Summary: Whitebeard's first commander vanished years ago – so long ago in fact that his existence is just a myth nowadays. When Ace is handed a rare hybrid of a bird, he has no idea how much his life is about to change and how the world will respond, sparking the end to the war on Devil Fruit users. Dystopian AU, Marco/Ace.
Pairing: Ace x Marco
Warnings: Dystopian AU, on-going rebellion, themes of oppression including scenes of forced removal of people from their normal lives. Planned to fit alongside a bigger series, but is a standalone piece.
so I could be the snake
and still look like a dove
The bird sat dispassionately in the cage as Ace bit his lip, waiting for the click on the other end of the line that would signal Luffy had finally paid attention to the ringing phone.
"Hello?" a familiar voice said around a mouthful of food as the phone picked up. "Who is it?"
Manners forever lost, something Ace would have to reprimand his brother for later, Luffy swallowed thickly and asked again.
"It's me Luffy," Ace muttered and Luffy instantly launched into hundreds of questions, from asking how he was to questioning if he should go buy more meat today or tomorrow morning.
"Luffy," Ace said tiredly, the bird's beady eyes settling on him as he began to pace. "I'm not calling to talk about meat. I have a problem."
Instantly, Luffy fell silent. For all his eccentricities and lack of focus, when there was a problem with anyone Luffy cared about, he was ready to fly into action on a moment's notice.
"An old collector or something died and they found something odd in his possession. They traced its ownership and, somehow, it was supposed to go to my dad when the collector died. Obviously my dad's dead and so it's mine." Ace shuffled away from the bird, already feeling irritated at its bored stare.
"What's bad about an old antique? Want me to ask Nami to value it or something?" Luffy had clearly relaxed when it was revealed Ace wasn't in any danger, a humorous tone in his voice.
"Luffy… it's… fuck." Ace sighed and ran a hand over his eyes. "It's some rare kind of bird or something – I don't know. They were talking about it being a hybrid and the only one of its kind and fuck."
Luffy fell silent again and Ace waited patiently.
"A bird?" he asked softly. Luffy knew better than anyone Ace's track record with living creatures. "I'll be over in ten minutes."
The phone call terminated and Ace looked at the bird in its cage. It was a good thing, really, hardly moving, except when to eat and drink. It looked utterly bored with the world, not that Ace could blame it. If he'd been shut behind a cage all of his life, he'd be bored with everything around him.
Ace tried to busy himself while waiting for Luffy to arrive. He tidied the kitchen a little, checking how much food he had before returning to the living room, avoiding looking at the bird as he picked up the sofa cushions.
A knock on the door came a moment later and Ace felt his heart beat calm a little, knowing that Luffy was here to help him. He opened the door and Luffy bounced in, all smiles and grabby hands.
"What do I do?" Ace asked, so different from how he usually behaved. Usually it was Luffy who was the one who came asking for help or needed Ace's support, but now Ace learnt how it was to need someone more than before.
"Can I see it?" Luffy asked, still smiling. He'd always loved animals and if anyone could coax the bird out of its shell then it would be Luffy.
Ace led him into the lounge and as soon as Luffy saw the cage, he was off. Before Ace could warn him, the little door had been unbolted and Luffy stuck a hand in, wiggling his fingers to try and get the bird's attention.
"Hello," Luffy said quietly, moving slowly to the bird. It seemed to roll its eyes and then with precise accuracy, darted its neck out to peck Luffy's hand.
"Ace," Luffy whined, turning around. "It pecked me."
And therein lay the problem. Or part of the problem. It was the problem Ace had with every animal he'd ever come across. Seeming to read the expression on Ace's face correctly, Luffy extracted his hand and closed the cage, rubbing the back of his neck and humming to himself.
"It's your fire, isn't it?" Luffy asked quietly and Ace nodded at once.
"Some of the people who handed the bird over to me said they'll be back in a few weeks with a few places I could sell the bird. Private hands and all, ones who'd want their bird in top condition." Ace closed his eyes.
Luffy patted his arm gently before he moved to the kitchen. Ace let him go, knowing he'd be back with food for them to share.
Some would say that Ace was lucky. They were the ones who weren't 'gifted' by the Devil's Fruits, the ones who would always have a normal life. For those who did have the supernatural powers, however, life was far more sinister and secretive.
