*Insert evil laugh* Muwahahahahahaha! TWO updates tonight! Super bowl my butt. I spent the day writing and editing. So, first off, a BIG (SERIOUSLY BIG) thanks goes out to Mountain97 who donated time and energy to help write this chapter. You heard that right, people. I was so nervous about doing a good job on this chapter I asked if Mountain97 would be willing to help out from page one...and I have to say, this is the most fun I have had writing in a while. It's been a long time since I did a collaboration... *misses old writing partners...sighs*...anyway. The chapter kind of just, well. Exploded. Took off running. You know. I also want to give another thanks to OperaRose94 for donating a poem, since frankly, I suck at poetry. I've only used part of it...I loved the whole thing, though. MMMM, I think that does it for the thanks and such...
I'm on a bit of a 'recommend stuff' kick, so I'll suggest the authors Anjelle, Eradona, Delta-Wish and Auntie-Nadeshiko. All are very entertaining, though Eradona writes Bleach-Harry Potter and not One Piece...still, it's epic.
Question of the chapter: "Have you ever done a Shared Doc?" Yep. That's how this chapter got written! It's fun; you can see the other person write and talk to them at the same time. When they're editing your spelling (which happened to me a lot! I can't spell for shit and usually I don't share until I've edited a few times) it's a little weird looking.
Ace leaned against the mast, watching as Luffy played with Shanks. It was still early, and the young man had not gotten much sleep the night before. After his talk with Lucky Roo he'd made his way back to the small room he shared with Luffy. The younger version of his brother had been sound asleep, something Ace was thankful for as he spent the rest of the wee hours wide awake. Sleep only brought nightmares of late. Nightmares where he saw Hare doing his worst to Ace's family. It had been going on for a while now and Ace was beginning to feel the strain of sleepless nights.
"The stress is going to kill me." He muttered to himself as he reached for his cup of very black coffee. The worst part was there was no one on board he could trust enough to talk to about what was going on. If Serpent had really been there, she'd probably scoff at him...but without his friend it was hard to remember why he shouldn't be worried.
For all that the cat complained that talking to her was like talking to himself, she really put things into perspective for him. Naturally he'd gone looking for her that very first night the moment Luffy had drifted off to sleep. He'd even used the search for his hat as a chance to find her, not to mention the innumerable games of hide-and-seek. Unfortunately, where Luffy's presence was evident everywhere on the ship, he couldn't even find a single wisp of black fur aboard the East Wind. It struck him as a highly unfair trade off. Though he was thrilled to see Luffy, any version of Luffy, all Ace had gotten for his trouble was suspicious glares from a crew that he thought of as family. Ironic and humorous, but not particularly helpful.
Like the whole issue with Benn. Ace had honestly expected the man to be the fi...well the se...ok, so the third person to figure it out. "Luffy shouldn't even be first. The kid's special..." he chucked into his cup.
With a sigh, he once again discarded the issues that were plaguing him, even though part of him was screaming that it was a really bad idea to ignore them. Luffy seemed to be happily occupied in whatever freeform game Shanks had come up with, though Ace figured it was more of a 'tease Luffy' kind of thing. Seeing that he wouldn't be missed for a while at least, he settled into a vaguely more comfortable position against the mast. One of the good things about being a narcoleptic pirate was how comfortable he could be in just about any position. As an added bonus, with the whole being made of fire thing he didn't even have to worry about splinters.
Once comfortable, Ace blindly reached into his pouch, knowing exactly what would help put him at ease. When he pulled out a much loved, battered brown leather book he couldn't help the fond smile that graced his lips. He was pretty sure Marco and Thatch knew about the book's existence at least, but his two friends had never asked to see what was in it. In a way, Ace was glad of it. If he had told them, he would have had to explain everything...though looking back on the events over the last few weeks, that might have been the better idea. He'd long ago memorized every single poem between the two covers, but there was a certain grace in actually running eyes over the words of his long-gone brother. Most of the works were very deep, but even if he didn't devote his full mind to a complete understanding of the poem the words were still beautiful and could relax Ace when not much else could.
The light is gone now, dear
And we are the sunset-bound.
Needs must flee the wintry dark
The honeysuckle twilight will clasp the locket chain
Just a moment too long,
Cling to the glass.
Take my hand
As peach is overrun to blood-red stillness
Blade-clouds etched in gold to pierce the feet of wandering angels.
