Okay, so I literally have NO IDEA where the heck this came from. Like at all. But it wouldn't go away and I couldn't write anything else with it sitting in my head, so I wrote it to get it out of the way.
And HOLY SHIT is it long. Got to 75 pages on Word. I'm pretty damn impressed with myself.
Anywho, this will probably be the first in a One Piece fanfic binge from me. I still have to ry and crank out DC stuff, but my mind is glued to One Piece right now so it's hard. I'm trying though!
So this fic is sightly AU but for the most part, it follows the canon, soooo spoilers up to Fishman Island I suppose. The scenes are a mix of both the manga and anime, with things added and dropped where I felt appropriate. This fic does have a pairing: AcexLuffy, so if you don't like that...Sorry? I put it in the summary so I don't know why you would click the story if you don't like it...
The fluffiness of all fluff is in this fic, but there is nothing explicit, so the AceLu stuff can be taken however the heck you want to take it. Whatever floats your boat.
Disclaimer: Nope. It I did, Ace and Sabo would be alive, along with Whitebeard and Thatch, and Teach and Lava-guy would be rotting in Hell.
~The Pure and the Tainted~
The first time they meet, it is pure chance, nothing more than an accident.
Seven-year-old Ace watches the sky from his perch, his back against the tree trunk, his legs stretched out in front of him. This is his escape, high in the trees where no one could reach him. Isolated and alone, where eyes can't see him and faces can't sneer at him. It is a safe haven, but a curse.
It's a double-edged sword.
Alone, he doesn't have to listen to the poison that spews from people's lips, washing over him and choking him. He doesn't have to see the hatred and malice directed toward a not-so-hypothetical devil spawn or the jeering glee at the image of said spawn's rightfully earned suffering and death for the crime of existing. He doesn't have to hear stories and legends about the Demon and how tainted he was and that he would never win his everlasting battle with the Angel because how can something so twisted triumph over something so pure? When he is alone, he is spared that.
But when he is alone, he is trapped in his own head. When he is with people, he at least has something he can take his frustration out on. Without them, his thoughts enter a downward spiral of anger and self-disgust.
Still, it is better this way, at least, that is what he has convinced himself.
Who can possibly stand the thought of being near someone like him?
He didn't deserve to be born. He is evil personified after all; there is nothing good about him.
He is tainted.
And so his thoughts would go, on and on in an endless, self-crippling cycle.
But today, something is different. Today, a little voice echoes loudly through the trees. Today a little boy appears under Ace's perch.
Ace has never seen this boy before; he is small and thin, his face round and his eyes wide and wondering. His hair is a black mess a top his head and Ace finds himself curious despite his self-restraint. He feels something in his gut, a kind of tug that tells him whatever is about to happen next is important. And Ace's instincts are never wrong.
The boy looks up, wide, innocent, endless eyes locking on his. Ace's breath leaves his lungs and he immediately knows who this boy is. What this boy is.
He is the Angel.
His opposite in every way. The ones legends say he is locked in everlasting conflict with. The one he has cursed since the beginning of time. The one he hates more than anyone.
Ace can see the faint glow that thrives under the boy's skin despite the fact that his form is human. A glow that only he can see. He knows that the Angel and the Demon are always able to find each other, regardless of form or generation. It's not reincarnation per say, but there is always only one Angel and one Demon. Few ever find out who they are as they are a well-guarded secret even though everyone knows they exist. The Angel represents everything that is good; the Demon, everything that is bad. Never, in the history of the world have the two been known to coexist.
He is caught off guard when the boy smiles up at him, wide and showing all his teeth.
"Hi!" he shouts up, waving a small, cubby hand. "My name's Monkey D. Luffy! I'm four and I like pirates. Who're you?"
Ace doesn't answer.
Luffy continues on anyway.
"Do you live here? I've never been in the forest before. Makino doesn't like it when I wander off, but there was this kitty I was playin' with and it ran in here. Hey have you seen it?"
Ace just stares at him, bewildered. Can't this kid tell? Can't he see him for what he is? Or maybe he doesn't understand? Ace's voice is lodged in his throat, his tongue is numb and his mouth won't form words. He doesn't know how to feel. He doesn't understand. The Angel just looks up at the Demon and continues to babble on, completely oblivious to Ace's inner turmoil and confusion.
It takes Ace a moment to realize the babble has stopped. When he looks, Luffy is glancing around the clearing, a confused little pout on his lips. He looks back up at Ace and says, "I forgot. I'm lost. Do you know where Fushia Village is?"
Ace blinks and wordlessly points in the direction he knows the small village to be in.
"Wow, really?" Luffy exclaims happily, "Thanks!"
And with that, the little Angel turns and trots off into the trees, leaving behind a very lost, little Demon.
The second time they meet is three years later. Life has happened and the little Demon has grown distant and colder, while the little Angel remains warm and innocent.
Ace can't believe his eyes when Garp drags the Angel up the mountain, when he announces that Luffy will be living here from now on, Ace doesn't know what to think. Garp knows what he is, he knows that the Demon and the Angel are endlessly fighting and warring and hating. And yet here the man stands, the little seven-year-old running around aimlessly.
He is angry, as he often is these days. Why is he here? He doesn't want to be reminded of everything he is not and have it shoved in his face. He does it before he even thinks about it: Ace spits at the Angel.
Luffy stops and, to Ace's surprise, glares at him and demands an apology. Ace glares right back and ignores Garp's ridiculous statement about him being the Angel's new brother. What the hell is that old man thinking anyway?
Luffy is the Angel.
Ace was the Demon.
They weren't meant to exist in the same space.
Yet Garp leaves and Luffy stays.
It appears Luffy does not remember their brief encounter years ago and Ace doesn't know whether to be confused or angry when not even two hours later the Angel is trailing after him, asking to be friends.
He goes with angry, sneering and silently brushing Luffy off. He's decided the boy must be slow in the head if he is asking to be his friend. He is the Demon. It should be well within his abilities to at least understand that. Unless the Angel is so stupid that he can't even understand they are supposed to be enemies. Who in their right mind would willingly befriend him if they knew what he was? Ace can't make sense of it and brushes it – and Luffy – off, thinking that if he ignores the kid, he'll get the hint and leave him alone no matter how stupid he is.
But apparently, Ace overestimated Luffy's intelligence, because the little Angel keeps following him, regardless of how much Ace throws his way. It became a cycle: Ace would leave, Luffy would follow, Ace would lose him in the forest, Luffy would remain missing for a time before returning to the hideout, and repeat.
Ace couldn't understand it. He would complain to Sabo, the one friend he had made over the years and the only person he had ever willingly divulged both of his secrets to. Sabo would laugh and tease him about not being able to handle a kid; Ace left out the part about Luffy being the Angel. Sabo didn't need to know how much confusion Luffy was causing him, after all, who ever heard of an Angel chasing a Demon?
And chase Ace Luffy did. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Rain or shine, Luffy always ran after him.
It is during one of these episodes that Ace first sees Luffy's wings.
It is raining that day. Ace just manages to lose Luffy, when the little Angel runs across one of the giant tigers that roam the mountain. Luffy stumbles back, fear flashing across his face. Ace is torn, Luffy won't be able to handle the tiger on his own. But he is the Angel. Is he supposed to help him? Is he even allowed to?
The choice is taken out of Ace's hands when the tiger takes a step forward. Luffy curls in on himself and in a burst of white, wings sprout from the boy's small back and wrap around his body like a cacoon. In that instant, a bear appeares and challenges the tiger, giving Luffy the opportunity to escape. The Angel flies into the trees, leaving the two warring animals and Ace behind.
Ace is stunned.
He has never seen something so…pure.
The jealousy he expected to feel doesn't appear. Instead, he feels warm. Luffy had glowed. It was brighter and more intense than the little light that always crawled under his skin. Ace stares after the boy, unable to hide his awe, the image of those white wings forever seared into his memory.
It is shortly after this event, and more than three months after Luffy had first started trailing Ace, that the Angel finally manages to find where the Demon went every day. Panicked, Ace and Sabo do the only thing they can think of: tie him to a tree. Luffy just laughs it off and innocently smiles up at them, asking if they are going to be pirates. The boy isn't nearly so happy when the two older boys decide they need to kill him in order to keep their treasure a secret. For some strange reason, Ace feels something in him twist at the suggestion of harming the Angel, an image of white wings flashing though his mind as the smaller boy screams.
The Bluejam Pirates find Luffy and end up taking him with them. Convinced the kid will soon cave under the pirate's interrogation, Ace and Sabo scramble to move their treasure's hiding place. Only for Sabo to appear hours later and say that Luffy still hasn't cracked. Ace is shocked; he can't wrap his head around it. Little, innocent, stupid, crybaby Luffy hasn't told the pirates anything. But that can't be right; they had to be torturing him for the information, people like them killed without second thought. Yet here Sabo is, looking just as surprised as he, telling him, that Luffy hasn't cracked under the pressure.
Sabo looks guilty and panicked as he says, "If nothing is done, he'll…"
Ace's mind completes the sentence for him. That horrible feeling in his stomach is back again, only this time it's much more intense. That stupid Angel is going to get himself killed! And for what? Ace can't understand it, even as he and Sabo race against time to find Luffy. Even as he sees Luffy's bruised and battered body hanging from the ceiling. Even as he sees the bloodied, spiked gloves tossed carelessly to the floor. Even as he refuses to back down and fights the pirates head on. Even as Luffy cries and sobs about how scared he was. He can't understand: Why would Luffy keep their secret?
The answer he gets surprises him.
"I thought that if I said anything…you wouldn't be my friend."
Ace feels both dumbfounded and furious. "It's better than dying, isn't it?" he asks, almost accusingly. "Why do you want to become my friend that much?"
"Didn't I give you a hard time up till now?" Ace presses, "How could you follow me this far?"
"Because…" Luffy says softly, before lifting his eyes to Ace's and saying firmly, "Because I have nobody else to trust!"
Ace stares, unable to comprehend the words that have just come out of the Angel's mouth. Trust…?
"I can't go back to Fushia Village," Luffy continues, "and I don't like mountain bandits! If I didn't follow you, I'd be all alone! Being lonely is more painful than being hurt!"
Ace jolts at that.
His haven and his curse.
He feels something in him slowly begin to unwind.
"Where are your parents?" he asks in a calmer tone.
"Gramps is all I have," Luffy states bluntly.
Ace pauses, considering. "Is it easier for you when I'm around?"
"Mmm," Luffy answers, nodding. There was no hesitation in his eyes or voice.
"Is it hard without me?"
"Mmm." Another positive nod.
Ace grips the poll in his hand tightly, his knuckles white. "Do you want me to live?"
The Demon can feel Sabo's eyes on him, but ignores them, waiting for the Angel's answer.
"Of course I do!" Luffy exclaimes fiercely.
Ace feels warm. "I don't understand you," he says softly. Luffy cocks his head to the side in confusion and Sabo tries to figure out why Ace is so serious. The blond can tell this is important, but doesn't understand why. "Don't you know what I am?" Ace presses, frustration and confusion leaking into his voice.
"Ace…" Sabo starts warningly.
Luffy just stares at him, confused. "You are Ace," he states simply, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"That's not what I mean!" Ace yells, his control finally snapping. Before he can think about what he is doing, Ace lets himself change. Black, dragon-like wings grow from his back and crimson horns sprout from his head, he grows a tail and his eyes glow a bloody red. Sabo, having only seen this transformation once and knowing that it is Ace's most guarded secret next to the identity of his father, reaches forward and grabs the Demon's shoulder, horrified at what the boy has done, in a futile attempt to stop the transformation. Ace shrugs him off. "Now to you understand?" he asks almost desperately. Now that Luffy has seen him for what he is, he would hate him. The little Angel wouldn't be able to look at him anymore. He could go back to his solitude, a world that he controlled, one where he didn't have to worry about stupid, annoying Angels messing everything up.
"Ace," Sabo says, horrified and worried about what Ace has just revealed.
Laughter echoes through the trees.
Sabo and Ace watch, shocked, as Luffy laughs joyously, his eyes alight with wonder. "I was wondering if I'd ever get to see your wings," the smaller boy says, absolutely stunning Ace and confusing Sabo. Then to the surprise of both, Luffy changes too. Pure, white, feathery wings sprout from the boy's back. His eyes turn silver and he removes his ever present straw hat to reveal a golden halo that sits on his head like a crown. "Ne, can you fly too? I can a little, but not that far. Gramps says it's cause mine are too big for my body right now. But I'll grow into them!"
Luffy smiles his usual toothy grin, completely carefree.
Sabo stares, eyes wide with wonder and shock at the scene before him. The Angel and Demon, together in one place. He suddenly understands Ace's fascination with this kid.
Ace is frozen. He had revealed himself. And not only had Luffy already known, he had laughed. He was happy. It didn't make sense. "Don't you get it?" he croaks, trying to overcome his shock, "You're the Angel. I'm the Demon."
Luffy looks at Ace as if he is an idiot. "Huh?" The smaller boy cocks his head to the side. "Ace is Ace."
Ace stares long and hard at Luffy. Finally, he mutters, "I see."
He turns his back to hide the small smile that plays across his lips. "But I don't like spoiled kids like you," he says.
That gets Luffy fired up and the two of them begin arguing. Sabo finally overcomes his shock and separates the two of them. The blond boy comes to live with them, and suddenly, everything is fine. For the first time that Ace can remember, he is happy. More so that when he met Sabo. Sure, the Demon had been happy when he met his best friend, but that happiness didn't feel warm like this kind does. He and Sabo and Luffy go off every day and he finds himself actually relaxing. Sabo notices it, but never mentions it. The blond just sits back and laugh with him as Luffy pulls his latest idiotic stunt.
The three of them become inseparable. They would train, eat, sleep, steal, play, and bathe together. Sometimes, Ace and Luffy would fly together or practice with powers they had since birth while Sabo watched with an amazed smile. It takes them a little while to figure it out, but Ace finds a way to carry Sabo so he can fly with them to. It is a rare thing, as both Luffy and Ace know instinctively to keep who they are hidden, but it is something the three of them enjoyed. They are their own brand of chaos and everyone knew it. They earn their own reputation, both in and outside the city, and don't care who knows it.
One day though, when they are in the city, a man recognizes Sabo and calls out to him. He turns out to be the blond boy's father. Sabo explains that he is the son of a noble and that, even though he has parents, unlike Ace and Luffy, he was always lonely. Ace and Luffy glance at each other before casually sticking their fingers in their noses and asking, "So?"
Who cares who Sabo is? Luffy is a rubber Angel and Ace is the son of the devil and the Demon all wrapped up in one. Even if they did care, who are they to talk? So what if the three of them are each messed up in their own ways? They accepted each other as they are and that is all that matters.
With that in mind, each of them shouts their dreams to the sea and sky. Ace and Sabo stare dumbfounded at Luffy, his claim echoing over the waves.
"I'll become the Pirate King!"
It is absolutely ridiculous. Impossible. And yet somehow, when Luffy says it, it rings with truth.
When Ace shows them the bottle of sake with a huge grin on his face, the bond between them becomes that much more real. For the three of them, that sake is thicker than blood. They are brothers, no matter what life throws at them.
And that includes Garp's crazy training. As an honorary member of the family, Sabo gets his chance to taste Luffy and Ace's Grandfather's definition of "love." Though once is enough and the three of them decide it is time to head out on their own. Luffy celebrates successfully getting away, while Sabo wonders about their lack of pursuers.
Despite himself, Ace finds himself remembering the drunken words their – for all intents and purposes – foster mother had spoken months before.
"He's the devil's son."
And Ace manages a smirk and says, "I can tell that she feels happy now because her troubles have gone away."
The next morning, Sabo gleefully informs them they need to build a hideout. So the trio set out, gathering materials and building a tree house big enough for the three of them. It is perfect; it has everything they need, including a pirate flag.
It is winter when Luffy learns Ace's second secret.
After being rescued by old man Naguri, they learn the man is a former pirate captain. He told them his story, about how he fought Gold Roger and lost. Luffy is star struck. Ace, on the other hand, storms off in a fit of silent rage. Sabo watches the whole thing and decides that Luffy needs to know just who Ace is. The blond has sworn the younger boy to secrecy, so, of course, the first thing Luffy does when they get back to the hideout, is ask Ace about his dad. Ace is furious and a fight ensues.