Devil's Fruit powers expressed themselves in anyone and in any way. Luffy had the power of being a rubber-man and it took every ounce of his concentration to hide the fact his skin couldn't feel pain and that he could stretch his body a thousand times longer than he stood. It wasn't easy for Luffy, but it was harder for Logia types, such as Ace.
While Ace had spent his entire life striving to control his powers, he was far from perfect. If this bird, like any of the other animals he'd met in his life, snuck up on him one day or accidentally hurt him, they'd be hurt. Ace could remember the first time he'd accidentally singed a cat's paw and how terrible he'd felt after. Since the cat, he'd never tried to have a pet, and yet here he was with a bird that would peck him and be hurt because his control was lacking.
Fire was not a gift that wanted to be forgotten. Ace knew that if he went to the underground and trained every day, the chances he'd accidentally hurt the bird would be lower, but there was another factor in this all.
Ace was being watched. Watched by people who wanted the bird (or, more correctly, the ones who wanted the money they'd get from the bird), and if they saw his fire then he'd be taken by the government and put to work, strapped in sea-stone cuffs.
That was the stark truth for those with Devil's Fruit abilities. If they found you, your life and freedom was gone. You were put to work under the government's watchful eye, chained up for the rest of your time, and yet that was only if they determined you weren't a threat.
Ace knew he didn't stand a chance. Not only was his power a destructive, dangerous, one, but his father had been a thorn in the government's side. His father had been a revolutionary of his time; one of the few non-Devil's Fruit users to go against the government, wanting freedom for all. He'd long since died, way before Ace had been born, yet his fight was far from over.
Tearing his mind away from the war the Whitebeard Pirates were waging against the government (because that brought forward thoughts on the small yet deadly gang that had risen to the front of the battle lines, in an amazing fashion, with their leader in a strikingly familiar straw hat), Ace looked over at the bird.
He couldn't keep it. Sooner or later he'd hurt it – like he'd always done – yet the stakes were too high this time. While he felt sorry for the bird that it would have to be shuffled off in captivity, Ace wanted to keep his own freedom. If those watching saw his body turn into fire at will – well, almost completely at will, Ace still had trouble with pain – then they would string him up as soon s they could.
Fear ruled all in the Grand Line and the ones watching him would sell him out sooner than he could pack up and run.
Luffy returned then with a plateful of meat and cheeses he'd grabbed from the fridge. There was also a hunk of break he'd ripped off of the loaf Ace had brought that very morning and Luffy set his spoils on the table proudly, sitting next to them on the floor.
"What are you going to do?" Luffy asked as he began shovelling the food down. Ace shrugged his shoulders. He had no idea, which was why asking Luffy had been his first course of action.
"I can't take it," Luffy said straight away and Ace nodded. While they didn't exactly talk of Luffy's activities against the government, they weren't exactly hidden. "I'll look around and find out if anyone wants a bird though. I know Whitebeard's looking for one."
Ace scoffed. "Luffy, Whitebeard lost his phoenix, not a weird hybrid bird. Everyone says the thing died anyway and yeah, it's unfortunate, but the bird was little more than a mascot."
Luffy pouted and shook his head. "I refuse to believe it," he muttered. "I wanted to see the phoenix."
Of course Luffy would want a mythical animal to belong to Whitebeard just so he could see it. And of course Luffy would try to say the hybrid bird was a phoenix of all things.
"How many times; they don't exist. A phoenix is just a mythical creature." Ace shook his head with a fond smile.
"But you said that dragons don't exist and there was definitely a dragon when we went-" Ace cut Luffy off with a hand over the mouth.
"I don't want to know about the places you've been," he said quickly, more for Luffy's benefit than his own. "What I want to do is find out how to solve my problem."
Even the bird was silent as Luffy contemplated Ace's predicament. Ace watched as Luffy looked at the bird, to Ace, back to the bird and then to Ace again.
"I think he likes you though," Luffy announced. Ace resisted the urge to groan and instead turned to the bird, looking it over with a critical eye. It was true that the bird hadn't bitten him when he'd put his hands inside, but he'd been giving it food and water then, not trying to make friends like Luffy had been.
"Watch," was all the warning Luffy gave before he tottered off to the cage and opened it – far too quickly for Ace to stop him. With a cry of alarm, Ace could only watch as the bird hopped to the cage door and spread its wings, taking off into the room a moment later.