(Can angels bleed, I wonder,
hush the thought, I must be
butterfly for you)
Do you feel me, darling,
In my own play on heat?
Pretty warmth beneath the vastness, dark and weightless
clearly visible through blue.
My five fingers, too, delicately cup their own world.
Sprinkle of baby's breath,
scent of a rose,
dew from the stems there, colder than I
evaporates even in this darkening
(Now deep in lilac's throat, lodged not quite to somber.
But faded just so that-
A shadow interrupted Ace's reading, blocking the sunlight that had previously illuminated the page. Ace's gray eyes watered as he looked up from his battered little book to see who was blocking his light. The sun was directly behind the figure, so it took a moment for the young man to place the other as the first mate. Using his finger to hold his place as his arm dropped across his knees he grinned up at Benn, "Hey there. What can I do for you this fine morning?"
Benn glowered at him silently for a moment. Realizing that he wasn't going to get any more reading done, Ace sighed again and closed the book. In the hope that the man would say his piece and go away he didn't put it away, instead leaving it on the deck right next to him, a silent show that he hoped this confrontation wouldn't last long. As his calloused fingers lovingly caressed the cover he returned the glare and noticed Benn's stiffened posture. It was confusing until Ace remembered that the other thought he was something of a marine spy. The whole thing was so ludicrous he couldn't help the sardonic smirk that blossomed to life on his face.
"Where did you get that?" Benn growled out.
Ace blinked, "Huh?" he looked down, seeing the book and his coffee. "Uh, the kitchen? Did I drink the last pot or something?"
"Don't play coy with me!"
"Man, what is your problem Benn? It's just coffee! Gesh, you can have it if it means that much to-"
The older man snapped, cutting him off with a wave of killer intent, "The BOOK! Where did you get the book, you scumbag!"
Ace blinked, his mind going blank for a moment. He attributed his eloquent response to lack of sleep, "Huh?"
"I know that book. It's Ace's. There is no way the boy would let it out of his sight. So how the hell did you get it?" The first mate reached down to pick up the book, and Ace reacted instantly.
Before Ace was even aware he'd moved, the book was in his hand and his knife was out; a clear warning. "Don't touch my book!"
The taller man loomed in front of him, disregarding the blade and Ace was at a loss, "Your book?! You stole it! What? You wanted a souvenir for catching a poor kid? Stuck around to see who else you could snag, too. Gutsy of you, but it's not going to work. I'm not going to let you hurt this crew! When the Captain sees this, he'll know what you are!" Benn had apparently learned from their scuffle a few days ago, or Ace just wasn't at the top of his game. Whatever the reason, the older pirate quickly relieved him of Sabo's book.
My book! It felt like Benn had snatched his beating heart right out of his chest and not some worn and battered text. He couldn't take his eyes off his only physical connection to a past he didn't want to remember but couldn't afford to forget. Not that I'd ever forget Sabo. "Give it back!"
"This? Like hell I'll give anything to a marine dog like you!" Benn opened the cover, looking for who-knows-what before closing it again. His expression was triumphant and disgusted at the same time as he turned to walk away.
"I SAID GIVE IT BACK!" Benn was taken by surprise when one hundred and seventy pounds of pissed off pirate slammed into his back with all the fury of a hellcat. Ace threw himself at Benn, disregarding his devil fruit in favor of raw fury. The other pirate was carried to the ground by the impact and in an instant Ace was on top of him, pinning him to the deck. His face was a mask of complete rage, no part of his reasoning mind telling him to not irreparably maul the first mate. The only functioning part of his logical mind still working was telling him not to use his devil fruit not out of fear for the other pirate, but for the safety of the book. Ace would risk no harm to it, even if it meant losing an advantage in a fight.
Benn was too shocked in that first instant to fight back, and his head impacting with the wood of the deck didn't aid his thought process. Once his brain came back online, though, he didn't hesitate to start fighting back. He'd expected his fist to pass through the other man, much like in the aborted fight beforehand. He was stunned when his right hook collided with a resounding smack against the other. The reason why was unimportant as he returned the attack, blow for blow. Instinct told the man that as his opponent was a Logia type, he had an advantage in a physical confrontation. Benn used his greater strength to throw the smaller man off him, only to find the other had a steel-like grip around his wrist. The momentum of the toss sent them both rolling across the deck, limbs flailing as both struggled to halt the other.