But, oddly enough, despite Luffy's fascination with Gold Roger, the man isn't mentioned again.
Still, Ace can't help but wonder at Luffy's reaction. He isn't disgusted in the slightest, doesn't demand his death on the spot. He thinks it's the coolest thing ever, something that is completely and utterly like the little Angel. Despite this, Ace can't help but be furious. The mere mention of his father sends him off in a blind rage. So when he asks Naguri if he hated Roger, he is surprised when the old man says no.
It isn't possible. Everyone hates Roger; he was the scum of the earth, the Devil. Naguri insists he is telling the truth when Ace calls him on it; after all, the Pirate King had spared both him and his crew, and that is a rare kindness in the pirate world. When Ace asks what he would think if Roger had a child, the old man merely replies that he would have it rough, though, were he in this child's position, he wouldn't even consider becoming a pirate. Having a name like Rogers bound to him would eventually destroy him.
Ace does not like this answer.
Furious, he attacks the old man, only to lose at the hands of the experienced pirate. As compensation, he demands the trio help him build the ship he has been working on. A promise is a promise and the three work on the boat, Naguri training them on the side. Ace decides that Naguri is a lot like Luffy; he can't ever really understand what they are thinking at any given time (though he would be willing to bet meat on Luffy's part).
And for a while everything is perfect.
Eventually, they finish the ship and Naguri sets sail.
The trio's happiness, however, soon comes to an end. Sabo's father refuses to let him go; with the Bluejam pirates threatening his brothers' lives, he feels he has no choice but to return with him. Where Luffy is heartbroken, Ace is angry at Sabo for leaving. Some part of him can understand what the blond boy is thinking: it's better for the three of them this way. Luffy doesn't care about that at all. His only concern is whether or not Sabo is happy. He keeps asking Ace, but how is the Demon supposed to know something like that? He doesn't know what would make the blond boy happy, but surely he won't stay in a place that makes him miserable. The two of them would wait to see how things would play out for now.
They get stuck working for Bluejam and in the end; they find themselves tied to a pole in the middle of a roaring fire. Luffy is panicking and Ace, as usual, is pissed. Bluejam would pay for this. Not only had the pirate destroyed part of his home, he'd tried to hurt Luffy. His little brother. Ace wouldn't let this slide. For now though, they needed to focus on getting out of the flames. He manages to free them only to run into an enraged and insane Bluejam. Cornered, Ace agrees to tell them the location of their treasure, Sabo will understand. He needs to protect Luffy, getting Luffy out of this fire is all that matters right now.
But Bluejam is past reasoning. In his anger, he is determined to get revenge against the nobles. Including Sabo. Luffy is furious at the suggestion that Sabo looks down on them, that he isn't really their brother; he lashes out. But the pirate he is facing was bigger than him and has a sword, a single slash is all it takes and Luffy is down, about to speared by the pirate above him.
Ace sees red.
Suddenly the pirates are on the ground, dropping like flies until only Bluejam remains. Ace doesn't care, Luffy is he only thing that matters right now. He is the only one here to protect the little Angel. It is his job to make sure Luffy is safe.
Bluejam, however, is far from pleased. In his fury he tries to kill Ace, only for Dadan and the others to show up. They take Luffy, and Ace, knowing Luffy will be alright with them, fights to defend their backs. Nothing is going to get near his little brother. If Luffy is behind him, he will stay and fight. To his surprise, Dadan refuses to leave him behind.
Luffy is silent.
He sits in a corner and doesn't speak a word until Ace shows up, days later with an injured Dadan on his back. Luffy is so happy that he, much to Ace's annoyance, starts crying. But Ace doesn't mind as much as he pretends. They had survived the fire. Luffy was safe. Everything was fine.
At least he thought.
Until Dogra comes bearing news of Sabo's death.
Time seems to freeze for the Angel and Demon. Their brother is dead. Gone.
That is the first time Ace lost control.
He's already changed before he tackles Dogra without thought, denying the truth.
Dogra understands, but Ace is being unreasonable. If Sabo was really happy would he go to the sea? Ace and Luffy stop at that. Luffy brakes first, crying that Sabo hadn't been happy, that he had done nothing to fix it. Ace can't understand why Sabo wouldn't just run away again. If he was unhappy, he would have just come back to them, right?
Enraged at the thought of his brother's death, he demands to know who did it. Tenryubito. He doesn't know who they are. He doesn't care. They have taken something precious from him. And he is not going to allow it to go unpunished. He flies toward the exit of the hideout only to be tackled by the bandits. His wings are pinned under numerous bodies; he can't move them. He thrashes wildly, desperate to escape. Sabo has been taken from him. His first friend was gone. His brother. Ace howls his fury to the stars and the bandits tie him to a tree. For a while he is lost in his rage, unable to hear or see anything. He wants to kill. He wants blood. And he is going to get it.
When he is calm enough to hear again, he hears Dadan's voice. It is harsh and cruel, but riddled with truth.
"You keep acting tough even though you don't have any real strength. What the hell do you think you can do now? You'll just end up dead! You'll die, and everyone will forget you by tomorrow! That's all you amount to right now! It was this kingdom that killed Sabo! The world itself! What can you do? Your father's death brought about a new era! Once you become a man of his caliber, then you can live and die as you want!"
That didn't exactly calm him down. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he understands what his foster mother is saying. But at that given moment, all he understands is that he is being denied his blood. Sabo would remain un-avenged.
In the background, Luffy's heart wrenching sobs brake through the night air. Ace screams at him to stop. Men don't cry, it's weak. But no matter what Ace yells, the little Angel's sobs don't cease.
The next morning, a letter arrives. It's from Sabo.
Ace is given the letter on the promise that he won't go into the city.
That is the first time Ace cries.
I wonder who's the older brother between the two of us.
This bond between us is my treasure.
He screams his grief to the heavens, Sabo's letter clutched tightly in his hand.
Luffy might be a weakling and a crybaby, but he's our little brother! Take care of him for me!
His little brother.
The sobs from last night echo in his head. Luffy needs him. He has to be strong. They would survive this. And they would be stronger for it. They would make Sabo proud.
But it seems Luffy has other ideas.
The Angel is gone quiet. He won't eat. The silence is one thing. A quiet Luffy is unnatural. But a Luffy that refuses food is apocalyptic. Ace needs to do something before Luffy loses himself. When he confronts his little brother, he isn't entirely surprised when the Angel declares that he will get stronger. So strong, that he can protect anything he wants to. So strong that he won't have to lose anyone ever again.
Sabo is Luffy's first loss. He is Ace's too, but it hits the Angel harder than the Demon. Luffy doesn't know what to do with the void in his heart. He just knows that he doesn't want it to get any bigger. So he pleades with Ace. The Angel begs the Demon to never leave him alone, asks him not to die.
So Ace makes a promise.
The promise seems to do the trick. Luffy is alive again and the two of them swear to Sabo that they will live their lives without regret. They will set out on the sea when they turn seventeen and they will live the way they want to, freer than anyone else.
Time passes and the pair train and grow stronger. The pain of Sabo's death eases, but never truly fades. There are nights when one of them will dream of the blond boy's death, conjuring up images of an event they did not witness. They have stopped crying though. No more tears are shed for their brother, they weren't needed. The two have mourned, but the world moves on. They talk to Sabo still, the Angel and Demon well aware that, though his body was gone, his soul still lived. Somehow Sabo would hear them.
Luffy couldn't beat Ace, though he gets better at controlling his Devil Fruit powers. They even discovered that the Angel was bullet proof. The story behind that one is better left unsaid…as is the damage that Ace caused when he found out someone had tried to gun down his brother.
Ace isn't really sure when it happens. It just sort of does.
Luffy isn't just the Angel anymore. He is his Angel, though he never says it out loud. Luffy, on the other hand, has no problem claiming Ace as his.
It is strange that something as pure and innocent as Luffy would want to be anywhere near him. Ace still can't understand why the Angel can tolerate his presence. They should hate each other. And while they fight constantly, it was nothing serious or in depth. It was always a petty sibling argument. Sure sometimes they would last days, but they are never anything seriously threatening or earth-shattering. There is no war between good and evil, no right and wrong. It is just them. Whenever, Ace tries to talk about it, bring up all the old stories about how the Angel and Demon constantly fought, never stopping or giving an inch, Luffy always gets this confused look on his face and then says something he finds to be painfully obvious and in a voice that states he clearly thinks Ace is an idiot for not being able to see it himself.
"I am me and Ace is Ace."
"Why would I hate Ace? You're my brother!"
"If we fight I'd win, cause I'm gonna be Pirate King! So I have to get stronger than you."
"Are you stupid? Why would I fight you over something like that?"
"If Sabo were here he'd call you an idiot."
"So what if my wings are white and yours are black? Who cares that you have horns and I have a halo? We're still the same."
"Mmmm I don't think it's that important."
"I don't like this story."
"Why does it matter? We're still brothers."
"I love you."
That last one had thrown Ace for a loop. Instead of shrugging him off, or whining impatiently like he usually did, Luffy walks right up to him, so close that their foreheads are touching, and looks him dead in the eye. Ace hasn't asked him since that answer. It is clear Luffy wasn't going to let some old legend dictate what he could and could not feel or do. He is Luffy and Ace is Ace and that is all he needs to know. Nothing else matters, and if someone doesn't like it, well, that's their problem.
It isn't until Luffy almost dies because of his carelessness, that Ace realizes he isn't good enough. He will get better. He has to. Luffy needs him to be strong. So he fights harder than before and Luffy sticks by his side smiling up at him all the while.
They are inseparable.
They become the constant in each other's lives.
And once again, something shifts.
Ace doesn't know how it happens, but Luffy becomes something…more. He can't explain it. Luffy is still his brother, he is just…more now. Ace doesn't know how else to describe it.
And once again, Luffy puts it into words in a way no one else can.
They had been having one of their quiet moments, watching the stars, thinking about their dreams, Sabo, the sea, when Ace tells Luffy what he's been thinking. That the Angel is more than a brother to him.
Luffy smiles and lets loose a small giggle before rolling onto his side to face Ace. The Demon copies him and looks into his Angel's eyes.
"Silly," he says, still wearing that wide, toothy grin, "Ace is my soul."
Ace stares at him, eyes wide. He can't be something like that for Luffy, he was –
"I love you."
He can't find anything to say. Luffy's grin fades some, becoming a small smile that is just as bright, and looks at him with happy, sincere eyes. "I asked Makino about it; she says it's called soulmates. Ace is my soulmate!"
And strangely, it fits. Somehow, that simple term manages to define their relationship in a way that Ace has never considered before. The more suddenly makes sense, though in a way it had always been there.
Ace just smiles at Luffy, calls him an idiot, and pulls him close. The Angel giggles and curls into the Demon's side. They fit together so perfectly, Ace begins to wonder who came up with all those stories about endless battles and war.
In a rare bout of affection, Ace presses a kiss to his little brother's forehead. He feels Luffy hum in pleasure before they both fall asleep under the stars.
When the Demon left, he found a home.
The night before Ace leaves, Luffy spends what feels like hours whispering how much he loves Ace into his skin. There is nothing physical, just words exchanged until the Angel falls asleep on top of his Demon. Ace smiles, silent tears running down his cheeks as he combs his fingers through Luffy's dark hair. He will be leaving his Angel behind for now. When morning came, Ace heads out. Luffy stands on the cliff and smiles down on him. Ace smiles back. They don't say goodbye. Why should they? They will see each other again.
The sea is freedom. Just like he dreamed it would be.
Before long, he has a crew and a bounty. He sails on the Grandline, conquering Paradise and entering the New World. Somewhere along the line, he eats a Devil Fruit just like Luffy had. It turns out to be a Logia type: the Mera Mera no Mi. He thinks it suits him. Sabo would agree. Luffy would be too busy geeking out over how cool it is to have an opinion on the matter. Not that he cares, that's just how the Angel is. Still, the Devil Fruit makes him stronger, and that is all he really cares about. He can protect his nakama and he can protect his Angel. And, in the end, that was all that really matters.
At one point, he is offered the position of Shichibukai. Ace laughs when he is told he would be free to do as he wished – as long as he followed certain guidelines of course. The word is a cage. And though it might be nice and decorated, it is not freedom. Sabo's gold cage had been no different from an iron one; a cage was a cage. And Ace hates cages. He refuses the position. He came to sea to be free, not some dog at the beck and call of the government. Still, the fact the position was offered contributes to his ever-growing reputation, the fact that he refuses it even more so.
In the New World, he manages to track down Shanks, finally thanking the man for saving his little brother all those years ago. Shanks just grins, wide and happy like Luffy, and declares they throw a party. Ace can see why Luffy likes this man so much. They are a lot alike in so many ways, childish and silly, but, at the same time, they are oddly wise when the time called for it. When Shanks asks if Luffy still talks about being Pirate King, Ace almost laughed. Talk about it? You're lucky if you can get him to shut up about it; it's practically his catchphrase.
Still, Ace has decided that he was going to be Pirate King as well, and to do that, he needs his name to be known. So he decides he's going to take down Whitebeard, the strongest man in the world and the one closest to obtaining the One Piece. The man who could fight on par with Roger. If he can beat Whitebeard, he will be better than Roger.
While following a lead, he runs into Jimbei, one of the Shichibukai and a friend of Whitebeard's. The fishman refuses to let Ace anywhere near the man, so they fight. For five days straight. At the end of five days, Jimbei collapses, Ace close behind him.
Then Whitebeard shows up.
In an act of desperation, the exhausted Demon creates a wall of flame between himself and his crew, commanding them to run. This is his fight. And he isn't about to let his nakama get hurt because of something that is his business.
The fight doesn't last long and, truthfully, isn't much of a fight. Ace goes down after one hit, but he refuses to stay down. His efforts seem to amuse Whitebeard more than anything. To his surprise, the Yonko offers him a place in his crew.
"I'd hate to see you die here, kid. If you still want to fight, then take my name and roam the seas wild and free!"
The offer shocks him.
The word echoes inside of him. He craves it. More than anything.
But then Whitebeard asks him to become his son.
He is no one's son. He refuses. He is already cursed both by wings and blood. He will not acknowledge a father. Fathers are cruel in his mind, passing their sins onto sons they had never even met.
Ace screams his refusal to the Yonko.
Before promptly passing out.
When he wakes, he finds himself on Whitebeard's ship. And while they refuse to shackle and jail him, he knows he is a prisoner. He has been put in a cage. His freedom is gone.
And he hates it.
Ace does not like being bound. Anyone who knows him, even a little, will know this. So he lashes out, attacking Whitebeard at least once a day and isolating himself from the crew. A few of them, namely Marco and Thatch, seem determined to get him to crack, but Ace refuses their advances. He even refuses to see his own crew, who are onboard just as he is. His crew, though, is loyal; as long as Ace refuses the invitation to Whitebeard's crew, so will they.
It is only a matter of time though, before the pressure starts to get to Ace. He keeps building up his metaphorical cage in his mind, making it seem like something he will never get out of. It terrified him. He can feel his wings shift under his skin, begging to be let out. His claws call for blood. But he can't. No one knows who and what he is. Luffy isn't here to calm him down. He hasn't lost control since Sabo died. And he refuses to do so here.
He won't lose.
His crew is looking to him right now, even if he doesn't acknowledge it. He will not change in front of them. In front of any of them.
So he continues as though nothing is wrong.
Even though something obviously is.
Strangely enough, it is Marco who confronts him about it.
"What's up with you, yoi?" he asks.
Ace doesn't answer, merely glares at the man, silently telling him to leave him alone.
Marco just sighs and rolls his eyes. "Don't give me that look; I can tell something's wrong. You've been a lot twitchier lately, like your waiting for something to attack you."
Ace flinches and looks away.
"See? That's exactly what I'm talking about. Now what's wrong, yoi?"
Ace doesn't mean to say anything, really he doesn't. But the words slip out before he can stop them.
"I'm in a cage," he whispers.
Marco raises an eyebrow at that. "What?"
Ace flinches again, curling in on himself in an attempt to get away from the blond. Marco, alarmed by the sudden action, takes a step forward. This makes it worse. Ace starts trembling, pulling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms tightly around him. The Demon feels his blood shifting and his breath coming in short gasps. He is on the verge of hyperventilating.