"Fuck, Luffy! It'll shit everywhere," Ace said frantically, looking around for a towel to catch the bird with.
"He's a clever bird," Luffy said, uncaring of the even bigger problem he'd just created. Why had Ace asked him for help again? "I bet he only wants to stretch his wings and have a look at his new home."
"You don't seem to get the point," Ace hissed, finally having located a blanket that was small enough to catch the bird with. He was glad for the pile of blankets Luffy had insisted he keep by his sofas now. "I can't keep it! I don't care if it likes me, if it stays then I'm going to be found out!"
"You want to keep him though," Luffy said simply, as if that was all there was to it. "You've always been alone and there's always been this space that even I couldn't fill up."
For a moment, Ace's heart sank as Luffy paused, looking so downcast and hurt that all he wanted to do was hold his little brother. It passed though, and Luffy smiled again.
"See how you get on living with him until they tell you they've found new home for the bird. You'll have to be careful, but your control has gotten much better and you don't want to hurt him. He doesn't want to hurt you either, I can feel it, so there shouldn't be any problems." Oh how simple Luffy's world was, but he wasn't held down like Ace was. Luffy was captain of one of the pirate crews, the outlaws who were trying to take down the government and free those with Devil's Fruit powers and any other who had been oppressed.
Ace, on the other hand, had no such freedom. He worked for a large company, punching numbers for one cause or another. He did what he was told because he didn't want to be found out. Having Roger's blood and power over fire meant he had to keep down to survive, even if Luffy had tried countless times to get him to follow his dream for freedom, tried to make Ace join him and the scores of pirates.
Though he hated to admit it, Ace was afraid. It was easier to keep his head down and continue a mundane life than risk everything for freedom. His power was unlike any he'd seen before – what would happen if even his own kind rejected him? He'd be an outcast on both sides and that was the main reason he stayed hidden.
Well, that and the fact that Roger had died with a stain against his name and if that was discovered to link back to Ace then he'd have to run and never stop. The only reason the bird had been traced to him had been because of his mother's name, the name Roger must have used when signing the documents.
Why had Roger done it though? Why had he tried to buy this bird and accepted that it would fall to him when the owner died? What was he trying to tell Ace?
"Keep him," Luffy urged, watching the bird as it walked across the floor. It was roughly the size of a duck, though looked more like a magpie than anything with deep blue-black feathers over its body. Lighter patches streaked across its belly and down its tail, an off-white that looked so bright in contrast to the rest of the bird.
"It'll do you good," Luffy pressed again and Ace wondered when he had become so wise. This wasn't his little brother Luffy speaking, but the captain of pirates, the man who was after the title of king, fighting even the strongest on his quest to take down the government for freedom.
At the end of the day, wasn't freedom all they ever wanted? Ace watched the bird as it hopped over the floor, seemingly delighted at being out of the cage. Luffy really knew how to pull his punches and must have known that freeing the bird would guarantee Ace keeping it. He was a cheeky, crafty bastard really.
"It does seem happy," Ace said uncertainly, watching as the bird crept closer to the table. It wasn't scared of humans, it seemed, and while Ace had never thought of birds as affectionate before, he wondered if he could pet this one as he would a cat or dog.
"So you'll keep him?" Luffy said, voice shining with delight, as if Ace had announced Luffy could move in and they'd feast every night.
There was no way Ace was going to get out of this without agreeing to keep the bird, but he could still lay down a few rules so Luffy wouldn't be surprised later on.
"Only until they find a new home for it. It'll be nice to have something to come home to I guess, but it can't stay forever." The answer seemed to satisfy Luffy, for he turned to the bird with a wide grin, breaking off some of his bread and throwing it to the bird.
"Did you hear that? You can stay!" The bird, unimpressed, snatched up the bread and wandered off, as if he owned the house. Luffy laughed in its wake and cleaned off his plate, standing up as soon as he was done.
"Sanji's coming over today," he offered as an explanation and Ace sighed. He could have done with joining in the Straw Hat party, but instead he'd have to stay at home with the bird.
"Enjoy yourself," Ace said, smiling as he led Luffy to the door. While the circumstances weren't ideal, there wasn't anything else Ace could do.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?" Luffy said gently, touching Ace's forearm with a look of concern. "If you really don't want to then we could probably unload the bird on Jii-chan. He wouldn't be happy, but he'd get over it."