Ace avoided another debilitating blow to his head as they rolled to a stop. Part of his mind pointed out that he'd foolishly dropped his knife at some point. He ignored it in favor of kicking at his enemy's unprotected middle while he contemplated biting off the digits holding his book-ah. That's why the knife was important. Something in his look must have clued Benn in as he hauled off and sucker-punched Ace right in the nose, causing him to reel back for just a moment with a curse. He was only then aware of the gathering crowd, and he snarled at them through his bloody nose. Shanks was standing a ways off to the side, and looked somewhere between shock, thinking this was all a joke, and wanting to intervene. He had just enough time to see the Captain hand Luffy off to Yassop before he found himself flipped into the air to land on his back. Dazed and temporarily winded he managed a few un-coordinated swipes before finding himself expertly pinned with a gun against his head.
The silence was deafening, palpable even over the roaring in Ace's ears. It was only then that it dawned on him just how noisy they had been during the fight. He could hear the squeaking of the ropes against the tension of the sails, even. The sound of the flintlock pistol being cocked was impossible to miss. Before Benn could even think about using it, however, Ace decided he wasn't done yet. He swung one leg out, kicking his formerly forgotten coffee cup hard enough into the mast to shatter it. Benn reacted instinctively to the noise, and in the moment of distraction Ace kneed him hard in the stomach, ducking in case Benn unconsciously pulled the trigger.
Benn grunted from the blow, and Ace wasted no time shoving back against his weight. He sent the two of them rolling again, and Ace hooked one leg around both of Benn's, halting their movement with him on top, straddling Benn's waist and pinning his legs.
During the roll he'd decided it was time to use his last advantage and had snapped his wrist back, the hidden blade strapped to the underside of his arm sliding into position with well-maintained ease. He hadn't had time to figure out a way to disarm Benn, though. He'd hoped that maybe the blow to the stomach would get him to drop the gun or loosen his grip enough that the roll would tear it from his grasp, but neither proved true.
The two of them sat in perfect stillness, Ace with one hand wrapped about Benn's throat, keeping his head and torso still with a grip that was nearly strangulating, his other arm holding the blade a centimeter from one of Benn's eyes. Benn lay beneath him, gun cocked and ready to fire, end of the barrel directly against Ace's forehead. He had a grip on Ace's wrist, the one about his throat, holding Ace back enough that the hand wasn't suffocating.
They were left staring at each other, neither moving for caution of the other. The book that had started the fight lay a short distance away, forgotten as the two remained frozen. The whole ship seemed to hold it's breath; waiting for a break in the unspeakable act. Fighting was one thing, but this? Two people, close as nakama, close as family about to kill each other? The tension hung in the air, thick enough to cut with a knife.
"Just what," A voice spoke somewhere in the crowd, "in the ever LOVING HELL do you two think you're doing?"
"He's a marine spy, Shanks." Benn growled out around the grip on his throat. If possible, his glare intensified. "I caught him red-handed with Ace's book."
"You fucking stole my book!" Ace was snarling down at Benn, his glare equally livid.
"Ace! Stop it. He didn't steal your book. It's right here..." Ace's head instantly snapped toward the captain and something inside Ace told him that it was wrong the way Shanks flinched when he turned to look at him. He didn't touch the book, however, and that was all that mattered. "See? It's fine. Now let go of my first mate. You're scaring Luffy."
Benn snorted. "Like he cares. If that bastard honestly gave a shit about scaring kids, do you think he would have kidnapped our Ace?" The knife inched closer to his eye.
Shanks made a strangled noise. "Not helping Benn. Just...Shut up. Shut up and put your gun down, alright?"
"Not till you get this psychotic freak off me."
"I'm not crazy! You know what? Screw you, Benn. You're the crazy bastard seeing spies everywhere! Would it kill you to trust someone?"
"Who? YOU? Like hell!"
Ace vaguely heard Ricky's sarcastic comment over his anger. "Oh good, they're talking..."
"If you won't trust me, then why not, oh, say, your captain?! Huh? How about that, Benn?"
"You've got him brainwashed!"
"Wha-? Of all the stupid asinine bullshit I've heard, I think you've managed to top the list! What are you, like, five? How would that even work? You already know what my devil fruit is! I'm a Logia-type, dumbass! Do I have to spell everything out for you?" Ace was on a roll as he sat back, using his dagger as a pointer. "Even Luffy figured it out!"