Now concerned for the fire user's health, Marco kneels next to him and places a hand on his shoulder. Ace's head jerks up to look at him, eyes wild and frantic, and for a second, Marco swears those eyes flashed red, before he turns and bites down on his arm. Hard.
Skin brakes under his teeth, but that just makes Ace bite harder. He can't lash out. Marco is too close. He will see. If Ace attacks now, he will change instantly. He needs to calm down. He is so lost in his own world, it takes him a moment to realize Marco is tugging on his arm, trying to get him to release it.
"Hey! What are you doing? You're drawing blood, yoi!"
So that's what the problem is.
Ace bites down harder, tasting the coppery tang of his own blood on his tongue. The pain helps push away his instincts and eventually, he lets Marco pull his arm free. He leans back against the rail, uncurling from his tight ball, finally calm again. He looks up at the sky and lets Marco examine his arm. He knew that – to an outsider – what just happened looks very bad. Like he is mentally unstable. He supposes he is in a way. After all, there is a bleeding bite mark on his left forearm and he can feel the blood dripping down his chin.
If Luffy had been here, he would have just smiled at him, told him everything was okay, and then proceed to ask what was for lunch.
But Luffy isn't here.
He is with Marco.
And Marco doesn't know anything about him.
He can feel the blond man's eyes on him. Ace refuses to look at him. For a while, they sit in silence; Ace watching the sky, Marco gently holding Ace's wounded arm. Eventually, he speaks.
"I hate cages," the Demon says softly, knowing he has the Commander's full attention, "Doesn't matter if it's made of gold or diamond or iron or glass. A cage is a cage."
"And are you in a cage now, yoi?"
And it is killing him.
But to his surprise, Marco asks, "How?"
He blinks, shocked, before closing his eyes and smiling bitterly. "I don't know," he whispers, "But I know I'm not free and that's enough to…"
He trails of, not really sure what he wants to say to this man. He isn't even sure why he is talking to Marco in the first place. He feels the grip on his arm tighten.
"Enough to what?" Marco asks, voice just as soft as his.
Ace opens his eyes and looks at Marco for the first time. The Phoenix is taken aback by what he sees in the fire user's dark eyes: sadness, pain, loneliness, fear. The Demon smiles, a small, sad smile, his lips still tinged with blood.
"Lose control I suppose," Ace answers, suddenly tired. He sighs, running his free hand through his hair. "But…I've only ever let that happen once. I'm not about to do it again."
Marco looks at the young man in front of him for a long moment. "We didn't put you in a cage, you know," he finally says, "You did. But that means you have the key, so you can let yourself out."
Ace stares at Marco, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. The Demon feels something in him uncoil and he blinks, suddenly feeling like he can breathe again. And for the first time since he's come aboard the ship, Ace smiles a true smile, throws his head back, and laughs. His stupid grin stays on his face the entire way to the infirmary, where Marco drags him to have his arm treated. He feels giddy with relief.
He isn't in a cage.
He is still free.
Something changes after that day. Ace never mentions it and Marco never brings it up. Still, Ace is aware of Marco keeping a closer eye on him than usual. He doesn't question it and allows the Commander to do as he pleases. Because something has shifted. Ace doesn't know what it is, but something feels different. He still keeps his distance from the crew, still makes daily attempts on Whitebeard's life. But he isn't as cold. He lets Marco get closer than before and eventually, Thatch forces his way in too. It is a small step and Ace is still wary.
He doesn't trust blindly. He can't afford to.
He rarely lets people in.
The first had been Sabo.
Next had been Luffy, though, technically, Ace hadn't let him in. The Angel had forced his way through all of Ace's walls, every single defense until he had reached the Demon's heart. Then he had sunk his hooks in and refused to let go.
And Ace has never trusted anyone as much at those two and he doubted he ever would.
But as Ace's world shifts, the Demon finds himself watching Whitebeard's crew curiously. They are…different than most pirate crews. They call Whitebeard Oyaji and he in turn calls them sons.
They are a family.
Not by blood, but by bond.
It isn't until sometime after his one hundredth assassination attempt that Ace decides to ask. He had been sulking by the rail, curled in a loose ball, when Marco silently places a bowl of stew at his feet. As the Phoenix turns to walk away, Ace softly calls out to him.
"Why do you call him Oyaji?"
Marco looks at him for a moment, considering. "Because he calls us his sons," he says simply.
Ace looks up at that and Marco smiles a little.
"To the rest of the world, we're all just outcasts," he continues, "It makes us happy. It's just a word, but it makes us happy," he says, grinning widely.
Ace makes a kind of strangled sound that is somewhere between a gasp and a sob before burying his face in his arms. Marco sighs fondly, walking back over to the young fire user and kneeling in front of him.
"Hey," he says, softly and seriously, "how long are you going to keep risking your life like this? Make up your mind already! You can't possibly take Oyaji's head the way you are now. Are you gonna get off this ship and start over? Or are you gonna stay here and accept Whitebeard's mark?"
The next morning, Ace walks out on deck with a skull and crossbones branded into his back.
It's like someone has flipped a switch.
Ace is no longer cold and distant. The Whitebeard pirates are astonished, while the ex-Spade pirates are glad to have their old captain back. They find the reactions of their new crew towards Ace's "new personality" extremely entertaining. Ace remains close to Thatch and Marco, simply because they were the ones that breached his defenses first.
The young Demon is still a puzzle to many of the crew, one they aren't entirely sure they will ever understand. Ace has many hidden points and fine details that could trigger the harshest of reactions. Marco knows this best, but the Phoenix never breaths a word of what happened that day on the deck. Some points are serious, others are just things people should know so as not to panic.
The first time Ace has a narcoleptic fit is in the middle of dinner. He wakes up five minutes later to various nurses trying to carry him to the medical ward, half the dining hall screaming that he has died, and the ex-Spade pirates trying to figure out how to stop laughing hysterically long enough to explain that their captain is narcoleptic.
Luckly, none of Ace's other ticks are revealed in such a…dramatic fashion.
It is a few months later when the rumors started.
Second Division Commander.
Ace isn't sure how he feels about that. Being a regular crew member is fine. But in charge of a whole division? Why would they trust some like him with a job like that?
Because they don't know.
Marco and Thatch and a large majority of the crew reassure him that he is perfect for the job. Still, it nags at him. So much so, that he find himself standing outside Oyaji's cabin door one night without remembering how he got there. After coming this far, he might as well go all the way.
In retrospect, he really shouldn't have been all that surprised by Whitebeard's reaction. But Ace has been conditioned from a young age to expect the worst of people, so he is, in fact, surprised.
"Really? What a surprise!" he says, sipping sake all the while, "So that's how it is. You don't really act like Roger though…"
Ace watches his chosen captain warily. "Weren't you two enemies? You're not gonna throw me out?" he presses, refusing to allow any form of hope to blossom in his chest. Even if Oyaji doesn't mind this secret, the other is sure to…
"When you said you had something important to talk about, I thought it would be bigger than this," the giant man muses, much to Ace's surprise. "It doesn't matter who your parents are. Everyone is a child of the sea." And then he laughs and Ace can't help but chuckle along.
After they calmed, Ace stares down at his hands, thinking. Should he risk it? Oyaji doesn't care that he's Roger's son. But what about his other secret? Surely the man can't accept both?
"What is it, son?"
Whitebeard's voice cuts through his thoughts. He glances up at his captain, startled, before turning back to his hands. He clenches them into fists unconsciously and takes a steadying breath.
"What if…what if there was something else I wanted to tell you but didn't know how?" he whispers, fear and desperation almost breaking his voice.
Whitebeard frowns, clearly seeing Ace's inner conflict playing out on his face. "I would not force you to tell me. If you want me to know, you will come to me in your own time, when you are ready and not before."
Ace's shoulders relax and he releases a slow breath before silently slipping of the bed. Taking another deep breath, he looks up into his captain's eyes and wills himself to change. Whitebeard's eyes widen slightly as he grew wings, horns, and a tail, but other than that, the Yonko's face remains carefully blank. Ace flexes his wings with a relieved sigh, it has been a long time since he's been in this from and his wings are a little stiff. After the strain of resisting the transformation for so long, the sensation of letting go brought relief. It's not enough to cover his fear though. Glowing, crimson eyes look up to meet the calm eyes of his captain.
"Well, now this really is a surprise," the man says after a beat of silence, "I have wonder though, what exactly do you want me to do?"
Ace's eyes widen. "You mean you don't hate me?" he blurts before he can stop himself. "Or think I'm disgusting? Or some kind of monster? Or –"
Whtebeard laughs, long and loud. "Ace, Ace! I don't care what you are! You are still my son."
"Ace is Ace."
"I love you."
Ace's eyes sting and he tries to duck his head before Whitebeard sees the hot trails of tears streaming down his face. He isn't quite quick enough, however, for a large hand is suddenly scooping him up and depositing him in a warm lap. Startled, Ace looks up to see Whitebeard smiling softly at him.
"We are family, Ace," he says seriously. "We will not shun you for being who you are."
Ace is quiet for a long time. Whitebeard's gaze doesn't falter. Finally, Ace leans his forehead against Oyaji's torso and breathes out a quiet "Thank you."
The giant man chuckles and Ace feels a large finger muss his hair, running a trail down his back and between his wings, before falling into the most peaceful slumber he's had since he left Luffy.
The next day, a party is held, celebrating Ace's promotion. Whitebeard grins at him from across the deck as Marco and Thatch each throw an arm over his shoulders and shove food and drink down his throat. Pretty soon, he's inhaling it on his own and Thatch laughs at him, telling him the food isn't going to run away. Of course Ace being Ace falls asleep right in the middle of that conversation, much to the shock and amusement of the entire crew.
Ace is happy.
He found a father. One that accepts him for both who and what he was.
He found somewhere to belong.
He has a home.
He has never known what that was before. Luffy had always been home, always been family. Now it's grown into something bigger.
This is what Ace dreamed about.
This is what Ace has always wanted.
But nothing stays the same forever.
Thatch comes back from a raid one day with a Devil Fruit. The entire crew is excited and curious. No one knows what type it is and everyone wants to know what Thatch is going to do with it. Ace watches and listens right along with them, when the warm, tingling sensation of lust and desire and greed that definitely is not his, runs down his spine. Ace blinks, confused, looking around deck trying to find the source. The Demon feels something is off, but as soon as the sensation appears, it's gone again. Eventually he brushes it off, dismissing the tugging in his gut that is telling him something is about to happen and gets lost in Thatch's story.
Only to wake up the next morning to find Thatch dead, literally stabbed in the back, his Devil Fruit gone, and Teach missing.
And then the home Ace has worked so hard to build comes crumbling down.
When the Angel left, he found a family.
The day Luffy leaves, the first thing he does is avenge Shanks's arm.
The second thing he does is fall asleep in a barrel as his boat gets sucked into a whirlpool.
And through some strange combination of luck and fate, his barrel is plucked out of the ocean by a cruise liner. That is attacked by pirates not even ten minutes later.
And Luffy, being Luffy, just goes about his business without a care in the world. When he wakes up from his nap, he befriends a small, cowardly, pink haired boy named Coby that dreams of becoming a strong marine. Luffy thinks he's a bit of a pessimist, but he can tell that the kid has a good heart, so it's fine. The Angel just smiles and laughs when Coby finally speaks his mind before sending the "beautiful" Alvida flying.
That's when Luffy learns the name of his first crew member (not that he's officially decided yet, but he sounds like an interesting guy): Roronoa Zoro.
Conveniently, he's on the same island as the nearest marine base. Now Coby can be a marine and Luffy can scout out his new crewmember. Luffy thinks that Coby is bad at listening. He's not going to let Zoro in his crew unless he's a good guy, as he has said multiple times. But Coby just shakes his head frantically and says "Impossible!" over and over again, so much so that Luffy clocks him over the head.
Luffy never did like that word much.
When the Angle first lays eyes on the Pirate hunter, he can tell right away that something about him is special. He's someone who won't back down and always follows through. Luffy can see his will power through his eyes; they're sharp and intense and you can feel the weight of that stare.
The Angel grins.
He likes what he sees.
Zoro doesn't know what to make of the straw hat wearing boy in front of him. He's blunt, rash, stupid, and innocent all at the same time. He won't take no for an answer and once he's decided something it's a done deal. Because apparently, he's a pirate now. And he never saw that one coming. But he decides to lay some ground rules; nothing will get in the way of his dream, not even his new captain. Luffy just grins like he's said the perfect thing and proceeds to beat the crap out of the corrupt marine captain and his son.
He's a little disillusioned when he finds out that the only crew his himself and the rubber boy. Still, he made a promise and Luffy is his captain, so that's that. Plus there's something about the boy that Zoro can't quite put his finger on. He's…different from other people. Something about him shines in a way Zoro has never seen before. It's odd, but Zoro soon learns to take it in stride as Luffy bounces along at his own pace, the rest of the world almost seeming to bend around him.
The swordsman feels like he shouldn't be all that surprised when Luffy gets snatched up by a bird in the middle of the ocean. Something tells him he should just expect the unexpected when it comes to Luffy. So he goes after his idiot captain.
Luffy doesn't really know what just happened, but whatever it was, it was pretty damn awesome. He's pretty sure he's interrupted something from the looks of the people around him. He doesn't really get why this girl he's never met before is calling him "Boss" or why two thugs are suddenly glaring at him.
But it doesn't really matter because they just touched his hat and no one should EVER touch his hat.
The funny girl comes back again and starts talking about robbing pirates. Luffy doesn't really care about that. But then Nami, as she calls herself, offers food, and who is he to refuse a meal?
Luffy doesn't really understand this girl, she gets mad real easy. It's different than when Ace got mad, Ace has a temper and this girl does to, but she's genuinely offended at being compared to a thief. The rubber boy doesn't know what he said wrong, after all, a thief is a thief no matter who they steal from.
When he learns Nami is a navigator, he makes a decision: Nami will join his crew.
She refuses when she learns he is a pirate, declaring that she hates pirates. Luffy looks at her then, sees the anger and pain that hides under the surface of her eyes. It's an old wound. So he surrenders the battle and lets Nami think she's won the war. Because Nami hasn't learned the lesson Zoro learned almost as soon as Luffy opened his mouth.
When Luffy wants something, he gets it.
Nami can't believe the boy in front of her.
There's no way he's a pirate. He's way too stupid. Who the heck lets themselves be tied up? Under any conditions? And yet here he is, marching along, hands tied behind his back, grinning without a care in the world.
When Buggy believes her fib, she decides it must be a pirate thing: they're just naturally simple minded. Luffy is put in a cage and looks confused beyond anything else and Nami has to resist the urge to sigh. He's hopeless; can't he figure out that she used him?
Oh well, her plan has worked and she really doesn't need the kid anymore.
But then Buggy decides it would be fun to shoot a canon at him. A canon that she lights.
She hesitates. She can't do this. She doesn't know this boy and he says he's a pirate, but that doesn't mean she's just going to blast him off the face of the planet. That would make her as bad as them. But if she doesn't Buggy will probably kill her.
"What's wrong? Your hands are shaking."
Luffy's voice snaps her out of her thoughts. When she looks towards the boy, she finds he is calm, completely unfazed by what's happening around him. He locks eyes with her and Nami can't look away. A small, almost mocking smile forms on his lips.
"This is what happens if you aren't mentally prepared," he says, his tone slightly teasing and solemn all at the same time.
Nami is suddenly angry that he is looking down on her. "What do you mean 'mentally prepared'?" she snaps, "To kill people at will? Is that the way of the pirates?" she sneers, disgusted at the thought she knows for a fact is true. All pirates kill without thought; it's just how they are.
And Nami is shocked out of her hatred by the firmness of his statement. When the captain looks up at her, he's grinning daringly, like he's on the best adventure of his life and says:
"It's being prepared to risk your own life."
Nami is stunned. So stunned that when a pirate snatches the box of matches from her hand and goes to light the fuse, she does the first thing that comes to mind. She attacks.
And suddenly, it's her verses the entire crew. The odds aren't in her favor. Yet somehow, she doesn't end up dead.
Pirate Hunter Zoro, of all people, shows up and comes to her aid. Luffy just laughs in his cage and greets him like an old friend. And Nami is stunned yet again. Somehow, the famed Pirate Hunter is now a Pirate.