Ace shook his head. "I think I was meant to get the bird for a reason… as stupid as it sounds."
For some reason giving the bird up now he'd made his decision felt wrong. It had to be because he'd made the commitment now – to keep it until a better home was found. He couldn't afford to become attached to the bird, no matter what.
"I'll get Chopper to come over and have a look at it tomorrow if you want," Luffy offered and Ace nodded. It would be nice to have an expert opinion on whether the bird would survive without Ace burning it to pieces. Chopper, assumed by all to be an eccentric pet, was one of the best medics in the era and Ace knew looking a bird over would be easy work.
Plus Chopper would be able to talk to the bird, something that Ace would never hope to achieve.
Luffy left, hugging Ace tightly and allowing himself to be pecked by the bird a little more as he chased it with his hands. The bird let out a cry and took to the sofa, stomping on the cushions and fluffing itself up when Luffy decided it was best he left it alone.
The front door shut with a bang and Ace returned to his home, unsure how to proceed now the bird was free and looking comfortable with itself. He did a quick scout for poo, surprised when he couldn't see any. He'd seen how much the pigeons in the park crapped over everything and was shocked that this odd bird seemed quite clean.
"What the hell do I do now?" Ace asked his empty flat, running a hand through his hair.
It was the weekend and Ace wasn't sure whether that was specifically a good thing or not. It was good for he could keep an eye on the bird, but it was also bad for that very same reason.
Especially when the bird decided the crack of dawn was a brilliant time to shout out to the world. When Ace had dragged himself out of bed, he could have sworn the bird had smirked, no matter how biologically impossible that was. Still, he'd given the bird fresh food (and who knew birds were picky about what they ate!) and even thrown in a few dried mealworms he'd been tipped to get. The bird had swallowed them down merrily, returning to its cage to preen the morning away.
Ace had, understandably, returned to bed for a few more hours.
He'd woken feeling worse than before and groaned aloud, wondering how he'd survive the day with the bird. True, he could keep it in its cage and refuse to go near it, but that would never really work, even if Luffy hadn't given the bird its freedom the day before.
For one thing, Ace would have had to stick his hands in the cage anyway. He'd managed not to be bitten by the bird when he'd first given it food and water, but only narrowly. It had been after that that he'd phoned Luffy and asked for his help. If he'd kept it inside then it would simply have been a matter of time before the bid had bitten him and then been burnt by Ace's powers.
The other deciding factor was freedom. Ace was caged inside his banal life – with good reason – but it didn't mean the bid had to be. Even if it was just a few rooms, Ace could let it stretch its wings and enjoy its time. He had no idea what its life had been like before here, but if this bird was a rare specimen, he bet it was more to be looked at than allowed to live.
That didn't even take into account that the bird had made itself at home already. Ace stood by his sofa, staring down at the blue and white bird, eyes narrowed as it peered up at him. It had gathered a few of Ace's cushions (ones that Makino had bought, Ace would have been content with a ratty old sofa if she hadn't stepped in a sorted his flat out) and built a poor attempt of a nest. It was nested in the centre of the cushions, staring out at the world with a bored look on his face.
Before this bird, Ace had never thought birds were capable of emotions. Now, though, he knew this bird was judging him for whatever reason.
"You can have the sofa," Ace muttered. Though the bird had selected the larger of the two sofas he owned, the other one was comfortable enough. Not his favourite, but Ace didn't really want to stoop to the level of fighting a bird.
The bird shuffled, feet scratching the fabric of the sofa loudly, and it fluffed its feathers up. It chirruped, shook itself off and then settled down again, drawing a smile from Ace.
"You're not so bad, are you?" he questioned as he moved behind the sofa, making as if to stroke the bird's back. It opened and eyes and clacked its beak in warning, so Ace backed off sharply, heading to the kitchen to throw some food together instead.
Cereal and tea were gathered before Ace returned to his sofa, flicking the TV on and opening the news channel. It was part of his morning routine and Ace let images of bombings and full out war wash over him. This, supposedly, was the damage caused by Devil Fruit users, but Ace knew another story. Yes, Luffy and his crew were dangerous, but not to the point where they'd bomb civilians just to make a point.
