kind of wish I could see it though. I really want to know where Ace has been staying those three years he's been away. His bed is softer than that one I had on Law's ship, and bigger, too. The door creaks open and the light coming through is so bright, I shut my eyes as fast as I can and start bitching in sleepy gibberish.

"Hey. Sorry 'bout that, Lu," Ace says, putting the flame in his hand out. "Didn't mean to wake you up."

"I was up already," I tell him. "I just didn't expect my eyes to get stabbed out."

"I said I was sorry. You're not getting better than that."

"I could do with some cuddling, you know. Might be willing to forgive you after that, you never know."

I can't see the look Ace gives me, but I can feel it. He doesn't say anything back, though, starting to take off his clothes for bed for an answer. It's right about now that I figure out that I'm undressed just the same. Ace must've tucked me in before. I feel kind of like an ass for taking his bed, but he clearly has no intention of sleeping on the floor and there's no way in hell I'm going to when I know Ace doesn't care about sharing a bed… so I'm not sure exactly what I feel like an ass about anymore.

He's so close all of a sudden, and it's just skin on skin, and so very warm. I feel like he's trying to ask me a question, even though he hasn't said a word. I'm not sure how the hell I found his face in the dark, but I manage to pull him closer and kiss him full on the lips.

Okay, so I was under the impression that people kissed the people they loved, whether they meant it in a familial or a… well, a, you know, romantic kind of way. My bad. I seriously thought it was okay to kiss your family. I mean, don't people kiss their mothers and fathers good night? Why shouldn't you kiss your brother? I don't get this crap, but people have kept trying to tell me that I messed up somewhere in my logic. I don't see it. Your laughter is really not appreciated.

But you know what? I don't care. I've decided not to give a shit about 'social propriety' or whatever the hell Nami called it. If I cared about being politically correct, I wouldn't be a damn pirate, and I figure THAT at least is sound logic. And besides, my brother needs something from me, and if I have something to give, why not? He kind of gets of still for a few seconds, but eventually wraps his arms around me and kissed me back. And just like that, we're falling back into old sleeping patterns: he's on his stomach, halfway on top of me (he says that I'm so squishy, he always sleeps better when he's using me like a mattress) and our legs are intertwined. One arm is around the unsquished portion of me and the other is hanging off the side of the bed – Ace gets really overheated because not only does his skin sometimes heat up without him meaning to, the sheets on the bed trap in heat, so at least one arm (or sometimes a leg) has got to be in contact with cooler air. It's kind of ironic that he's the one who hates to be too warm when he's sleeping and I'm the one who hates to be too cold. I love having him on top of me, even if he is squishing half of me. He's like my own personal radiator. Who smells awesome. I love him so much. So much. This past week (or however long it's been – I don't actually know how long I spent passed out in Law's infirmary) has undoubtedly been the scariest thing I've ever gone through in my life, including getting tortured when I was eight, or almost getting eaten by a crocodile when I was six. I don't think I'm going to get tired of being near my brother any time soon. That fear is still too fresh in my head, and it's going to take some work to get me feeling secure enough to go back to my crew. Maybe I can convince Ace to come with me… Haha, no, maybe not. He really shouldn't see the kind of shit I get myself into. He'd freaking kill me. My guys might be used to my dangerous habits and eccentricities, but Ace? Not so much. I don't think I'm going to let him in on just what all I've been doing all this time. Now that I've had a particularly bitter taste of this whole 'worrying' thing, I sure as hell don't want to put Ace through more of that than I have to. Maybe it really is better that we try to keep our lives as separate as possible. We love each other too much to really let the other do anything. We can only live when we don't have to worry about scaring the brother who needs us to live.

Well… isn't that a funny little paradox? Too much thinking. Can't digest my dinner. Did I even eat dinner? Probably, if Ace had anything to say about it. Ace is really warm on top of me… I should get to sleep. Important crap can wait til the morning. It's warm and soft and loving a place right now and I'm gonna screw it up if I keep questioning it. Good night, O appallingly lucky brother of mine. Please don't turn out to be a dream when I wake up.

(A/N): How did this three page drabble turn into a 16-page monster? Christ. AND I wrote an 11-page research paper. All in two days. How's that for multitasking? Not that I'm going to do it again.

I always liked Ace okay, but then, when I was little, I lost interest around the Crocodile/Alabasta arc, so I never got too see much of him. Now that I've read the whole damn thing, he's seriously one of my favourite characters, next to Luffy and Robin. Kaku's cute as a button, too. When he died, I cried for about an hour in the bathroom at three in the morning so I wouldn't wake my roommates. In so much misery like you have no idea. So then I go off on this whole One Piece kick and completely dig myself into a pit of bittersweet misery by looking up everything involving Ace and Luffy that exists. I don't really care whether it's a pairing thing or not: the brotherly relationship is what I go for, just because, being a younger sibling who loves her older sister one whole hell of a lot (but don't tell her I said that), I can kind of see where Luffy was coming from when he had his mental breakdown. I guess in my head I'm trying to convince myself that that relationship wasn't destroyed just because Ace died. Yeah, I know it's just a story, but it doesn't change the fact that I don't want to believe in the kind of world where an older sibling can die and leave the younger behind. Let me live in my imaginary world where my family is immortal. Please.