For a moment, it looks like they will get away with their lives; but then Zoro is on the ground and the pirates have the upper hand again. Luffy is furious and shouts at Buggy, silencing the jeering clown crew. Nami thinks he is foolish and has just doomed them all, but the boy catches the knife the enraged pirate captain throws at him and breaks it in half with his teeth all the while grinning and telling Buggy that he will kick his ass. Buggy's crew sneers and laughs, while Luffy just happily grins away.
He calls out to Zoro and they must be able to speak telepathically because there is no way you can get all of that out of a look. And yet Buggy gets a taste of his own canon and the three of them get away.
At the end of it all, Nami decides these two aren't human.
Buggy's crew lays defeated behind them, crushed by a kid apparently made of rubber and a swordsman who can sleep through a house collapsing on him.
They aren't like any pirates she's ever encountered before.
There's something about Luffy that's different. He fought a giant lion for a box of dog food, he lost his temper over a straw hat; she doesn't understand. But there's something about this kid. It might not be so bad to sail with him. For a while at least.
Luffy is happy.
He had a swordsman and he had a navigator. Even if that navigator doesn't know it yet. When they arrive at the next island, the meet a strange boy with a long nose. He talks funny, but he's kinda a scaredy-cat. He say his name's Ussop and for some reason, Luffy finds the name familiar. It takes him a few moments to make the connection: Usopp is Yasopp's son!
The young Angel is thrilled.
Especially when Usopp stands his ground against the creepy butler to defend his father. Scared he may be, but Usopp has heart. Luffy likes that. So he grins his usual grin and follows after the dreamer, content with the fact that he has a new nakama.
When Usopp looks at Luffy, he sees someone he wants to be: a fearless warrior. Luffy isn't afraid of anything and goes after his dreams no matter what people say about them. He wishes he was that brave. And when Kaya's faithful butler turns out to be Captain Kuro, Usopp has the chance to prove himself. If the townspeople think he's lying about the pirates, he will make it a lie! No one will hurt the people he cares about! It doesn't matter how scared he is!
To his surprise, the three visiting pirates share matching grins at his speech.
The next morning, the four of them fight off the invading pirates. They're tough and Usopp's knees are shaking the whole time, but he doesn't back down. His home is depending on him. Kaya is depending on him. Running away isn't an option.
But then Kaya shows up in person to try and stop the fighting and suddenly she's in the line of fire. Usopp doesn't even have to think about protecting her, it just happens. And in some strange way, with Luffy's endless determination, everything works out with the townspeople none the wiser.
Usopp decides the battle should stay a secret, for the sake of the town. He doesn't need the glory of being a hero, like the ones in his made up stories. He did what he set out to do; his home is safe and that's all that matters. Luffy grins at him, wide and happy and pleased, and Usopp decides that he's ready.
He's going to go out to sea.
He's going to have adventures.
He's going to be a brave warrior!
What he doesn't expect is Luffy's confused look or Zoro's blunt command to get on their ship already when he goes to tell them farewell. Luffy blinks at his stunned look and simply says, "We're already nakama."
A crew of four.
A rubber captain.
A swordsman for a first mate.
A money-loving navigator.
A lying sharpshooter.
And now they have a ship.
The Merry Go.
She is perfect.
Luffy can feel the way she hums with life under him, carrying him over the waves. Merry is more than a ship, the Angel could tell. She is special and she is theirs. She is part of the crew, she is nakama. And so Luffy claims Merry's figure head as his special seat, grinning his usual grin.
Until he realizes, of course, they are still missing something.
They need a flag.
The realization has Luffy dashing for the paint in the store room and his crew watches on in confusion. But Luffy has never been good at art, Ace always told him so too, so Usopp takes over and creates the perfect mark for their flag. Luffy is so thrilled, he demands one for the sail as well. Usopp happily complies.
The Angel stares at it for a time, laughing joyously. Their pirate ship is now complete.
Everything was quiet for a while, until Usopp and Luffy decide to practice with their canon. They end up destroying a small island that two of Zoro's old friends were resting at. But Nami knows how to cure Yosaku's scurvy, so all is forgiven. The mention of scurvy brings up dietary concerns, which brings up food, which ultimately leads to Luffy deciding they need a cook. Johnny knows the perfect place, so they set sail.
Luffy doesn't like the marine they run into; he's annoying. He even tries to sink their ship! But it's fine because Luffy can bounce the cannonballs away. Unfortunately, the cannonball he deflects hit their destination. To pay of the damage, the head chef says he has to work there for a year. Mmmm…he'll work for a week. After all, he's got places to go and people to see. The head chef doesn't like that idea much and somehow they end up falling through the ceiling. Luffy kinda thinks it's cool, but then the old man starts yelling again, so he yells back.
Of course they are interrupted by another chef who's started a fight with the same marine that attacked them earlier. Luffy just sits back to watch the events unfold. The blond chef, Sanji, he's strong. The old man too. Then, apparently, a member of some infamous pirate crew charges in. Don Krieg's crew. Everyone goes kinda pale at his name, so Luffy guesses he must be strong, but he's never heard of the man, so he doesn't really care.
The pirate is so weak from hunger, he's easily thrown out. Luffy, curious as always, trials after the man, argument with the head chef forgotten. Then Sanji appears and feeds the starving man. Luffy, liking what he sees, make another decision.
He's found his chef.
Sanji of course refuses, just like the others. And just like the others, when Luffy looks at him, he sees a wound. And old wound. It's not as bad as Nami's, but it's not as healed as Usopp's either. His wound is more like Zoro's.
Sanji has made a promise.
But unlike Zoro, this one stifles his dreams.
Luffy frowns a little at that, not really understanding. It isn't until Don Krieg attacks the restaurant that he realizes Sanji stays because he feels a debt to the head chef. But Zeff considers the debt paid. It's all a little too confusing for him, so he'll focus on kicking pirate ass right now and worry about his cook later. Sanji said that this restaurant was old man Zeff's treasure and Don Krieg is trying to destroy it. Luffy doesn't tolerate crap like that.
Sanji, just like everyone else, has no idea what to make of Luffy. The Angel that stares down Don Krieg with a determined grin, doesn't even blink when he finds out their navigator is gone. He can see it in the kid's body language; he expected something like this to happen sooner or later, but he doesn't care because he'll just go after her and bring her back. The same kid, who, at the flip of a switch, becomes furious when his swordsman is cut down only to smile like an idiot two minutes later when the same swordsman vows never to lose again.
It makes him wonder just what kind of crew this is.
And then the kid's crew leaves to go after their navigator and the kid stays. He mentions something about paying off the debt, but Sanji can see it in his eyes. Luffy is not pleased. The blond chef isn't really sure what is making the young pirate so angry, but he knows that something big is about to happen.
This no name rookie really shouldn't stand a chance, yet here he is taking everything Don Krieg throws at him and tossing it right back in his face. By sheer will, Sanji is sure, Luffy wins the fight, and after Sanji drags him out of the sea. He can't help but wonder.
What would it be like to sail under him?
When Luffy wakes, he listens to Sanji talk about his dream with all the eager curiosity of a child. He doesn't laugh or mock him; instead smiles and tells him it's a good dream.
It's a shame that he'll be leaving soon; Sanji likes this kid. There's this air about him; he draws people in, he's got one of those smiles that's contagious. He's innocent and blunt and carefree and determined in a way the cook has never seen.
Luffy is just…Luffy.
There isn't really any other way to describe him.
And so when Luffy leaves, Sanji finds himself tagging along.
And Luffy just smiles like everything has gone according to plan.
For all Sanji knows, it has.
And they set off to retrieve their navigator.
Through some strange series of events that neither Sanji nor Yosaku completely understand, their boat ends up literally crashing into Zoro. Johney shows up and tells them Nami killed Usopp. Luffy is furious. Nakama don't harm nakama. Nami is nakama. She didn't hurt Usopp and how dare Johnny suggest such a thing.
Then Nami shows up and she's hurting. Luffy can see the pain in her eyes. She yells at them, insults them, tells them to leave. But Nami is Luffy's navigator, so he isn't leaving without her. Nami's sister finds them later after Usopp comes back and tells them that Nami saved him. Nojiko has the same wound on her that Nami does. It's not as deep and it's not as twisted, but Luffy can tell it's the same.
He doesn't need to know the story though, he just has to wait for Nami to give him permission to take away the pain. And she does, tears streaming down her face and blood running down her arm.
Luffy has permission now.
Arlong doesn't stand a chance.
Somehow, the Angel ends up in Nami's prison. He sees countless charts and a bloodied pen. He understands all he needs to. When this cell is gone, Nami will be free. When Arlong is gone, Nami can draw the charts she wants to.
Nami is his nakama.
And as he shouts it from a top a mountain of rubble, he sees the understanding in her eyes, he sees the wound start to heal. It will scar and never truly fade, but the young captain is finally being allowed to heal it.
With their navigator back, they can head to the Grand Line. They are that much closer and Luffy can taste the adventure in the air.
Several days later, Luffy sees his first wanted poster.
He's a real pirate now.
He wonders if Ace can see it.
The Angel remembers when he first saw Ace's poster. He was excited and happy and proud all at the same time. In his excitement, he almost spreads his wings. Literally. He can feel them shift under his skin, quivering with excitement and joy and anticipation. But it isn't the right time for that, so he forces them still and focuses on celebrating with his crew.
To make matters more exciting, their next stop is the beginning of the end. The town where the Pirate King Gol D. Roger was both born and killed.
He manages to find the execution platform, only to find himself pinned down with a sword at his neck. Oh look, it's…what was his name again?
Zoro and Sanji come to rescue him, but it looks like they'll be too late, so Luffy just smiles and accepts his death. Through luck or fate, the young Angel survives. Luffy thinks it's hilarious, while his crewmates stand in awe.
The swordsman and the cook both know that Luffy is special; it's impossible not to know, not after you see him. But this. This is different. Luffy was ready to die. He's unfazed by the thought. And when he's somehow spared, he brushes it off like nothing happened. It just drives home the fact Luffy is different from everyone else. They may not know why or how, but there is no question that Luffy is something precious. And Zoro and Sanji swear they will protect everything that is Luffy.
When they make it to the Grand Line, none of them are really surprised when Luffy makes friends with a whale of all things. Still, it's Luffy and Laboon is a tough whale, so all in all, just your average day in the life of Luffy's crew.
When the two strange characters that had been trying to kill Laboon ask for a ride, Luffy doesn't hesitate to accept, despite his crew's protests. Luffy is curious. They're funny, both of them, but it's the girl that really grabs him.
She has a secret. And she has a good heart. But she's hiding. Luffy doesn't really care why, but he thinks it might be interesting to tag along with them for a while.
The Angel is proven right, when the girl turns out to be a princess. Luffy has never met a princess before, so this is kinda cool. But Vivi is sad. Someone is trying to destroy her country. And her country is her treasure.
Luffy is going to kick Crocodile's ass.
While they're leaving, another strange woman appears. Luffy is pretty excited; there are a lot of strange, interesting people here, it makes the adventure much more exciting. The young captain can't quite figure this one out. She's good and bad at the same time; Luffy gets the feeling that neither word means much of anything to her. She's covered in shadows, deeper and darker than almost any he has ever seen before.
She reminds him of Ace.
He's not sure why.
But then she takes his hat and he stops paying attention. He doesn't like her. She leaves without much of a fuss though, so it's fine.
Vivi is confused beyond measure.
These pirates are strange, unlike any she's ever encountered before.
They demanded a reward that is impossible to give, but get involved anyway when she accidently blurts out Crocodile's name. It seems like a deal of convenience.
But then Igaram is killed.
And she becomes more aware of the crew's behavior toward her.
There's a lack of indifference that she expected. They all look out for her in their own special ways. She was shocked when Luffy declared he hated Miss All Sunday because of her hand in his death. The pirate hadn't even known the man, doesn't even know her.
She finds herself drawn in by them.
Nami seems relieved to finally have another girl onboard. So does Sanji for that matter. Nami assures her that's just the way he is and means no harm by it.
Usopp tells her stories of his amazing adventures, that are quite obviously lies, whenever he notices her looking down. The cowardly sharp shooter has also formed quite a bond with Carue.
Zoro doesn't speak much, but keeps a watchful eye over the entire crew, her included, at all times. Vivi finds his actions similar to that of a big brother and the thought makes her smile.
Luffy is the strangest of them all.
He's loud and blunt and he's always moving, like he doesn't know how to stand still. He's like an overgrown child, always wearing a grin on his face and never faltering for a second. He'll pause every so often when he feels her eyes on him to give her a small, reassuring smile, before running off to bug Sanji about a snack.
It during the Battle at Little Garden that Vivi realizes how much they've grown on her in such a short time.
She's part of the crew now in Luffy's mind.
They are nakama.
And nakama are forever.
Then Nami gets sick.
And they don't have a doctor.
The reach the next island quickly, only to be met with guns and glares. They are attacked with no warning and when Vivi goes down, Luffy is ready for blood. But the princess gets right back up and scolds the Angel.
She says he's not fit to he's captain if he tries to solve everything with his fists. Nami is what's important right now. She then bows and begs for a doctor. Luffy stares at the royal, stunned at how right she is. Inwardly, he smiles; they are learning as much from her as she is from them. And he bows down next to her.
As it turns out there is only one doctor.
And she's at the top of a mountain.
Nami doesn't have time to wait.
So Luffy will carry her.
Sanji comes along and the three of them start their trek.
The mountain side is harsh and cold. Nami's body is far too hot against his back and Sanji is a dead weight between his teeth. He's numb, can barely feel his fingers and toes, but he knows they're in shreds.
It doesn't matter though.
A doctor is at the top of this mountain.
And she can fix his nakama.
Luffy will make it to the top of this mountain. His nakama are counting on him. And he will not fail them. He's strong enough to protect them now.
So he will reach the top.
And he does.
It's hard to move.
But he grabs the old woman's arm and tells her to save his family.
And then he's asleep.
It's the first time in a long while that Chopper got to treat a patient inside Drum Castle. And they're pirates no less. The dark haired one, he talked about nakama. He carried two people up the side of a mountain to get them treated, getting hurt in the process himself. Yet he asks them to take care of his nakama first.
His words echo in the little reindeer's head and he is unable to get rid of them. It's just like the stories Doctor used to tell him all the time. Having nakama. He wonders what it's like, he's never had any before and knows that he never will. But that doesn't mean he isn't curious.
When Luffy wakes up, he's met with the sight of a monster. A really cool, transforming, reindeer monster. His grin is impossibly wide as he turns toward his chef and declares what the blond man and the resting navigator behind him both know will come to pass sooner or later.
"He's gonna be our new nakama."
Then that freak Wapol shows up and tries to blow up the pirate flag flying proudly atop the castle. Chopper looks heartbroken. The Angel sees the same wound he saw in Nami.
Chopper has lost someone.
And like Nami's mikans, this flag is all that the little reindeer has left of that person.
Luffy is already pissed as it is; pirate flags aren't just scraps of cloth that can be taken up and torn down again on a whim. Plus he tried to eat his ship and kill him and his nakama. He had already crossed the line; now he's just ran a marathon in the wrong direction.
Chopper stares in shock and awe as the straw hat pirate holds Doctor's flag up, unable to take his eyes of him.
"You being a pirate was a big fat lie, wasn't it?" Luffy says, looking down on the former tyrant, "A pirate who wouldn't risk his life…You don't know the meaning of this pirate mark!"
Wapol just sneers. "The meaning of that flag you say, Straw Hat? There's no meaning behind that stupid pirate decoration!" he threw his head back and laughed arrogantly.
Luffy seemed to draw himself up. He wasn't just looking down at Wapol literally now; this arrogant, ignorant fool was beneath him.
"That's why you're so weak!" he says bluntly.
"What?" Wapol yells angrily.
"This is not a flag you can fly as a joke!" Luffy says, face determined, serious. Sanji knows that voice, the one where Luffy speaks with wisdom beyond his years, the one that makes people stare in awe of the young captain, the one that makes him believe that Luffy will be the Pirate King.
Wapol still doesn't get it. "You hippo! As if I, the King, would get caught dead waving a pirate flag! Don't you dare put that hippo flag back up there!"