"Corrupt," Ace muttered, flicking the channel until he saw something less depressing. As least there had been no record of the Straw hat crew or Whitebeard's men being taken down; there was some small sliver of hope that the government would be outmatched.
Ace ran a free hand over his hair as he shovelled cereal into his mouth. It was a miserable time to think about such things, but Ace worked better when he'd just woken up. He hadn't been out in a society that hated his kind yet and hadn't had to see destruction the TV couldn't even be bothered to show anymore.
A small chirrup, so quiet Ace had to strain his ears to hear, came from the bird as he looked over at Ace, eyes surprisingly intelligent and sympathetic. He ruffled his feathers and closed his eyes again, but Ace felt remarkably moved by what he'd seen in the bird's eyes.
And if he hadn't already known it, Ace knew now without doubt that this bird was unusual.
Saturday and Sunday passed, like they always do, far too quickly. Ace stood in the shower on Monday morning, wondering when the last time had been that he'd spent all weekend at his own house, rather than travelling over to Luffy's or going out with work colleagues.
Something tapped against the door of the bathroom and Ace turned the shower off, squeezing the water from his hair and stepping out. He wrapped a towel over his shoulders (again, Makino had made sure he had giant towels as well as tiny ones) and opened the door to look at the bird standing there.
While it had freaked him out yesterday, Ace only watched in amusement as the bird jumped up onto the bath ledge (no easy feat, but somehow the bird managed it with graceful ease) and then down into the lingering water that was beginning to drain.
It was a bit disgusting to think the bird enjoyed having a bath in his dirty water, but then Ace had realised the bird was a bird and probably didn't give a shit about whether water was dirty or not. Besides, Ace himself was pretty clean and the water left at the end was probably the cleanest throughout the shower…
"I'll give you a bath in the sink tonight if you want," Ace offered, even though the bird wouldn't be able to understand him. "Do shops sell bird shampoo?"
Ace shook his head. He was getting too attached if he was thinking about bird shampoo. Trying to clean a bird like that would be practically inviting it to barbeque and while he needed it to be clean when its new owners came to pick it up, Ace doubted they'd agree that a clean bird was worth the price of a dead one.
He dried himself off and walked to his room, changing into work clothes. Ace worked as a shop assistant, something low-key, fairly decent in pay (or rather, enough so that he didn't have to tap into the money his father had left him upon his death that much) and, most importantly, it was a job where he was easily forgotten. No one paid heed to him and it was perfect for him to pass through life unknown.
By the time he was changed, the bird was back to wandering around the house, looking for more things to gather for his nest. He snagged a few socks from the fresh laundry pile Ace had left out on the landing, running off quickly and jumping back on the sofa. Ace smiled and shook his head, allowing the bird to go to such lengths. As long as Ace kept the kitchen and his bedroom sealed off, the bird would be fine.
The bird seemed to always return to his cage to shit – something Ace could hardly believe and had rung Luffy up about – and didn't seem to drop any feathers. Maybe he had been bred to be that way, but Ace liked to think the bird a special one, one that had been taught to do these things.
"I'll be back later," Ace said with a wave of his hand. It was nice to say goodbye to something, even if Ace knew the bird couldn't stay.
His journey to work was grim, though thankfully short. Posters lined the street buildings urging neighbours to report any Devil Fruit users they suspected. Ace turned away from hem as he waited for a green walk light, biting the inside of his cheek to keep his anger down.
It wasn't fair that they were seen as lesser human beings. Ace crossed the road and another set of posters greeted him, the face of government spokes bodies printed on them, the men smiling as if a flash of their teeth was all it took to bring peace to this place.
A crock of shit. There was no such thing as peace.
The days passed and Ace had almost forgotten that someone would be in contact with the bird until the man – one with a lion's mane of blond hair and a toothy grin – knocked on his door on a Thursday evening.
"Can I help you?" Ace asked, looking the man up and down. He didn't look like a government agent sent to take him away, but then again, Ace had only formed ideas in his mind, nightmares of being dragged from his bed kicking and screaming.
"Forgive my forwardness, but I was in the area and thought to drop by," the man said, not comforting Ace in the least. "I was contacted a few days ago about a bird. I've been looking for it for years and it is, at the moment, an unnamed hybrid."
