Ace bit his tongue to keep from growling at the door in frustration, pushing on it as hard as he physically could. His first goddamn day on the job was supposed to get horrible only after he had started working, right? His stupid key card wasn't working. Why wasn't it working? The nice nurse lady (what was her name? Hannah or something?) had told him the stupid thing had been activated, so by that logic, the damn thing was supposed to work, yes? And yet.
The employee locker room was probably overrated anyway. He could just carry his shit around with him the whole day. Right. Like that wouldn't get him any weird looks at all(!)
"You locked out?" asked a voice behind him.
"No – I'm just standing out here for the fun of it(!)" Ace said without really thinking about it. Oh, bollocks. First day on the job – first five minutes of the job, actually – and he'd probably already offended someone. The laughter gave some relief, but only a little.
The man was really freaking tall. That, or Ace was just short. Truth be told, it was probably the latter, but you'd never hear him tell it. The man had lazy, half-closed eyes and a wild patch of blond hair on his head, which seemed otherwise devoid of hair. Had it all migrated there or something, or was he just going bald the opposite of the normal way?
"My name's Marco. I can't say I've seen you around here before," he said.
Ace took the proffered hand and shook it. "Yeah; I'm new. I'm Ace. Thank you for not taking offense and getting me fired on the spot. Sometimes my mouth moves when my brain doesn't."
"At least your brain makes the effort to catch up later, which is more than I can say for most of the people who walk through the front doors of this place."
Ace cleared his throat. "So… I don't suppose your key card works, does it?"
"Eh. One way to find out." Marco leaned forward as Ace got out of the way, swiping his card. With a small beep, Marco yanked down the handle and pulled the door open. "Well, whaddya know? Got a locker assigned yet?"
Ace blinked in slight shock. It was a pull door. …Well, at least it meant his card was probably working just fine. "Er, no. I thought I was just supposed to pick a random open one or something."
"That works, I guess. Sometimes the bastards in HR like to screw with new kids by assigning lockers," Marco said.
"How does that count as screwing with them?"
"Because they give 'em Le Locker de la Misère."
"The Locker of Misery. Locker number 28. Somebody in number 29 got fired and as a last 'fuck you' to management, he left his lunch in there. It's been a year and change, I think. It smells like death. One of the janitors passed out when he got too close. We've tried getting the damn lock off, but the guy used to be in a kind of Special Forces Unit in the army, and his lock is heavy-duty like no-one's business. The thing could probably survive a nuclear holocaust. You can understand, then, why no-one wants the locker right next to it."
Ace winced. "I've heard of hazing, but surely that's overkill."
Marco shrugged. "We never said we forced them to keep the locker. Usually they break and switch to a different one after the first day or two. They didn't assign you a locker, though, so you must not impress them as the type of guy they can pull a fast one on, huh?"
"Guess not," Ace mused. He jumped around as he tried to wiggle into his uniform pants, feeling not a little silly. "Hey, er, can I ask a question?"
"You just did, but I'll assume you meant a further question. Go for it."
Ace did his best not to sound at all spooked. He thought he did a pretty good job. "…How freaky does it get around here?"
Marco looked up and studied the younger man. "You've been listening to Hollywood too much, man. This might be a mental hospital, but you'll find no 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' shit here. Most of the folks here are old people who wouldn't hurt a fly. A lot of 'em can't even remember their own names, or they can't remember what happened the day before. The criminally insane guys we keep locked up on the lower floors, for the most part, and even they're pretty well behaved a lot of the time. This job is boring and uneventful. Just have some respect for the patients here, okay? They aren't inmates; they're human beings with severe problems. Your job is never to be the iron fist controlling them. You're here to help them, or at least keep them from hurting themselves. All right?"
"Okay," Ace nodded, swallowing. "Got it."
"Good." They were both completely dressed and Ace had ended up choosing a locker a few away from Marco's. "Now, in terms of who you'll be working with: obviously, there's me. I'm in charge of security, or I'm as close to the guy in charge of security as anyone ever will be. Technically, that's somebody else, a guy name Norton, but he sits on his fat ass all day a never does a thing, so we don't really count him when we're talking about security detail. Then there's the Golightly twins; Norm and Norma. Don't piss off Norma if you value your testicles." Ace must have had an appalled look on his face, because Marco let loose a small grin, which seemed the Marco equivalent of laughing out loud. "Norm's a decent sort. Kind of a douche, but harmless. Also a dumbass. If you need to ask something, either talk to me or Norma. Yes, she's scary when she's angry, but as long as you don't piss her off, she really knows what she's doing and is good with explaining things. Then there's the last guy. Joseph Santorum. You'll notice his last name sounds like 'sanatorium'. Don't make the jokes; they've already been made. Just call him Joe. He is one of the heavy-duty guys. So'm I. We're the ones who are fully authorised to kick the living shit out of somebody who goes out of line, not that we really ever have to. Just remember that he can probably break your neck with his bare hands. He used to be a Navy Seal, so that oughta give you a good idea of who you're working with here."
"Damn," Ace muttered.
"So it's just the six of us? Well, five, if you don't count Norton?"
"Yeah. I'm telling you; nothing ever happens here. We don't really need heavy-heavy security. You'll be fine. I guarantee this is going to be the most boring job you've had since working the food court during college."
"I didn't work at a food court during college," Ace said before he could stop himself.
"Lucky. Where did you end up working?"
"I was a research assistant in the biology department."
Marco stopped and stared hard at Ace. "What's your degree in?"
"I've got a BA in Biochemistry. Minored in Physics and Fine Art. Why?"
Marco chuckled, shaking his head. "Biochem, Physics, and Art, huh? And you're working as a security guard? Yeah, you're weird enough to be in here. Welcome aboard."