Chopper can't seem to get over his surprise, and even Kureha has to admit she's impressed with the kid. Sanji just takes a drag from his cigarette and sighs; this moron is digging his own grave talking like that. Luffy is the purest form of pirate there is; and this idiot seems to be under the impression that his captain will let him get away with trampling on everything that being a pirate means.
Their moods shift, however, when Luffy takes a direct hit from Wapol's canon. Luffy didn't dodge, just took the explosion head on without flinching, shouting:
"You think you can destroy this flag?"
Wapol laughs. "I bet I sent you flying, hippo!"
But the smoke clears, and there stands Luffy, pirate flag in hand, a little charred but otherwise unharmed.
"Look," he says, "You can't destroy it."
Wapol stops laughing.
"I don't know whose pirate flag this is, or where it's from…but this is a flag you pledge your life to." Luffy says it with such conviction, Chopper knows it can't be anything but truth. Doctor's flag. It was a pledge. It is a pledge. He remembers. "You don't fly it as a joke," the Angel continues sternly. He looks up, face a mask of intense fury and determination. "THIS ISN'T A FLAG YOU CAN BREAK DOWN AND LAUGH AT!" he roars.
Everyone stares at the pirate in shock.
Of everyone there, Sanji knows that, at this point, he really shouldn't be surprised. But when Luffy is like this…all bets are off. When Luffy is like this and you're not on the receiving end of his righteous anger, there is nothing one can do but be awed. Sanji has a feeling that no matter how long he's with Luffy, there will always be moments like this. And when Luffy is like this, and you are on the receiving end of his anger, then you will lose.
It's not a question.
It's a fact.
So when Luffy literally catapults Wapol off of the mountain and into the sky, Sanji isn't surprised.
Chopper on the other hand, can't seem to get over his shock. Not only did Luffy kick the crap out of Wapol, he called the little reindeer nakama.
Chopper has never been nakama before, didn't ever think he would. And yet this captain…Chopper won't let himself get his hopes up. He is a reindeer after all, one with a blue nose at that, he can't travel with humans. It's just a fact. So he'll stay with Doctorine on the island and treat the people here. But maybe if he asks, they'll come back and visit. Maybe –
"Shut up! Let's go!"
And Chopper goes.
The mountain on the winter island of Drum blooms into a beautiful sakura tree.
Spring is here.
Just like Doctor said it would be.
Luffy just grins as Chopper cries. The Angel throws the little reindeer a party and the crew teaches him how to celebrate like a pirate. Vivi joins in, still new at this too, laughing along with them.
Nami is healed.
They have a new nakama.
Now it's off to Alabasta.
When they meet the third time, it's in a kingdom of sand.
Ace doesn't know what he should do first: hug or punch Luffy.
His little brother greets him by throwing him through a wall (Though to be fair, Luffy had no idea he was there; the Angel was too focused on food.) and turns out to be the pirate that Smoker was hunting.
Yet Ace can't fight the bubbling happiness in his stomach. Luffy is here. After three years, he gets to see his Angel again. He grins as he chases after his little brother, excitement coursing through his veins. When he steps in to block Smoker's attack, Luffy's face shows surprise, then confusion, then he lights up in a way the Demon missed so much it aches.
He doesn't fight the smirk that makes its way to his lips as he looks over his shoulder.
"You never change, Luffy."
He buys his brother and his crew sometime time before making his own escape.
Luffy is happier than he's been in a long time. And Luffy is pretty much always happy. Ace is here. Ace is here. Luffy hasn't seen his brother in three years. And Ace is strong. Really strong. He has a Devil Fruit now! One that gives him a lot of fire power, literally. The Angel is grinning wider than any of his crew have ever seen, and Luffy grins a lot.
They never expected Luffy to have a brother. Then again, Luffy never really talks about his past, so him having a brother shouldn't be unexpected as it is. What the crew can't seem to wrap their heads around is the way Luffy practically glows as they run towards Merry Go. They can understand being happy to see family, after all it's probably been a while. But like everything else with Luffy, it's different. Deeper.
There's something else there.
But they can't tell what.
Luffy can't contain his joy. His crew looks at him like he's crazy when he happily chirps that Ace always kicked his ass when they fought, before he even got his Devil Fruit. But he can totally beat him now.
"Just who…can you beat?"
Ace smirks widely as Luffy falls forward when he jumps onto the rail of the ship. True to form, the Angel beams up at him.
Ace smiles before thanking Luffy's crew for taking care of him. The Angel is a handful; he knows this better than anyone. The second thing he does is invite them to join Whitebeard's crew. Luffy bluntly refuses, as the Demon knew he would. And when Ace tells him of his intentions, to make Whitebeard Pirate King, Luffy just brushes it off. Ace can't help but smirk.
Luffy really hasn't changed.
His glow is just as bright as it's always been.
When the Angel asks Ace what he's doing here, he can feel his Demon's hesitation. Ace tells him of Blackbeard and of his crime. The older pirate sees the change in his little brother when he mentions that, how something dark flickers across his eyes, how he stands a little straighter, how his fists clench at his sides.
He also notices how the green-haired swordsman and the blond smoker glance at their captain from the corners of their eyes, an understanding, protective gleam burning brightly in them. The rest of the crew shows varied levels of shock, but he can see anger there as well. Luffy has picked a good crew.
His mental musings are interrupted when he feels something warm press up against his lips. It takes him a moment to register that Luffy is kissing him. On the lips. And then all brain function promptly dies and he can only sit there in shock, eyes wide, and let his Angel do as he pleases. The kiss is chaste and incredibly short, just the slight brushing of lips only for a few seconds that feel like hours to Ace.
When Luffy pulls away, he grins at the stunned Demon and chirps, "I missed you!"
Luffy's crew looks just as shocked as he feels.
That's when Ace's brain turns back on and he knocks his brother over the head, sending him down to the deck.
"What the hell?" he yells at Luffy, trying to get over his shock and fight down the growing blush on his face. It's not working. "You don't just do that, you moron!"
It's the first time they've kissed.
Ace isn't a blushing virgin; he's been a pirate for three years after all. But this is Luffy, this is his soul. Luffy is different. And if Ace is honest, he's never been sexually attracted to anyone. He can feel the lust directed towards him when it rolls off others sometimes and his Demon side often uses it to his advantage, but there is no lust here. There never has been and Ace is pretty damn sure there never will be. Luffy's kiss was innocent, there was nothing sexually or even physically driven behind it.
It's just the way their relationship is, Ace supposes. It's not really something that can be put into words and only he and Luffy seem to understand it, though they still manage to surprise themselves and each other from time to time.
Like right now.
Luffy's nakama watch with wide eyes as their captain looks up and tilts his head to the side in confusion, a slight pout on his lips.
"But I missed you," he simply states.
They watch as their captain's brother seems to deflate, rolling his eyes and sighing before smiling fondly, and kneels in front of Luffy so they are eye level. He leans in and places a gentle kiss on the rubber boy's forehead.
"Missed you too, idiot," he says, softly, tenderly.
And the crew suddenly feels like they've intruded on something.
But Luffy giggles and the moment is broken.
Ace makes to stand up, but Luffy grabs his wrist. "Stay?"
The Demon shakes his head. "I can't, Luffy."
The brothers lock eyes for a long moment, neither blinking. Finally, Ace gives a resigned sigh and says, "One night."
That snaps the crew to attention and Sanji grins, ready to make some snacks, when Usopp spots several ships on their port side. Vivi's face shows shock and the crew knows this might be a bit of a problem; they didn't expect to run into the Baroque Works this soon. Not that they think it will be much of a challenge to face lackeys, just that they know they're here.
To their surprise, Ace tells Luffy he'll take care of it, which he does with spectacular ease, leaving most of the crew in shock. Zoro didn't expect anything less and Luffy is just thrilled at being able to see his brother fight again. As Ace climbs back aboard, the crew goes about its business. Luffy drags his brother over to Merry's figure head, and perches Ace on it before settling in his lap.
They're quiet for a while, looking out at the sea, Luffy's crew mulling around behind them, but respectfully giving them some space so they can have time to talk. Eventually, Luffy speaks.
It's a simple phrase, but Ace gets its many meanings.
Tell me about your adventures.
Tell me about your captain.
Tell me about your crew.
Tell me about Blackbeard.
So Ace does.
He tells his brother about his journey with the Spade pirates and how he met Shanks (Luffy was thrilled at that one), about how he fought Jimbei and then got stuck on Whitebeard's ship. Luffy places his hands over the ones wrapped around his waist and squeezes, leaning back into the Demon, smiling when Ace talks about the acceptance he found in the Yonko. He tells his Angel about every division commander and crew member, but mostly Marco and Thatch. How Marco is pretty serious most of the time, but was the first to break through his walls. When he tells Luffy about Thatch, his stomach clenches; it's the first time he's spoken of the man since his death.
He tells Luffy that he would have loved Thatch; the Fourth Division Commander was a troublemaker just like he is. He played pranks, cracked jokes, loved a good party. He was almost always smiling and laughing, ready to have a good time and make the most of any situation. But most of all, he loved his nakama. He was a good friend and a good brother. When Ace gets to the part where he's killed, the Demon chokes off, images of blood flashing across his memory. He feels tears prick at the corners of his eyes and he realizes that he's never given himself proper time to mourn for his fallen brother.
When he comes out of it, Luffy has shifted to face him, holding his face between both hands, thumbs brushing away the beginnings of the Demon's tears.
"It's okay," he says.
Ace knows that Luffy doesn't mean everything will be alright. He's saying it's okay for him to break, it's okay for him to mourn. Because he will survive this, just like they survived Sabo's loss. And then Luffy kisses him again, deeper than the first time. Ace relaxes and kisses his Angel back, feeling all of the pent up tension draining out of his body. When they break apart, Ace buries his face in Luffy's shoulder and the Angel holds him. Luffy is unusually silent, arms wrapped around Ace's back and shoulders. If he feels a slight dampness on his neck, he doesn't mention it.
When they pull away, Luffy presses his forehead to his brother's.
"You're my soul Ace."
I'm here for you.
I love you.
Ace smiles, feeling more at ease than he has in a long time, "And you are mine," he says.
Luffy beams at him and the two stay like that until Sanji calls for lunch. Luffy is off with a loud whoop, Ace laughing as he gets up to follow.
The crew, though respectful, is curious.
While the brothers sit on the figurehead, they give them space, but glance over periodically. For a while, Ace is smiling, looking like he's telling a story, Luffy laughing and getting excited in all the right places. But something changes and suddenly Ace is wrapped up in Luffy; Zoro is one of the few that notices the fine tremors wracking his body. He looks broken. Which is odd when he seemed so at ease before.
But then they remember what Ace said about his murdered nakama.
They might have been close.
It isn't their right to pry.
And they can tell by the gentle smile on Luffy's face and the way he leans into his brother, that Ace will be fine.
Lunch is a loud affair, as usual. Luffy steals everyone's food and Sanji valiantly defends the girls' meals. Ace is quiet for the most part, watching them with an amused smile. He nearly laughs when they start talking about how Ace doesn't steal food and why can't Luffy be more like him?
Both Luffy and Ace know for a fact that Ace steals food. But Ace also had manners drilled into him by Makino back home. If he was back on the Moby Dick, he would be stealing food right and left. But this is his brother's ship and he is a guest, so he will be polite. For now at least.
The crew is in complete shock when Luffy reaches toward Ace's plate and the older pirate snatches his wrist before his fingers even brush the plate. He smirks as Luffy pouts and starts whining about how Ace is being stingy. Ace just keeps eating, Luffy's wrist still trapped in his grip, and looks at his brother calmly.
That's all he says and Luffy deflates.
Ace smirks and lets go of his brother, the rubber boy's arm snapping back in place. Luffy continues to pout while the crew stares at Ace in awe before clamoring to know how he did that. Ace tells them it's a long engrained habit and Luffy knows that if Ace does catch him stealing from his plate, then it's no meat for two whole weeks.
Nami looks thoughtful at that. "That's…not actually a bad punishment," she says.
Later, Ace is leaning against the rail of the ship, watching Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper run around the deck like a bunch of idiots. Vivi comes over and plants herself next to him, her shoulder brushing his arm. He looks down at her when she gently takes his wrist and smiles up at him.
"It'll be okay," she says to him, giving his wrist a reassuring squeeze.
Ace is surprised to say the least; this seems unusually bold for the princess. But he stays quiet as she continues.
"Things have a way of working out around Luffy, don't they?"
It's not really a question. He can tell by the way Vivi smiles fondly at Luffy's antics, a small chuckle escaping her.
Ace smiles and answers anyway.
"They do," he says, "He's always been like that."
Vivi smiles at him again and removes her hand from his, respectfully taking a step away from him to give him his own space again, but staying at the rail with him.
"He really is amazing," he hears her whisper.
He keeps his eyes on his brother as he smiles. "He's an Angel," he says.
A loud snort comes from his other side and he turns to see Nami next to him. "Luffy is an angel? Sure he's innocent, but there's no way he's that pure," the navigator says rolling her eyes.
Vivi watches as Ace's smile seems to widen and his eyes gleam with laughter. "Oh?" he says.
Well that just sets Nami off. She starts ranting about every little thing Luffy does, explaining every possible reason why Luffy can't be an angel. Vivi watches Ace, not really listening to Nami's tirade. Ace seems amused more than anything else, but there's this knowing gleam in his eyes that she can't help but wonder at. What does the man know that they don't?
When Nami finally finishes, Ace tilts his head back and laughs, long and hard. Luffy bounds over at the sound.
"Ace what's so funny?" he asks, curious puppy eyes turned toward his big brother.
Ace smirks. "Nami doesn't think you're an Angel."
Luffy is silent for a moment, but then he's laughing too and Nami and Vivi are left feeling like they've missed something.
That night, Ace and Luffy fall asleep almost instantly. Luffy is curled into his brother's side, head tucked neatly under his chin, and Ace lays sprawled out underneath him, one arm protectively curled around his little brother's waist.
The crew is a little shocked at how content they both seem. Luffy has never been this relaxed before. Normally, he's a very happy and energetic kid. But with Ace, it's like he's free. There's no such thing as holding back when his brother is around; because Ace is his soul and Luffy loves him more than anything.
Zoro can tell that they are more than brothers; their bond is much deeper than that. He's seen the way they seem to speak to each other without speaking, how they know what the other is thinking. It is a bond that is deeper than blood and stronger than both the heart and mind.
Sanji thinks they might be lovers, but he can tell they have no desire for each other. Though he assumes that might be because they already have each other. He's surprised by Luffy's actions and he can tell Ace is too; they've never crossed that line before. And despite the fact that Luffy just pole-vaulted over it, Ace accepts it without question.
Chopper doesn't really understand their bond; he doesn't know what it is to have a brother. But he can tell that Luffy and Ace will never leave each other behind, never leave each other alone, and the little reindeer thinks that is enough.
Usopp is with Sanji, except he believes it in every sense of the word. Luffy's bout of affection earlier had startled him, after all, Luffy has never show interest in anyone that way before. Then Ace shows up and his captain lays one on him. They can't be anything but lovers; even if they are family.
Nami doesn't know what to think. The two of them are brothers, but that kiss…She can tell it wasn't a kiss between lovers and despite Luffy's apparent knowledge about what a kiss is, she can tell there is absolutely no lust behind it. It's innocent, just like him. They may not be lovers, but they are definitely more than just brothers.
Vivi thinks the two of them seem more like one person than two. They connect with each other in a way she's never seen before. Never has she ever witnessed two people be so close before, so at ease around each other. It's almost like they exist for the other.
The crew is confused, but happy that their captain is happy.
When morning comes, it's time to say goodbye.
Ace politely thanks them for hosting him and tells them he's trusting them with his brother. The crew just grins and wave him off; he doesn't even have to ask for things like that. The Demon tosses Luffy a blank paper that confuses the Angel.
"It'll make sure we meet again," he tells his brother.
Luffy grins and asks Nami to sew it into his hat so he can keep it with him. The navigator just grins and agrees. Ace isn't surprised by the ease with which Luffy hands over his treasure; his nakama are his family after all and Luffy has chosen very good nakama. When Luffy turns back to him, he grins.
"Sure you don't wanna be my nakama?" he asks.
Ace smirks. "Sure you don't wanna join Whitebeard?"
The two of them share a knowing, understanding grin.