The man took a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, showing a crude drawing of the bird on his sofa. While it was a far cry from a decent picture, it was still unmistakably the bird Ace had been given.
"I came to look at the bird, just to make sure it was the one I've been searching for." The man smiled, but there was distrust in the corner of his eyes and Ace knew he had to be wary of this man.
"How do you know about the bird?" Ace said, voice polite yet with an undertone, warning the man that he wasn't to be messed with.
The man laughed. "As I said, forgive me I must seem so rude. The bird was stolen from me, long ago. While I didn't breed or raise it, I was the first true owner of the bird and I've been searching everywhere to find it."
Ace raised an eyebrow, still not impressed.
"My name is Shiki, I'm the head of a scientific research company. The bird is vital to unlocking a few of nature's secrets, as well as being a dear pet to me." Shiki shifted his weight.
Knowing the man wouldn't leave until Ace let him see the bird, Ace nodded and stepped aside. Tomorrow he'd be making a few calls to the people who were supposed to be checking up on the bird and then a few more to find out information on this Shiki. There was something about him that rubbed Ace the wrong way, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"I wasn't expecting guests so the place is a bit messy," Ace said, letting Shiki pass him. "Do you want anything to drink?" he offered, glad when Shiki shook his head.
"I'm afraid I'll only have time to stay for a short while," he said, looking disappointed. Ace hummed as if he was equally put out and moved into the living room, frowning when he saw the next the bird had made was empty.
"He's around here somewhere," Ace said, but he could feel Shiki staring at him.
"You let the bird loose?" he said, in a tone of a man trying to keep a secret yet failing. "Why would you…"
A heavy clap of wings announced the arrival of the bird as he flew up to perch on Ace's shoulder. For Shiki, it must have looked impressive – large blue and white bird with a long, sweeping tail sitting on the shoulder of a man who hadn't command it to – but for Ace, it was nothing short of torture. If the bird dug its claws in a little bit more, Ace wasn't sure he'd be able to control his power. He was unsettled as it was with Shiki showing up out of the blue and needed to focus on keeping calm, keeping his power hidden.
Ace watched as the bird seemed to size Shiki up, completely silent in a way Ace hadn't known before. It was an analytical silence, one that spoke of an intelligent mind taking in Shiki and warning him.
Ace didn't know when he'd begun thinking of the bird as a creature of high intelligence capable of judging a human, but he was glad the bird felt the same way as he did.
"Remarkable," Shiki muttered, stepping forwards and stretching a hand out to the bird. "He's been tamed."
As if to counter the statement, the bird gave an angry caw, launching itself from Ace's shoulder. He winced as his skin began to prickle with heat, but he thankfully controlled the flames before they grew from sparks. It was unnoticed by Shiki, who was more preoccupied by the bird hurling itself at his face, but there was a slight stiffening of the bird's body and Ace knew it had felt the change in Ace's body.
The bird was still flying towards Shiki though, talons outstretched and wings folding to swoop down. It seemed like such an extravagant move for the bird – who had only shown how peaceful and amiable it was. This behaviour was unexpected and Shiki ducked to the side, the bird landing neatly on the floor instead.
It had been only a warning shot, Ace realised.
"It's the very same bird," Shiki muttered. "I'd very much like to take it back, through the correct routes of course, I know how it feels to have such a magnificent creature stolen from you after all, if you're in agreement?"
Ace hesitated, but had to nod, if only to get rid of Shiki. He couldn't keep the bird, after all, but he didn't want Shiki to have it. If he could get in touch with those in charge of the legal side to owning the bird then maybe he could bullshit his way into our-reasoning Shiki and being able to get the bird to a nice home rather than it becoming a research tool.
"It's something to look into," Ace said softy, looking at the bird on the floor. It was staring at Shiki, one foot held off the ground with its toes curled up. On that foot lay the bird's metal tag, a round band of silver that glinted when the bid moved its leg back down.
"I shall see about arranging things then," Shiki muttered, stepping around the bird and heading to the door. "It's been good to see you, I wondered what kind of a man you were since it was Gold Roger himself who left the bird to you."
Ace stiffened and forced a nod, following Shiki with his heart beating loudly in his ears. He wondered if Shiki was able to hear it, but he didn't seem to act any differently, placing a hand on the front door handle and nodding to Ace.
"Thank you," he said and Ace smiled, though it was forced and uncomfortable. "I'll be in touch."