Benn struggled beneath him, attempting to dislodge Ace while still maintaining his hold on the gun. "Don't you point that at Luffy!"
"I'll point whatever I damn well please at Luffy! You, my good sir, are not the boss of me." Ace was feeling a bit smug about the fact, actually. Benn had always tried to be the voice of reason while he was growing up.
"Get the hell off me!"
"Not until you say please!"
"Children, please!" Shanks' tone put a stop to their squabbling at once. Both were intimately familiar with the 'Mad-pirate-going-to-kill-marine' tone, just not normally directed at them. Alright, in Benn's case it wasn't usually directed at him. Ace, on the other hand, heard it a lot on the Moby Dick with his name attached. He'd just never really heard Shanks use that tone with him. Both turned and looked at the Captain, expressions torn between shock and mutiny. "Now that I have your attention again," the man glared at them. "Ace. Off Benn. Now."
"NOW!" It was a little unfair at how effective that tone was when used by Shanks. It was a bit like arguing with Oyaji, which is to say, there was no argument. Ace stood and took a few steps back, glowering as Benn shot to his feet.
"Captain, we need to throw this bastard in the bri-"
"Benn. Gun away." Shanks cut him off. Before Benn could even protest he leveled a look at his first mate and repeated, "Gun. Away. Benn. Now, I want you two to shake hands and make up."
"Bullshit. I want this snake off the ship, Shanks. Either send him back to where he belongs or send him back to Whitebeard. Let it be his problem."
Ace flexed his hands, flames leaping to life, "Call me a problem again, Beckman, and I'll torch your ass."
"Heh, you didn't do so well with that the last time, hot shot." Benn cracked his knuckles in response, clearly ready to go at it again. Ace sneered at him.
"Didn't want you to hurt your back, geezer."
"If you two do NOT stop it right now, I'm going to throw you both off this ship! And Benn, so help me, I'll tie you to an anchor first just to make it fair. KNOCK IT OFF!" Shanks shouted at the two of them. Ace didn't doubt the threat for a minute, either. Apparently Benn believed it too, as the man shut up instantly. "That's better. You know what? I'm sick of this. It's definitely not funny anymore when you two are at each other's throats-"
"He started it!"
"Ace!" The captain took a deep calming breath, and then another before he continued, "I don't care who started it. I'm finishing it. Benn, Ace, our Ace is a bit unavailable at the moment. I'm sure he'll be back eventually, though."
"Until then, it's in our best interest to not kill, maim or otherwise damage this Ace."
"He's blackmailing you, isn't he?!" Shanks continued as if Benn hadn't interrupted.
"Because when Whitebeard finds out in ten years, he'll seriously kill us. Not to mention how horribly guilty you'll feel."
Benn's whole posture spoke of disbelief, "Why would I feel guilty about taking care of some double-dealing backstabbing marine dog? And what do you mean 'when Whitebeard finds out in ten years'? You honestly think you could hide it that long, Shanks?"
"Ace, show him."
Gray eyes rolled expressively. "First, I want to state again for the record that I am not, nor have I ever been, a backstabbing marine dog. I do, however, cheat at cards."
"Get on with it, already!" Shanks snapped, at the end of his already limited patience.
"Fine, fine..." It wasn't too hard to figure out what Shanks meant. His blade was still out, and with one quick flick the bandages that had been coming loose on his upper arm fell to the deck.
He kept his attention on the blade as he allowed it to retract, daring to trust in Shanks to keep his crew from attacking him. He knew it wasn't likely, but with his blood up it was hard to ignore the little voice jabbering in his head. There wasn't a sound, and Ace found himself craving the comforting presence of Luffy against his legs to help keep him grounded as he dragged his eyes up. Everyone was looking at him, and he shifted nervously. Now that he'd had a moment to calm down, he didn't want to fight. If they rush me, I'm dead. Enough know Haki to be a real pain in the ass, not to mention I'd never actually hurt them. Benn took a step forward, his arm swinging out and Ace couldn't help the flinch when his shadow crossed his face. All the man did however, was grab his left arm and turn it, staring at it with consternation.
"Why did you hide this? Were you ashamed?" Benn didn't sound angry, not really...he wasn't sure how he sounded.
"What? Going to accuse me of writing my victims' names on my body now?" He lashed out, trying to pull his arm away.