"Take care of your nakama," Ace says, "You've got yourself a good crew."
Said crew smiles in the background as they watch the brothers say goodbye. They aren't prepared however, for what Luffy says next.
"Don't worry, I will," he says, "Ace is my soul, but my nakama are my heart."
Then he grins, leaving his crew speechless at the depth in the meaning of what he just said. Ace just grins back.
This time, he's the one that kisses Luffy. The Angel doesn't hesitate to kiss back and when Ace pulls away, planting a kiss on his forehead has he goes, Luffy practically radiates joy.
"I'm proud of you, Luffy," he says, briefly brushing his hand along his Angel's cheek before backing away to the rail. He shoots one last grin at his brother before jumping down into his Striker, Luffy smiling down after him.
The Straw Hats crowd around the rail to see Ace off.
Ace looks up at Luffy one last time.
"The next time we meet," he says, "will be at the Pirates' Summit."
Luffy nods, smile wide and determined.
And then Ace is off and Luffy is waving after him, shouting promises of fulfilling his dream and meeting him later, even after the Demon is long gone from view.
When he turns back to his crew, he smiles, cracks his knuckles and says:
"Now let's go kick Crocodile's ass!"
When the Demon finally catches his pray, he's thrown in a cage.
Ace is furious.
At his father.
At the government.
But mostly at himself.
If he hadn't been so stupid and gone off half-cocked, this wouldn't have happened. If he had listened to Marco and Oyaji, he would still be aboard the Moby Dick. If he hadn't given into his anger, he would still be free.
But he wasn't.
He's been shackled and locked away, wings clipped, trapped behind iron bars, hidden from the world in the deepest depths of hell.
The damn sea stone has taken his fire away; he hates the stuff, it leaves him feeling weak and empty, which is bad enough on its own. He's beaten and battered and bloody. He has lost. Blackbeard has beaten him. Thatch remained un-avenged.
That more than anything makes him burn with shame.
The only plus side was that his imprisonment spared Luffy the same fate.
Ace can't imagine Luffy in his position; the thought hurts more than any of his wounds. The Angel is the definition of free. Locking him away is nothing short of a crime. But he is safe now, out on the sea and way from the chains and the cages and the darkness and the pain. That is the only thing that keeps Ace from uselessly trying to tug out of his shackles, the only thing that keeps his wings hidden.
But the creeping unease of being caged never fades.
Unlike the jeering taunts or screams of agony issued by guards and prisoners alike, Ace is silent. He knows there is no escape. His freedom is gone, forever out of reach. But that doesn't mean he is going to give them the satisfaction. He's a stubborn bastard and most everyone knows it. They wanted him to scream, they would be met with silence. They wanted tears, they would get the Demon's glare.
Ace knows that he unnerves the guards and uses it to his advantage. They never get anything from him. No matter how much he hurts, his will won't budge. The taunts of death and pain don't bother him. He knows what awaited him the moment he woke up in his cell.
He's accepted it.
He lost track of time, doesn't know how many days or weeks or months he had been here, chained to a wall. But he stopped caring a while ago.
He has to admit he is a little surprised when Gramps comes to visit him. He can hear the sadness in his adopted Grandfather's voice when he speaks about how he wished they had become marines, because then Ace wouldn't be in this position. The Demon stays silent as always and the Vice-Admiral presses on. He tells his grandson about Luffy's latest exploits, about the stupid, reckless things he did that were so Luffy you can't help but just shake your head. Apparently, the young Angel and his crew had attacked Enies Lobby and then barged straight into the Sabaody Archipelago and brought his own brand of chaos with him. Then Garp says he expected nothing less from his grandson, throws his head back and laughs. Ace feels a smile tug at his lips, Luffy really never changed.
But then Garp mentions that Luffy knows who his father is and Ace feels the need to tell Gramps that it doesn't matter if he and the Angel became marines; they have the blood of the world's most wanted criminals in their veins. According to the marines, they aren't supposed to exist, they could never be marines. He can't stand his blood and when Garp tries to tell him something about his father, he cuts him off. Ace needs to say this and his throat is already burning from repressed screams and lack of speaking.
Whitebeard is his father. And no one else.
He looks Garp in the eye as he says it. The old marine looks back with a resigned acceptance and a sad gleam in his eye, almost like he's in pain. But not for himself. Maybe for Ace, but it doesn't quite seem that way and something in the back of the Demon's mind tells him the sadness is for Roger, but he brushes it off.
It doesn't matter anymore.
Garp thinks it's sad that Ace will never understand how much Roger loved him, how much the man sacrificed for him and Rouge. But that is partially his fault. He's watched the kid grow up questioning his existence, whether or not he deserved to be born. Garp can tell his grandson hasn't found an answer. He also knows that if Rouge and Roger were here, they would be none too pleased with what is about to happen. But there is nothing Garp can do to prevent it.
And it's tearing him apart more than he wants to show.
But he accepts Ace's decision.
He thinks it's a miracle at all that Ace willingly applies the word 'father' to anything, that he lets himself be called 'son' when he grew up hating those very words.
And when Ace's lips pull into a small, grim and solemn smile, Garp can only nod his head and leave, his heart in taters for both his late friend and rival and his condemned grandson.
Ace watches as Garp leaves, feeling lighter than he has in a while. While Garp isn't the perfect parental figure, Ace knows that the man loves Luffy and, for whatever obscure reason, himself. He's glad for the visit.
It's almost like closure, he supposes.
Which is a nice thing to have.
Because he knows that when he finally leaves his cage, it will be the end, everything will be over.
He knows that when he leaves his cage, he will die.
When the Angel reaches for his nakama, they take his hand.
Luffy has an archeologist on his crew now. Whatever that is.
He's decided that Robin is a mystery; he likes mysteries. And despite everything that has happened in Alabasta, Luffy has decided that she has a good heart. It is weak and broken and hidden, but good. The Angel knows the others cannot see it quite yet, but he will not let her go.
She's like Ace.
She questions her existence, her reason to live.
She's given up on her dream.
Luffy has decided that he will make her believe again.
Though she doesn't show it, Robin is surprised at the ease with which she is accepted into the crew. When she first asks to join, she almost looks away from the heavy, searching stare of the simpleminded captain. For the first time, Robin feels like someone is looking at all of her, like this boy can see all of the pain and darkness in her heart hidden under the calm mask. This is no mere boy; his eyes are wise. His gaze changes and the rubber boy blinks.
"I get it. Guess that's that. Okay."
Unsurprisingly, his crew protests.
Surprisingly, he turns to them and smiles.
"Don't worry!" he says, "She's not a bad person!"
Robin wonders what would happen if any of them knew.
It isn't long before she finds out.
By then, she's grown fond of the crew. She wants to protect them. So she sacrifices herself. She should have known better than to think that Luffy would take that lying down. The crew chases after her. They declare war on the World Government for her.
But Luffy still wants to hear it from her.
"SAY YOU WANT TO LIVE!"
That's when the stone wall around her heart breaks. Luffy has made his way through all of her defenses, shattered every last one of them to pieces, and wrapped his arms around her heart in the warmest hug she's ever felt.
"I WANT TO LIVE!" she shouts back, "TAKE ME OUT TO SEA WITH YOU!"
She can see his smirk even through her tears.
"Leave everything to us."
Franky decides rather quickly that he likes these guys. After they get over the whole "You-beat-up-our-nakama-so-we-kicked-the-crap-out-of-your-gang" incident of course.
They have heart.
They fight for their nakama.
Even when she tries to push them away.
But he doesn't like Nico Robin's way of protecting her friends.
So he makes a bet, a gamble.
He destroys the blue prints that started this whole mess (and he would be lying if he said he didn't enjoy Spandam's face when he did it). Now it's either Nico Robin or nothing. And Franky is placing all his money on the Straw Hats breaking her out before the government can get anything.
No one, of course, said he couldn't make sure that his investment paid off.
So he fights alongside the pirate crew.
Their captain is an odd one. It seems Franky is counted under his protection now that they are on the same side. It's rather sudden, Luffy's trust. And Franky is surprised by the depth of it when he holds off Lucci so he can get to Robin. Luffy is leaving his nakama in Franky's hands.
He won't let the captain down.
Luffy is mad.
Sure it was to protect them. But she left to die. Luffy doesn't want her to die. And even when she yells down at him that she doesn't want to live anymore, Luffy doesn't care. If she wants to die, she can do it with them. The Angel refuses to let her go. She is nakama. Nakama are forever.
So Luffy forces Robin to believe again, forces her to feel hope again.
And when she cries out her will to live, he grins.
That jerk Franky that beat up Usopp is here too. He helps them save Robin so Luffy decides he isn't such a bad guy. And when Robin is finally free, Usopp gives Luffy the strength to stand. After all, the Angel is nothing without his nakama.
All of them.
Merry – loyal, faithful, strong, beautiful, precious Merry – comes to save them. She carries them away from the fire and the canons and the explosions to the safety of the sea.
But now Merry is dying.
And no one can fix her.
So they give her a proper burial.
And as the flames spread, Luffy hears a voice. A pure, sweet, happy voice that has lulled him to sleep every night, laughed with him during his games, sang to him as he watched the vast sea from his special seat. Merry is apologizing.
Luffy breaks and the tears run down his face.
They should be apologizing; they broke her a lot and they couldn't fix her right and –
"But I was happy."
Merry was happy with them. She wishes she could be with them a little longer, but she was happy. She loves her nakama. She carried them as far as she could. She has no regrets.
And as the flames consume the Jolly Roger still tied to Merry's mast, Luffy knows it.
They won't forget her. Ever.
Nakama are forever.
And Merry is nakama.
They make it back to Water 7 intact, but with a problem: with Merry gone, the Straw Hats are without a ship.
That's where Franky comes in.
He asks them to sail on the ship he will build. They can't possibly refuse.
Of course, before they can get too far into the planning, the walls come crashing down around them. Literally. Apparently, Luffy's Marine Vice-Admiral Grandfather decided it was time for a visit. Luffy feels how he usually does whenever Garp randomly shows up: freaked out.
He gets scolded of course.
"I raised you to be a strong marine!"
"I'm a pirate, damnit!"
But other than that the visit is pretty calm. Luffy is reunited with Coby, who is apparently now friends with that marine's son that tried to kill them that last time they met. But that's beside the point.
Also, turns out he has a dad. And his dad is strong.
But Luffy has never met him, so he can't say he cares that much. Though he still doesn't understand why everyone's freaked out even after Robin explains it.
Coby is thrilled to see Luffy again. He's as strong as ever, so Coby knows he has a long way to go. But for now, he's happy just to talk to him. He tells Luffy about his and Helmeppo's adventures and Luffy tells them about his. And when they bring up his past on Alvida's pirate ship, Helmeppo and Luffy get a laugh at his expense. But Coby thinks he was on that ship for a reason: so he could meet Luffy.
When he says that, Luffy gives him a small smile.
"Somehow, you seem a bit older," he says.
And Coby feels warm.
Soon enough, it's time for them to leave. Luffy is disappointed, but Coby gives him a challenge.
"Do you know what the second half of the Grand Line is called?" the young marine asks. Luffy perks up in attention and Coby can't help but grin. "Further beyond the Red Line, the sea becomes more vast. The final sea, people call it the New World."
A small smile starts to form on Luffy's face.
"The sea where those who wish to usher in a new era gather!" Coby continues, excitement building in his stomach despite himself, "The man who controlled that sea was…the Pirate King!" Luffy's grin is determined now and his crew is smirking behind him. "We'll certainly meet again there! And next time I'll capture you! I'll become even stronger! One day, in the Marines, I'll become an Admiral!"
And then Coby is embarrassed because he got caught up in the moment and Luffy can tell he's still the same kid he met those months ago. Luffy interrupts Coby's stammered apologies easily.
"Coby!" he says, "You're gonna fight me, right? Then you'll become that strong! You gotta! Next time we meet, we'll be stronger. Even more amazing!"
And Coby can't do anything but stare in shock and wonder how Luffy can have so much faith in someone like him. He doesn't even notice the tears in his eyes until Zoro taunts him good-naturedly from his perch at the window.
"What's this? You still aren't cured of being a crybaby, Coby?"
Coby quickly wipes away his tears and expresses his gratitude at being able to see them again. When he gets up, he's surprised to find Luffy right in front of him. The young pirate looks over his shoulder and calls, "Zoro! Sake!"
Zoro looks confused before tossing his captain a bottle of unopened sake. Luffy uncorks it and dips his thumb in the alcohol before placing it in the center of Coby's forehead. Coby is confused, not understanding what's happening as the sake drips down his face and Luffy removes his hand. When he looks into Luffy's eyes, he is shocked to find gleaming silver orbs grinning back at him.
"We're rivals now, Coby," he says as the silver fades from his eyes. And then he chuckles a bit before tossing the bottle back to Zoro.
Coby swallows his heart and declares, "We're going to keep becoming even stronger! And in the New World, we'll meet again! Let's go!"
And then he turns and runs back to their ship, Helmeppo right behind him. He can hear Luffy's laughter fading behind him. It isn't until later that Coby understands what just happens and when he tells his teacher, Garp gets this funny look on his face like he can't believe what he hearing. Then the Vice-Admiral throws his head back and laughs.
"He blessed a Marine! That little rascal! As expected of my grandson!"
Coby and Helmeppo look at each other, confused, but as usual, Garp answers no questions, so the pair are forced to let it go.
Back at Water 7, Luffy's crew is just as confused as Coby.
"Hey, Luffy, what was that you just did?" Zoro asks.
"Hmm? It was a promise."
And that's all Luffy will say on the matter.
That night, they party with the entire island: Straw Hat pirates, the Franky Family, the Galley-La Company, the giants, and even civilians. It's the biggest celebration they've ever had, and Robin has finally found her place.
Luffy can see it in her eyes.
The Franky Family and Galley-La Company present their new ship a few days later. Franky is nowhere to be found. Apparently, he doesn't think it's okay for him to leave so he's hiding from them. But Luffy decided that he was nakama after he fought with them at Enies Lobby. So he's coming whether he likes it or not. Everyone helps track him down and Luffy, with Robin's help, convinces Franky to join his crew as shipwright.
When Usopp apologizes, and they're ready to head out, Franky tells them the name of their new ship.
The Thousand Sunny.
Luffy thinks he feels like Merry. Franky says that Merry lives on in Sunny and that makes Luffy smile. Merry is still looking out for them and Sunny has given them a new home.
Sometime later, they meet a skeleton musician named Brook.
Luffy has always wanted a musician on his crew, after all, pirates love music, and this one is a skeleton! That makes him even cooler in Luffy's eyes. But Brook refuses, something about his shadow being stolen. Then somehow they stumble into a place called Thriller Bark. Which is apparently where all of the shadows get stolen.
It's a really strange fight filled with shadows and zombies and bats and a whole lot of random shadowless pirates. But they manage to get everyone's shadows back and Luffy falls asleep pleased in the knowledge that they won.
When he wakes up, they find Zoro heavily injured. Something happened while he was asleep and Luffy knows it was extremely important. But everyone is alive and safe, they have their ship and they have plenty of reason to celebrate.
So they do.
Brook plays the piano, watching the pirates party.
It's the first time in years that he's seen such a lively party. It's also the first time in a long time that he's felt happy and content. When he looks up, Luffy is resting on top of the piano, grinning down at him. Brook decided that he likes this boy's grin. But he still can't join his crew; he needs to find his lost nakama.
Luffy's grin is knowing and he starts telling him about Laboon, about the promise he made with the whale who has been waiting for him for fifty years. Brook wants to cry. He's suddenly filled with so much joy it overflows. He can join a crew like this.
"Can I be your nakama?"
And just like that, he has a family again.
Luffy is beyond happy. His crew is together again and his family has just gotten bigger. When they part with the friends they made, Luffy finally learns what the paper Ace gave him means: it's a Vivre card.
And Ace's is burning.
Lola tells them that a Vivre card represents a person's life force, the weaker they get, the more the paper burns, when they heal, the paper repairs itself.
Ace's Vivre card is burning.
Luffy's crew leaves Thriller Bark smiling and cheering. Nami gives him worried looks, but Luffy waves her off; Ace can take care of himself. Besides, if he showed up to save him, Ace would get angry. Zoro finally wakes up and they can truly celebrate Brook's addition to the crew now. They Kanpi and Sanji cooks and Nami and Robin laugh and Franky and Chopper and Usopp and Luffy dance while Brook plays music and Zoro watches it all with a smile.