Ace shut the door behind him and looked through the peep-hole until Shiki was out of sight. As soon as he had, Ace bolted the door and put the chain on, leaning against the door with his back when he was done and sinking to the door.
"Shit," he breathed out, shaking his head. "Shit, shit, shit."
There was a problem. Shiki had referred to his father as Gold Roger. While that had been his name, it wasn't the name he had used in public, the name he had used in ordinary life away from his relentless campaign for freedom. If Shiki used the name Gold Roger rather than Gol D. Roger – and though they were similar, the two were very distinct on their own – then he was a dangerous man, even more dangerous than Ace had first thought.
The tip-tapping of clawed feet sounded across the floor and the bird came to stand before him, staring blandly at Ace. Ace let his legs loose from his body, stretching them out with a sigh.
At least Shiki didn't know of Ace's connection to Roger. Only a handful of people did and Ace wanted to keep it that way, especially in his life now. He didn't need to be associated with anyone like that when all he wanted was peace.
"I won't let him have you, even if I can't keep you," Ace said suddenly, stroking the bird's breast. He was allowed one stroke of the silky feathers before he felt the bird bulk up, a sure sign it was about to peck him.
"Shiki wants you for something. He's willing to risk using the name Gold Roger to get you. He knows that name could put him to death by the government and yet he still used it." Ace bit his lip, closing his eyes. "You can't stay here, but you can't go to him."
Saying it was so, so easy, Ace thought. He had to prove it though, but he had no idea how to on his own.
Despite the risks, despite how he desperately wanted to stay unknown and away from the world, Ace knew he was going to have to involve Luffy and his crew more than he'd like. He also knew that this bird would change everything, though Ace couldn't say why or to how much of a degree.
He left the bird and returned to bed, lying awake until the early hours of the morning, only trying to truly sleep when he remembered he had work in a few hours.
Friday was miserable and grey. Ace walked home with his head low, ignoring the throbbing headache he felt (that's what he got for only getting two hours sleep and then working a full day). Rain began to fall and Ace's mood dipped even further, a tribute to his Devil Fruit powers. He was fire, after all, and he'd never liked rain.
As the rain thickened, he darted under the cover of a nearby building. A few other people had stopped too, but they were looking off to the side, to what looked like a family-run shop where a sleek car was parked and a group had gathered.
"What's going on?" he asked one of the nearby people, a man who was shaking his head with a worried look.
The man looked at him and then quickly back at the unfolding scene. "They've come to collect him," was all he said, and all he needed to.
Ace felt ice burn down his throat and fill his stomach. There was no need to explain why they were collecting this man or what would happen to him. They had reason to believe this man had the power of the Devil Fruits and that made him inferior, even if he had saved hundreds of people that same day.
"Can't we…" Ace began, wincing at his own words, "do something to help him?"
The man he's spoken to looked at Ace as if he was stupid.
"You want to be tortured and sliced up too?" he said and Ace stilled, looking away. He shook his head and was about to continue walking – heavy rain or not – when a wail sounded from the shop they'd been watching.
"Please!" a woman shouted. "I'm begging you!"
Ace felt sick and he knew the people around him shared the feeling. He saw someone rub their eyes – perhaps they'd known someone who had been carted off or perhaps they openly admitted how terrible their world was – and heard a woman sniff before she walked off, vanishing into the rain.
"Unless you want to find yourself and the rest of your family under suspicion, we suggest you let go of the User and let us do our jobs," said one of the uniformed men, black cloth covering him from head to toe in the form of a sharp suit, printed with the government logo.
The woman sagged until she fell to her knees, uncaring that the rain was soaking down to her bones or that her skirt was muddied by the ground.
"I can't," she began, breaking off into a wail as the men wrestled someone between them – the User.
He was an ordinary man, though defeated, but he was cuffed with heavy chains and Ace saw one of the uniformed men push him with excessive force. He noticed that a few others saw it too, but no one moved or dared speak out, for fear of being accused themselves.
That was how their government worked. No one argued against them unless they wanted to be accused of being a Devil Fruit User or wanted to join the outlawed pirates. Life wasn't easy when he entire nation was in the grip of fear, but usually people could put it out of mind… until it was happening on your road, right before your eyes.