"Er… thanks?" Ace said.
"For your first day, I suggest just wandering around and pretending like you're doing something important. Talk to some of the patients. Just try to get a feel for the routine. Lunch break is at one pm. See ya!"
And with that, Marco was gone. Patients and nurses had begun to swarm as breakfast was being served, and Ace soon lost sight of his mentor. Could he be counted as a mentor? Just a friendly coworker? Potential friend? Well, he was helpful, straightforward, and nice, and perhaps that was all there was to it at the moment.
Ace was bored as sin. Well, Marco had warned him. The top floor (which was actually the ground floor – apparently, the establishment hadn't wanted anyone jumping from the roof, so instead of building up, they had built down instead) was just full of doddering old people who, as Marco had said, could barely remember their own names. They might have been dementia patients, but Ace hadn't really studied enough psychology to know for certain. There were about three or four people who weren't old, but he didn't really know what they were there for. One of them had multiple personality disorder, from what Ace could tell, but her personalities all seemed varying degrees of pleasant. He had only met four of them so far, but he had been informed that there were a good seven or so more. Keeping all the names straight was going to be hell.
He didn't know why his legs eventually carried him down to the lower levels. Hadn't Marco said that the lower levels held the criminally insane guys? The legit crazies? In retrospect, Ace thought, if I want to get used to everything this place can possibly throw at me, I may as well get a good feel for the entirety of what it could entail. That means dealing with the majorly-crazy guys, too.
The first basement just looked like a general living space. There were baths, playrooms, living rooms, and other such areas. Activities seemed to be going on behind a few of the closed doors, like an Art Therapy class or more private therapy sessions.
Then there was the second basement.
Ace was severely regretting staying up last night to play Amnesia: the Dark Descent. As if the game weren't scary enough, this was almost worse. His breathing was uneven as he peered down the sparse hallway. It was well-lit, at least. The light was almost harsh, all things considered. That only served to make him remember every single horror film he'd ever seen. He didn't like to admit it, but he was kind of a wuss when it came to horror films. For some reason, he watched every single one that came out, anyway.
Ace almost had a goddamn heart attack.
He spun around with a soft cry he would never admit to, backing up into the wall faster than his eyes could comprehend what he saw. To his credit, though, he got his breathing under control very quickly when he caught on.
Two wide black eyes were looking at him from a slit in a door. It seemed each door had a small window that could be opened and closed at the will of whoever was living in the room. This window opened wider to show a young man's face, crinkled in laughter.
"You shoulda seen your face!" he giggled.
"Ho-how did you know my name?" Ace asked.
"It's written on your arm."
…Oh. His tattoo. Riiiiiight. That was the second stupid-as-hell thing Ace had done today. That was depressing.
Ace laughed nervously. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone I did that."
"Did what? Screamed like a little girl?"
"I didn't scream like a girl!"
"Then what did you scream like?"
"Mind your own business! Jeez," Ace muttered. He inspected the face, still laughing at him from behind the door. For one thing, he was surprised at just how alert he was. Most of the other patients had slightly slow responses, and were frankly somewhat withdrawn. Such was far from the case with this one. He acted as though he and Ace had been friends for years. What really caught Ace's attention was his youth. The kid couldn't have been more than eighteen. Why the hell was he in this place? Didn't they usually try out therapy first and see if the problem persisted into adulthood? It didn't really make any sense.
"So who are you?" Ace asked.
"Monkey D Luffy. But everybody calls me Luffy," he said.
"What's the D stand for?"
"Dunno. Er, I mean, I don't know what it stands for, not that my middle name is 'Dunno'."
"I know what you meant. That's weird, though. My middle name's D too."
Luffy's face had to be hurting from how wide his grin got. "No way! Maybe we're secretly related!"
"Doubt it," Ace said. "Middle names aren't exactly genetic." Okay, so he was lying a little bit. In his family, the middle name – or was it a middle initial? – got passed down just as much as the surname did, and occasionally even more so, since women retained their initial after marriage. "My name's Portgas D Ace. Just Ace is fine, not that you seem to have a problem there," he said.
"Wanna be friends?" Luffy asked.
"Awesome! Nobody talks to me any more and I get so bored in here, I start trying to teach myself gymnastics. That bored."
"Wow. Serious business, that," Ace said.
"I know, right? None of the guards take me seriously and none of the nurses are allowed in to see me! I'm all, 'what the hell?' over here!" he exclaimed.
"All right, all right. I'll come talk to you when you need to get un-bored, okay?"
"Shake on it!" He extended a hand through the bars on the window. Damn, he had skinny wrists. What did they feed him here? Whatever it was, it clearly wasn't enough.
"Shake on it." Ace clasped the extended hand and couldn't help but grin. The kid was a fucking weirdo, but his good cheer was infectious.
"See ya 'round!" And with that, the little window closed.
Ace went back up the stairs, even though he hadn't seen the entirety of the lower levels. He could get around to that tomorrow, after all. Luffy had given him enough to deal with for one day as it was.
(A/N): I'm looking to have a continuous plot for this one. I've actually got shit planned; look at me! Anyway, while I may not be looking to incorporate humour as a major element in this story… you guys know me. If I think of a joke and there's a character who'd be the type to say it, I'm going to end up including it. It's just the way I roll. The next chapter will have something of a plot to work off of, so it shouldn't be quite as boring as this one was.
For all the Marco fans out there… I'm not completely sure how I'm going to make him a more prominent character in this. I'm working on it, but with what I've got right now, he's only going to become important later on in the story, so you may have to wait. Sorry about that! Like I said, I'm still working on it.