And all the while, Ace's Vivre card burns.
The fourth time they meet, it's on a bloody battlefield in the middle of a war.
Ace is in pain.
Not physically, but emotionally.
He can't stand the sight before him, the sight of his nakama fighting for his worthless life, shedding their blood for him, dying for him. He can't take it. His heart hurts. It's like it was slowly being ripped out of his chest.
He can do nothing but watch, his wrists shackled behind his back, and it's killing him. He just wants them to leave, didn't want them to come at all. He's ready to die and here they are trying to save him. He doesn't deserve it.
Through it all, Garp sits next to him, solemn and silent, and when the tears start rolling down his cheeks, Ace realizes just how much this pains him. He feels his own eyes burn. Oyaji, Marco, Gramps…why can't they just let him die? Why can't they just let his worthless existence end? He's causing them all pain, so why don't they stop the source?
And then his heart, which was already in pain, is suddenly in agony as his Angel falls from the sky screaming his name.
Luffy is furious. How dare someone try and execute Ace, how dare someone try to take his soul away from him. He's frantic and mad and worried and he's never felt like this before and he doesn't like it. He needs to find Ace and save him. That's what he came to do, so that's what's going to happen.
He looks over the battlefield, trying to find his brother. When he spots him, chained and bound but alive, he can't do anything but smile and gleefully shout his name at the top of his lungs. The Angel can see his Demon's worry and fear and pain etched clearly into his face and Luffy knows Ace will be mad at him, but he can worry about that later.
Right now, Crocodile is attacking the guy that Luffy thinks is Whitebeard and that is not okay. Ace likes Whitebeard, actually calls him 'Father.' Luffy won't let the sandman cut him down.
"Why are you defending Whitebeard?" Crocodile asks.
Whitebeard watches the confrontation with a simple glance over his shoulder.
"So this old guy really is Whitebeard?" he asks, not dropping his battle stance, "Then don't touch him! Ace likes this old guy!"
And Whitebeard can tell the reason really is as simple as that. This brat he's never met before has suddenly put him under his protection because Ace likes him.
So this is Ace's little brother.
And he has that brat Shanks's old hat.
"Kid," he calls, he wants to make sure, wants to know if this is who Red-Hair wagered his arm on, "That straw hat you're wearing. It looks a lot like the one Red-Hair used to wear."
The change in the kid's attitude is instant. He goes from glaring furiously at Crocodile to looking up at him curiously at the flick of a switch.
"You know Shanks, old guy?" He asks blinking. Then he looks solemnly at the straw hat resting across his shoulders and says, "I'm holding it for Shanks."
This is more than just a kid. He's got a spark just like Ace. But will it be enough?
"Have you come to save your brother?"
No hesitation, he'll give the brat that much.
"Do you understand what you're up against? Someone like you doesn't stand a chance here!"
The kid looks down. And then suddenly, he's furious.
"Shut up!" he roars, glaring up at him, "That's not for you to decide!" Whitebeard twitches a little at that, not really surprised at the outburst, but the ferocity behind it. He's missing a piece of the puzzle. "I know perfectly well!" the kid continues on, "You wanna be Pirate King, don't you?! I'm the one who'll be Pirate King!"
His declaration rings across the battlefield and Whitebeard suddenly wants to laugh. This cheeky little brat. He's got heart. A smile stretches across his lips. "You're pretty damn cheeky," he says, "I won't show mercy if you slow me down, you spoiled brat!"
"I'm going to do what I want!" the kid snaps right back, not intimidated in the slightest. He already looks like he's been through hell and here he is, ready to jump right back into it. "I'm going to save Ace myself!"
Then, suddenly, his attitude changes again. The kid who was about to run off all of five seconds ago straightens and looks over his shoulder.
"Old man," he calls.
"We heard a message on the warship just now."
The brat tells him about the message he overheard, codes he didn't understand and that they were going to move up Ace's execution. That last bit was what caught his interest.
"They're moving Ace's execution time up?" What was Sengoku planning? "Are you sure that's what they said?"
"After they finish some kind of preparation," the kid confirms, "Then they said some code stuff that I didn't really get."
Whitebeard raises an eyebrow at that.
"Since you want to save Ace too, I thought I'd tell you!"
"I see," Whitebeard says, "That is important news. Sorry about before."
"Don't worry about it."
Whitebeard really wants to laugh. This disrespectful brat is determined, he'll give him that. He's got one thing in mind: save Ace. Anything else is second.
That gets Whitebeard's attention. He looks down at the kid and is surprised to find the suddenly soft and even thankful look on the boy's face. Something else though: the boy's eyes are silver.
"Ace said he calls you that," the kid says, locking gleaming silver eyes with the Yonko, "He said he told you everything. And that you still accepted him."
Whitebeard hears the underlying message.
You know who and what he is. And you didn't shun him.
He nods, confirming the kid's statement. "Ace is my son. Nothing will change that."
The kids grins fondly then and he suddenly looks older and wiser than he should be. "I wonder how many times you had to tell him that," he says softly.
Whitebeard snorts at that. "Too many. Damn brat's too insecure."
The kid chuckles. "Ace is Ace," he says. Then he looks up at him and smiles. "Thank you."
And suddenly, it clicks. The missing piece. The hidden meaning that Whitebeard couldn't understand before.
This kid is the…
The Yonko can practically see the glow coming off the kid, even as the silver in his eyes fades. The brat grins at him one last time, before turning back to the battlefield.
"Ace!" he yells at the top of his lungs, "I'm coming to save you now!"
And then he's off. Leaving a somewhat stunned and amused Whitebeard behind him.
Ace sees the battle shift as his brother enters it, heading straight towards him. He doesn't stop, just keeps coming when all he wants is for him to leave. So he shouts at him, old promises and pirate rules and insults ringing out over the roar of the battle for everyone to hear. He just wants him to go, doesn't want to drag him down with him.
But Luffy never did listen to him.
"I'm your little brother!"
And that declaration rings across the battlefield louder than anything else.
The marines are stunned and Ace vaguely hears them asking if Roger had another kid. Ace pays them no mind. He can only see Luffy. He can only think about sharing cups of sake with him and Sabo what seems like lifetimes ago.
"Those stupid pirate 'rules'" Luffy yells as he runs, "I've never heard of them!" he roars.
"Don't you get it?" he shouts back.
But apparently he doesn't. Or he's just completely ignoring Ace's wishes. It's probably the later.
And he has no choice but to listen on, horrified, as Sengoku reveals to the world Luffy's true parentage just as he did his moments before. He feels Garp stiffen beside him and sees the marine's shock. It's just like him. Luffy will be just like him. Hunted and hated for the blood in his veins. Ace can't bear the thought, can do nothing but watch as the battle rolls on.
But Luffy, being Luffy, completely ignores all of the political crap and the nonsense about him being some sort of demon (both Ace and Garp know better) and pushes on like nothing has changed. Because, really, nothing has. He's still a pirate. Ace still needs rescuing. That's all he needs to know, everything thing else is unimportant.
"I don't care what you say! I'm saving you even if I die!"
Ace can only stare in shock, warmth surrounding his heart despite himself, as Luffy charges toward him. They wouldn't leave, no matter what he said. This was his mistake! He didn't want anyone else to pay for it.
"I'm your little brother!"
"Become my son."
And suddenly, he felt calm.
"What is it?" Garp asks from his position beside him.
"I'm…ready to accept whatever the future gives me," he says slowly, calmly, feeling as if a weight has been lifted, "I'll take the outstretched hand that saves me or bow to the blade that punishes me. I'm…done fighting. Everyone, I'm sorry," he says softly.
Whatever happens, will happen. He won't try to stop them anymore. He's ready to die, but if the others come to rescue him, he'll let them save him. It would be disrespectful to do otherwise.
The battle rages on, neither side gaining an edge.
The marine's plan is revealed when Squadro stabs Whitebeard.
It's silence and betrayal, then chaos and rage, and then forgiveness and faith. Whitebeard joins the battle and the pirates steadily make their way closer to Ace. The Demon wants to scream when Luffy collapses, when Akainu wounds his chosen father.
Luffy can feel his body failing, knows it's just like Enies Lobby and Thriller Bark. If he gives in, he won't be getting back up for a while. But Ace is still in his cage, he isn't free yet. So Luffy isn't allowed to go down. Iva-chan doesn't want to give him more hormones, it could kill him. It doesn't matter; if he can't save Ace, he'll die anyway. Ace is his soul.
Iva-chan seems to be able to tell he's serious; Luffy gets more hormones.
He's close. So close.
But then the blades start coming down and Ace isn't moving. The blades are coming down and Ace is still chained.
Ace's Vivre card is burning.
Ace is going to die. They are going to kill him. He hasn't saved Ace yet! He can't die, not yet! They had to stop. It needed to stop. He needed to stop them. The blades had to stop coming down. He needed it all just to stopstopstopstopstop –
And then people are falling, pirates and marines alike, collapsing to the ground. But that doesn't matter because the blades have stopped and Ace is still alive. Luffy pushes forward, ignoring anyone and everything that isn't Ace. He is aware of Ace's nakama clearing a path for him, aware of Whitebeard ordering his crew to help him, he heard and saw all of it. But he only has eyes for Ace.
And when Crab-chan makes him a path straight to his brother and Gramps gets in his way, Luffy's heart breaks a little. But then Gramps doesn't fight back and lets Luffy knock him away and the ache of betrayal eases some.
Then he is at the top. And there is Ace.
Ace who is staring up at him looking more shocked than Luffy has ever seen him. He grins, anger and worry melting away, replaced with the happiness and relief of reaching his brother.
He looks so small to Ace. With that smile on his face, he looked just like that four-year-old kid that grinned up at him without a care in the world all those years ago. Luffy is in front of him. Luffy is here and somehow has the keys to his cuffs and knows one of his executioners who has an ability that can make a spare key when the original is destroyed. And then he's free and can feel his fire again and he's too happy to feel confused or shocked at his Angel of a brother.
Luffy really never changes.
Ace doesn't think he ever will.
Cheers go up and Ace might have been a little excessive with the fire but he was free so he didn't really care. His happiness fades though, when Whitebeard gives his last order. Last. The meaning behind the word rings in his head. He wants to deny it, shove it away in some dark corner and never let it out, but he can see the wounds, the blood.
Whitebeard is dying.
Trading his live for Ace's.
The Demon feels a little sick at that.
He pulls away from Luffy and doesn't stop even when he hears the Angel cry out for him. He needs to speak with his father.
"Was I a good father?"
And then he has to leave he father to die. It hurts. He can feel his heart breaking and he doesn't know if he will be able to fix it.
And then he hears the insult to his father's name and he snaps. He flies at the Admiral, fury present in his flames. But the Admiral is stronger and he burns. He listens to the taunts and twisted ideology he's had to deal with his entire life.
Suddenly, the Admiral leaps away and Ace turns, eyes widening in horror at what he sees.
He's going for Luffy.
Luffy, who's fought so hard for him.
Who is so out of energy, he can't move.
He won't be able to dodge. He can't save himself.
And Ace moves.
Time slows down and his eyes lock with Luffy's. The Angel's eyes go wide in shock and Ace knows this will hurt him, but it's better than Luffy dying. Anything is better than Luffy dying.
But something's wrong.
Ace doesn't feel any pain. He doesn't even feel heat.
And then he sees it.
Luffy's eyes are silver and there's a golden halo on his head. His face is contorted in pain, but he looks so so so so relieved and Ace can't understand. Pure white wings extend past him, wrapping him up. Slowly, he turns, eyes following the white feathers.
Luffy stopped the blow with his wings.
Wings that are now charred and burned and going from white to black.
And he can do nothing but stare.
Luffy has given up his wings. His pure, white, beautiful, innocent wings.
Dimly, he's aware of the shock and then disgust on the Admiral's face, as if a pirate and one with blood as "tainted" as Luffy could possibly be so pure. He's aware of the shocked silence that descends the battlefield. He's aware of the whispers and exclamations of surprise and awe.
"No way! Straw Hat is the Angel!"
"How is that possible, he's a pirate!"
"Those are wings!"
"The Angel has sided with pirates!"
"His wings are burning!"
"He saved Ace!"
"Is he okay?"
Ace is aware of all of it. But as he slowly turns back to look at Luffy, eyes and heart filled with horror, he forgets it all.
"Why?" he chokes out, voice cracking.
Luffy just smiles weakly. "You're safe…"
And then the Angel's wings go limp and Luffy falls back. Ace quickly catches him. "Luffy? Luffy!"
"Ace is safe," Luffy says, still smiling at him even as the halo and silver eyes melt away and damaged wings crumble to dust, "It's okay. It'll be okay."
"It's not okay!" Ace shouts, not even caring how broken he sounds or how his voice shakes. "It's not okay, Luffy! Your wings! Those were your wings! You might never fly again! Why would you do that?!"
Ace knows that almost everyone at Marineford is listening to their conversation, the whole world if the den-den mushi are still working. He doesn't care, just needs to know why.
"Silly," Luffy breaths, "Better to never fly again and have Ace…then to fly forever…and lose Ace…"
The Demon pulls him close, tears blurring his vision. "Stupid Angel," he mutters, unable to control his shaking.
"Your stupid Angel," is the quiet reply before Luffy's body suddenly goes limp.
Ace jerks away. "Luffy? Luffy!"
He looks at the Angel and notices for the first time the extent of his wounds. Luffy looks like he should be dead twice over, he's surrounded by blood and feathers, body covered in gashes and bruises and burns and grime. He brings a shaking hand up and sees it covered in blood.
And for the second time in his life, Ace loses control.
All those years ago, when Marco stopped Ace from gnawing his arm off, the Phoenix never understood what the younger pirate meant when he said lose control.
Now he does.
He'll admit he's as shocked as anyone else when the kid sprouts wings and shields Ace from the incoming blow. And when the kid goes down, he's worried. Ace has this look of horror on his face that Marco has never seen before. He looks like he's breaking.
And then he snaps.
And Marco can do nothing but watch as Ace raises his face to the sky and roars. It sounds like an animal, one that's broken and wounded and half-mad. And then he sees the black wings and tail, the crimson horns. And he's shocked all over again.
Ace's eyes open and lock onto the Admiral responsible. The now crimson orbs are glowing with hate and rage and bloodlust, the whites of his eyes have gone black; and Marco knows that this isn't Ace anymore. He knows what Ace meant back then when he said lose control.
He wishes he didn't.
Ace's transformation brings a new layer of shock to the whole situation. Not only was the infamous rookie pirate Straw Hat Luffy the pure and innocent Angel, the precious brother he had worked so hard to save was the twisted and tainted Demon. Everyone is stunned. This has never happened before; never have the two opposing forces been so close. No one knows what to make of it.
But no one really has time to think about it because Ace lunges at Akainu with an inhuman growl, slashing at him with flames and claws. The Admiral isn't the only one surprised when the Demon lands a blow in lava and draws blood.
Ace is unrelenting in his attack and when he's knocked the Admiral away, he moves on to the closest marines. He cuts them down with ease, his anger never fading, never faltering. It's panic then and the chaos of battle picks up again.
What no one notices is that Luffy regains consciousness and while he can't move, he can open his eyes. And when he does, what he sees is seared into his mind. Akainu managed to get back up, managed to get behind the rampaging Ace, managed to land a blow. The spear of magma enters the Demon's back and exits his chest. And then Ace is down, thrown carelessly away, landing next to him. Luffy tries to reach him, but his arms won't move and he can't do anything because his body won't work –
And then Ace's eyes flick weakly to his and the black in them fades to white.
"Luffy," he calls out softly, a trembling hand landing on his arm, "I'm sorry I couldn't let you save me properly…"
"What…are you talking…about?" he manages to get out.
Ace chuckles. It sounds wet. "I don't have any regrets, you know," he says, "Just like we promised…on that day…"
"Don't lie to me!" Luffy yells hoarsely. Why is Ace talking like that? He needs to move, get Ace to a doctor, why won't his body move?
"Not lying," Ace practically sings, "I've realized…that what I wanted wasn't fame…or anything like that…I just wanted…an answer…to my question…"
Luffy didn't like this, Ace is right in front of him, covered in blood and he can't move damnit and why is Ace talking like that?