The man didn't let go. Instead he traced over the letters, drawing out an involuntary shiver. "No. I'd assume you know how to spell ACE. Why were you hiding it?" softer he said, "Why did you get it in the first place?"
"It's none of your damn business! It's mine. Like the book is mine. And I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your hands off both of them!" He finally managed to pull his arm free and rubbed the ink on his skin, trying to settle the twitching muscles. "God, you're always like this, Benn! This is why I don't tell you anything. You're just so...so damn...GAH!"
"So what? Worried about the safety of my crew?"
"No. So judgemental! Not everything I do is gonna end up with marines riding my ass..." Ace flinched minutely at his own words. "Ok bad choice of words, but still. I'm not some idiot, I know what I'm doing! And besides, I'm not just a victim. I'm a hell of a lot harder to take on now than I was all those years ago." Rubbing his head he looked up at the sails and continued the thought in perfect Armenian. "Stupid infuriating irritating uncle who thinks he knows what everyone needs! Let a guy have his own adventure once and awhile, yeah? Have a little faith that I'm not a complete broken mess, will you?" Ace glared at a passing cloud. "And I want my damn cat, too!"
"How the hell do you speak Armenian?" Everyone was looking at him a little funny as Benn asked.
"I learned it from a book. It belonged to this really annoying guy with a smoking habit." Ace cocked his head to the side and looked at Benn, "Come to think of it, he could use a haircut, too."
The man crossed his arms over his chest and leaned in. "Why do I get the feeling you're making fun of me?"
"Me? Make fun of you? Never." Ace snorted. "Might as well mock a wall."
"Oh for the..." Shank growled out, shoving his way between the two of them with an air of complete exasperation, "Benn, stop being deliberately dense. And Ace, stop being..." Shanks shook his head in exasperation. "Just stop."
The teen smiled sweetly, "Stop what?"
"You know what! When did you turn into such a cocky prick?"
"Oh...somewhere between eating a devil fruit and trying to take out Oyaji."
"This is what you let on the ship, Shanks? And I resent you accusing me of being deliberately obtuse."
"He said dense not obtuse. Besides, you are. Again, Luffy figured it out." Ace rolled his eyes again, wondering where his little brother was, anyway.
"Figured what out? That you work for his grandfather?" Ace saw Roo facepalm out of the corner of his eye.
"AH! Don't even suggest something that terrifying! Are you trying to give me heart failure? Benn, I seriously don't know how to make it any more clear to you..." Four voices interrupted him.
"Ace is Portgas, dumbass!" Yassop groused.
Lucky Roo's cried out in exasperation, "How 'bout 'I'm Portgas D. Ace'?"
"Bone structure doesn't lie! He's Portgas, Benn!" surprisingly a cup came flying at the man from Ricky's direction.
Shanks took advantage how how close he was and smacked his first mate upside the head, " You think I wouldn't recognize Portgas D. Ace? Moron! Baka! No matter how he looks, Ace is still Ace!"
Benn looked a little dazed and angry, "This? This guy isn't our Ace! Obviously he's much too old! He's at least eight..."
"Ten." Ace corrected.
"Thank you. Ten years too old to be Ace. I'll grant he has a passing resemblance to the boy, but..." the man trailed off, feeling everyone glaring at him. The look he gave Ace was more assessing than it had been before.
"See? Deliberately dense."
"Alright. How then?"
"Long story short?" Shanks snorted, "Poking at stuff he shouldn't have been. Again."
"Look, I don't know how you want me to prove it." Ace finally snapped, "I don't have any scars to show you, you think I stole my own book, and anything I tell you about what happened you'll assume a marine told me. You want me off the ship? Fine! I'm gone. But it'll be on your head when the other me comes back and finds himself on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Alone. Again. I've got enough abandonment issues at my age, and I've had a decade to adjust. How do you think a ten year old with fresh trauma is going to react to that?"
The two glared at each other before Benn snapped out, "Name?"
"Ace. Portgas D. Ace."
"Whitebeard." Shanks glared at him. "What? That man is NOT my father." Shanks still looked dissatisfied, but Ace didn't back down.
"Alright..." Benn just accepted the answer, deciding not to take it up as a point of conflict. There was just one thing still bugging Benn "But..." He trailed off, trying to think of the best way to state his question. "If you're Ace, why would you ever become a marine spy?"
Benn didn't quite manage to dodge the shoe Roo threw at his head.