The woman was still sobbing and the man stumbled, a kick to the shin making him fall in a puddle. His hands, behind his back as they were, were useless and he fell flat on the ground, much to the amusement of the men taking him away.
For the first time in his life, Ace wanted to run to the men and rip them away from the User. He wanted to reveal himself to the world and stop these monsters, tell them that the blood of a demon ran in him too and they were to fear him. Fear him like the people feared them.
He didn't, though. The woman ran forwards and the crack of bone on pavement was all Ace heard as he turned away, the woman pushed to the ground in a barbaric attack. Instead, Ace turned his head and walked away, fists clenched tightly and breathing strained. Every muscle was ready to propel him into the fight, but it would be useless. Him revealing his powers wouldn't help anyone, not even the people he'd be trying to protect.
Fire was destructive.
And it was why Ace had to be alone.
He rushed home in the rain, almost running at points, and unlocked the door in a hurry. On the way from the terrible scene he'd thought of something, something he wondered why he'd never done it before. It was so simple, Ace thought, and yet he'd been so stupid.
"I'm home!" he shouted out, toeing off his wet shoes and rushing to the living room. The bird was on the sofa, deeply settled in his nest of clothes and oddities it had collected. Ace rushed over to it and smiled down, squatting until he was eye-level.
"Shiki can't have you if you're free," Ace said with a grin. It was the best solution – the bird would be free of him, but he wouldn't fall into Shiki's hands. "I'll do it right now, come to the window."
The bird jumped down from its nest and followed him curiously, steps slow and measured as if he didn't trust Ace entirely.
Ace, on the other hand, felt giddy with elation. He couldn't help the people he'd walked past before, but he could do this. The bird was smart, smarter than many people, and Ace knew it would be able to survive.
The bird hopped up onto the window ledge as Ace opened it. He beamed at the bird, gesturing at the window.
"Go on," he urged, yet, to his dismay, the bird merely blinked at him. It had only been a week – surely the bird wasn't attached to him? "You can go."
The bird raised its leg, looking at Ace as if he was an idiot. Ace looked down in confusion, wondering if the bird had hurt himself, yet when his eyes saw the metal band, he understood.
"They'd be able to find you with that?" he asked softly, bending down to have a look at the ring before moving off to get a small screwdriver.
It was strange that it was screwed together, but perhaps it had been put on a long time ago, or perhaps it was a one-of-a-kind tracking band or something. Ace didn't know, nor did he particularly care. The band was open now and he felt a little light headed as he slipped it from the bird's leg, but that didn't make sense.
Why would the bird have a sea-stone band? Ace was about to brush it off and say he was tired when the bird in front of him literally exploded into light, bright blue and yellow shining through the room.
With a curse, Ace pulled the curtains quickly, though he doubted they would do anything to block the miniature sun that the bird had turned into. He backed away, feeling his fire burn under his skin, ready to leap to save him, but then the light began to fade, though the colour didn't become any less brilliant.
When the light had receded, Ace could only stare, open-mouthed, at the aqua-blue and golden bird before him. It was the same bird, same size and stature, but the colours…
Was there a Devil Fruit that gave you the ability to practically shine? He hadn't known that animals could have Devil Fruit powers, but there wasn't any reason for them not to, Ace supposed.
The bird looked down at itself and cawed out. It was a far more melodious tune than before – a song, Ace would go so far to say – before it flapped its wings, launching its body through a small gap in the curtains and out through the window.
After ten minutes, Ace realised that the bird had gone and he suddenly felt empty, something he'd never truly experience before.
It had only been a week. How had he grown so used to the bird, a freaky, mysterious bird (as Luffy would say) in such a small space of time?
When he went to bed, Ace left the window open.
Just in case.
Originally this was going to be posted in its entirety, but it got a bit long so it's cut into two parts :)
As I mentioned above, this story is designed to fit with a story I'm in the process of writing (a much longer one, Sanji/Zoro and focusing on this world through their eyes/how the battle against the dystopian government goes), but it is also designed to stand alone. There won't be any references in this one that aren't explained and vice versa. Complimentary pieces I think they can be called!
The title comes from The Captain and the Hourglass by Laura Marling. It's actually from a verse that was taken out in the end, but it's still a beautiful song regardless.
Thank you for reading and I appreciate feedback in any form, though it's not mandatory! I just want you to enjoy really!