"Ne, Luffy…you…and Oyaji and…everyone…even though I'm worthless…even though…I carry the blood of the devil…even though…I'm the Demon…" And Ace is crying now, Luffy can see the tears streaming down his face and the Angel aches to wipe them away because they look so wrong there, but he can't. "Thank you…for loving me!"
And Luffy is trembling now because Ace is still crying and his lips twitch up into a smile even as his eyes slide closed. And then Ace is still and Luffy's world freezes, comes to a complete stop.
This can't be happening. Ace promised! And Ace always keeps his promises.
Luffy screams, a hollow broken sound, and then his world goes black.
Ace didn't expect to wake up again. He really didn't.
And when he raises his eyes, he wishes he hadn't. Whitebeard's body, standing tall and proud just like he did in life, is before him, back completely unmarred. His nakama are crying and he feels tears rise in his own eyes.
But it looks like the marines aren't done as Akainu steps forward. Ace feels rage at the sight of him, the memory of Luffy's wings –Luffy! The Demon frantically searches for his brother, but he is nowhere in sight.
Then he sees a spark out of the corner of his eyes and a young marine is yelling up at the Admiral, demanding an end to this pointless bloodshed. But Ace doesn't hear the wise words that come out of his mouth or see the tears pouring from his eyes. All Ace registers is the dim glow that covers this boy's skin.
Luffy has touched him.
And when Akainu draws back to attack him, Ace somehow moves.
Before anyone realizes it, he's there, arms, tail and wings all wrapped around the boy to shield him from any and all harm. At the same time, Shanks appears and stops the attack, saving them both. The Yonko praises the young marine and sends Ace a small smile, not at all phased by his appearance, before turning to the battlefield and declaring the war over.
It doesn't matter to Ace much, the boy is safe. Luffy's faith remains untouched.
Coby is frozen in both fear and shock.
The Demon has wrapped him up securely in a protective hold, saving him from the Admiral's wrath. When he timidly looks up, he sees tired, relieved crimson eyes. And Coby isn't scared anymore. Ace's hold loosens, but Coby doesn't move, choosing to stay in place against Fire Fist's chest. He can feel the Demon's blood seeping into his shirt and the amount makes him wonder how his face can show nothing but relief.
"Why?" he whispers when he manages to find his voice.
Ace blinks slowly, releasing something that sounds like a sigh. "You…glow…like he does," the pirate says, confusing Coby. He doesn't glow. But Ace continues on in some kind of daze. "Not as bright…as Luffy's glow…but…still there. He touched you…didn't he?"
Ace doesn't wait for Coby to answer; he brings a hand up, wiping his thumb through a trail of blood leaking from his mouth and then presses it to the center of the boy's forehead.
Coby is instantly reminded of Water 7, of the scene he didn't understand. It had been sake then, not blood, but it was the same.
"We're rivals now, Coby."
"He blessed a Marine!"
And suddenly, he understands. Luffy was the Angel this entire time; Luffy blessed him that time at Water 7, demonstrating his faith in the young marine. And now, the Demon stood before him, doing the same thing. Ace's blood is warm and sticky on his forehead and as the Demon pulls away from him, letting tail and wings go limp, Ace smiles at him. It's small and shattered, but it's there.
"You can…look after things," the Demon says softly, before falling to his knees.
Coby, out of energy, soon joins him on the ground, unconscious. Later, Garp will tell him that he's the first person in known history to be blessed by both the Angel and the Demon. It's significant, but he doesn't know what to do about it. He can only hope that he fulfills their expectations of him.
Ace catches the boy as he falls, cradling him as the battle finally slows to a halt around them. When he can finally look away from the flickering glow that thrives under this boy's skin, he sees Shanks and Ben looking down at him.
"We'll take care of the little guy," Shanks says, "Best get you back to your crew before whatever magic you cast wears off and they realize you're not dead."
Ace doesn't really understand what he means, but lets his wings and horns and tail melt away and his eyes fade back to brown as Ben scoops up his limp form. Everything is blurry at that point, and the Demon doesn't really know what's going on. He's almost slipped back into unconsciousness when he feels himself passed to a different set of arms.
He looks up and blinks, clearing his vision enough to see Marco's anxious face looking down at him. His friend's eyes are red and tears stain his cheeks and even though he looks so broken, he seems so relieved.
"Mar…co…you…still…alive…?" he mutters, his head rolling limply into the curve of the Phoenix's neck. He feels arms tighten around him.
"Moron," Marco's voice whispers above him, "Let's get your ass on the ship."
And as he starts fading again, he hears Marco telling him he better not die before everything is black.
When the Angel wakes, he is broken. But a hand reaches down to help him stand again.
When Luffy wakes up, he's in a daze.
He doesn't see anything, doesn't hear anything, doesn't feel anything.
He just knows that he has to find Ace.
And then he remembers the fire and the burns and the blood and the tears and the smile.
"Thank you for loving me!"
And then Luffy really needs to hit something because those images can't stay in his head because they're a lie; Ace can't be dead. He promised. But the images don't leave no matter how much Luffy screams and hits and destroys.
It's not fair. He was supposed to save Ace.
Jimbei shows up and pins him down, yelling at him. Luffy kicks and screams and fights, why can't Jimbei just leave him be? Ace is gone, his soul is gone. He has nothing left. Just let him die. He has nothing.
"What do you still have?"
He still has his nakama.
He still has his heart.
And when they go back to the beach, Law is gone, but Rayleigh is in his place. The former Pirate King's first mate tells him he's too weak to take on the New World. There's a 'but' in his voice and Luffy latches onto it.
Training for two years.
They send a message to his crew and Luffy admits he kinda has fun doing it. It hurt, because being there reminded him of Ace, but the look on the marines' faces was worth it.
When they arrive at the island that they will be training on for two years, Luffy decides it's time to stretch his wings. Rayleigh doesn't seem surprised at all to see them. The Angel himself is surprised because they look like they've been treated. Law must have done it somehow. The feathers aren't as mangled as before and new ones are already growing to replace the old. There will be scars and Luffy still isn't sure if he'll be able to fly again, but at least they don't hurt as much.
Rayleigh lets him do as he pleases and he spends what seems to him hours in a trance-like state, running his fingers along the ridges of his wings and through his feathers, flexing and stretching them to see how much he can move them.
When he finally looks up, Rayleigh smiles. "Well?" he asks.
And Luffy just smiles and tucks his wings away. "Let's start!" he exclaims.
He will get stronger.
Stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger.
Until he can protect all of his nakama, his heart, without fail.
When the Demon wakes, he is lost. But a hand reaches down to help him find his way.
When Ace wakes up, he just stares blankly at the ceiling.
He feels like he shouldn't be awake. And then he remembers his wound and that jerks him into awareness. He finds he's been bandaged and treated and even though his chest feels like it's on fire, he's alive.
He shouldn't be though. And he can't remember why he feels that way.
And then he does.
And suddenly he feels shattered and broken and he curls in on himself and sobs. He screams and thrashes in a fit and he can't stop even though his chest feels like it's being ripped open; he doesn't want to stop. He pounds against the wall, tears his sheets, the shred of sanity he manages to keep hold on in the back of his mind is the only thing keeping him from lighting the room on fire.
Then he's being held down and he's suddenly in that damn cage again and he screams louder, fights harder. The thing holding him down is unyielding and Ace can't move. So when Ace's body is too tired to fight anymore and goes limp, the Demon keeps screaming and crying and sobbing and yelling until he can't anymore, until his throat is so raw it hurts to breathe.
When Ace finally comes back to himself, he sees Marco hovering over him, face carefully blank. As he catches his breath and tries to speak, Marco gets him a glass of water. He drinks it, the cool liquid soothing his burning throat. As the Phoenix lies down next to him, Ace just stares at the ceiling. He doesn't speak until Marco reaches up to wipe away a few stray tears.
"Greif is a cage," he whispers.
"But it's one you'll be able to let yourself out of eventually," his friend replies.
And then Marco takes him into his arms and holds him. It takes some of the hurt away, but only a little. He can't stop the stem of apologies spilling from his lips, Oyaji is gone, Luffy will never fly again, they've lost so damn much and it's all his fault. Marco listens to him say sorry over and over again until he finally snaps that it wasn't his fault and it was their choice to go after him; he has nothing to apologize for. Nothing at all.
He clings to Marco, crying silently into the man's shoulder, tremors wrecking his body as Marco runs fingers through his hair and gently shushes him.
He falls asleep like that.
The days drag on and Ace doesn't know what to feel. Oyaji had been buried while he was asleep and Marco had told him it would be a while before they could go back. Ace is torn: he doesn't want to see the grave but at the same time he didn't get to say goodbye. Oyaji would know what to do right now; Ace doesn't have the slightest clue. The crew knows now. They know everything. He can feel their stares and no matter what he does, he can't escape their eyes. He finds himself hiding in corners and sticking to the shadows.
It's night when Marco finally confronts him about it.
The man can tell that Ace is broken. He doesn't know how to handle the fact that the entire crew – world – know his two darkest secrets. Marco doesn't really know what to tell him; he knows that some of the crew have been made uneasy by the information, but the majority are just glad that they have him back safe and sound. Still, telling him everything is okay would be a lie and Marco refuses to do that to his friend. He also can't let Ace drown in his shadows and guilt and fear, which he can tell are slowly consuming the man.
He finds his fellow commander standing on the figurehead of their ship, staring blankly out at the sea and stars.
He doesn't say anything, just quietly stands behind the Demon and waits. He knows Ace will talk sooner or later.
Eventually, Ace turns to him.
"Everything is different," he says.
"I know," Marco says in response, because it's true.
"I don't know if I like it."
Marco shakes his head at that. "You can't change it."
Ace stares at him for a long time. Marco keeps his gaze looked on Ace's eyes. The younger man walks up to him, pressing up so close to him their chests and foreheads are touching. Marco doesn't move. He feels more than sees Ace's change, deep brown eyes bleeding into glowing crimson right in front of him. Ace's eyes search his for something; Marco stays as he is, completely relaxed and at ease in the Demon's presence.
"Are you scared of me?" he finally asks.
It's only then that Marco moves, wrapping his arms around the younger man's shoulders and back, just below his wings.
He answers firmly, without hesitation, leaving Ace no doubt, erasing as much of it as he can.
And then Ace is leaning into him, burying his face in Marco's shoulder and clinging to him in the same desperate way he did back in the infirmary the day he woke up. The Phoenix feels Ace's tail wrap around his waist, pulling him closer, and his wings close around them like a cacoon, protecting them from the night's chill.
The next morning, Ace is calmer, more relaxed. He steps out of the shadows, though he tends to stay near Marco. The older pirate decides to allow it for now because the Demon is making an effort.
Izo comes in wearing a big grin and tosses Ace that morning's paper. Ace is confused until he sees the headline. He jaw drops and his eyes widen. Marco and the other commanders are taken off guard when Ace starts trembling, tears filling his eyes. Marco leans over him and reads he article out loud, his own shock apparent in every word he speaks.
Luffy went back.
His idiotic, crazy, reckless little brother went back to Marineford. And from the sounds of things, he messed with the marines big time. Ace can tell it's more than it is, the mark on his brother's arm and the entire trip itself are a dead giveaway, but he's too distracted by the mind numbing relief to try and puzzle it out.
Laughter bubbles from his lips and it sounds a little hysterical, even to his own ears. But Luffy is safe and alive and Ace can't feel anything but joy. The knot he's had in his stomach since waking up back on the ship finally starts to loosen. When he finally calms down, Marco and Izo are holding him up by the shoulders and tears are running down his cheeks. The commanders around the table are giving him concerned looks but he ignores them.
"He's alright," he says, then repeats it louder, firmer, as if that helps make it more real, "He's alright."
And then he's smiling; a real, honest smile. Something his crewmates haven't seen in so long that a few of them pinch themselves to make sure they aren't dreaming, before they smile back.
"That's one hell of a brother you have, Ace," Jozu says roughly, impressed. They all are.
Ace chuckles before turning his eyes to the paper again and smiling fondly. "He's my Angel."
They had heard Ace say it thousands of times. But this is the first time he's said it since Marineford and the true meaning finally sinks in. Ace just watches their reactions with an amused smirk.
"You little demon," Haruta teases.
And even though her tone is light and playful, Ace freezes and his smirk falters a little. They notice the change immediately and Marco decides to sit this one out; Ace will have to confront this sooner or later.
The fire user doesn't let him down.
Eyes locked on the pile of plates in front of him, he speaks to the table, sounding more nervous and guarded and desperate then they have ever heard him before.
"Are you…scared of me?"
The commanders regard him for all of five seconds before throwing their heads back and laughing.
"Scared? Of you?"
"Are you serious?"
"That's the best joke I've heard in a while!"
When the laughter stops, Ace is staring at them all with a mixture of awe and hope that makes them shake their heads and smile softly.
"You're our little brother, Ace," Vista says.
"And our nakama," Curiel adds.
"You're still part of our family, Ace," Namur concludes for the group.
Ace is silent, staring at the group like he can't believe what he's just heard. Marco sighs and lightly knocks him on the head. The younger man jolts and turns and Marco just gives him a bland, but slightly smug, look.
"Told you," he says.
And then Ace is smiling again, bright and happy and vibrant.
The fifth time they meet, they promise to never lose each other.
It was luck.
And possibly fate.
Ace and his nakama had returned to the New World almost immediately following the events at Marineford. That had been two years ago. Since then, they had lost territory, including Fishmen Island, all over the New World. Thing's had balanced out and Blackbeard had become the fourth Yonko, much to the crew's disgust. Marco had been elected as their new captain and all of the commanders had been bumped up a division, Thatch's position had finally been filled and one division had been dropped as a result of all the men lost at Marineford.
It was a quiet day.
Ace had passed out earlier due to his narcolepsy and since it looked like it was going to be one of his longer episodes, some of the guys moved him below deck to his bunk. About an hour later, they came across a deserted island. They were going to just pass it by, but the lookout spotted a ship moored just off the coast. Marco grinned when he saw the Jolly Roger.
The Straw Hats.
Though he didn't say it, Marco knew that Ace was worried about his brother. Considering the last time they had seen each other was on a battlefield, it wasn't that surprising. And when he had disappeared off the face of the earth after his second trip to Marineford, Ace had been tense. Then, a few weeks ago, they got news of the Straw Hats appearing in Saboady Archipelago and causing the usual chaos. Ace had finally relaxed a little.
When they get close enough, Marco finds the young captain himself waving at them from the beach. Marco raises a hand in greeting and then gestures for him to come aboard. Luffy turns and yells something over his shoulder before catapulting himself over. Most of the crew is on deck and when they see the young pirate, they all holler a greeting.
"Hiya!" he chirps, grinning up at Marco.
The kid's grown these past two years. He's a little taller and his hair is a little longer. A large X-shaped scar covers his chest. And it's not just his physical appearance that's changed. Luffy feels older, the air he gives off is still childlike and happy, but it's wiser somehow.
Marco can't help but grin back. "Hey, kid," he says, making a discreet gesture behind his back. He sees Izo nod and disappear below deck. "Saw your ship and thought I'd see how you were doing."
This, of course, causes Luffy to launch into a tale about their trip to Fishman Island. At some point during the story, Luffy's crew climbs aboard and , after a lecture about leaving them behind, starts telling their parts of the story while translating for Luffy when his gestures and sound effects take over.
The New Whitebeard Pirates are shocked when they hear of Luffy's declaration of war on Big Mom for the sake of Fishman Island, but his crew is wearing resigned looks that say this is completely normal for the rubber boy. Considering the kid's actions in the War, Marco supposes it's not that hard to believe.
Ace stumbles on deck half asleep and a little ticked. He was having a nice nap and the Izo comes and wakes him up saying "Captain wants you on deck." Was five more minutes really too much ask?
Marco watches, amused, as Ace makes his way on deck. He looks like he's still asleep and a little pissed off. He gestures in Ace's direction with a hand and says to Luffy, "Got a present for ya, Straw Hat."
Confused, Luffy looks over and promptly freezes. His eyes go wide, his jaw slack. Behind him, his crew alternates between cursing at various holy things and looking at their captain in worry.
"Ace…" Luffy whispers, voice shocked beyond all belief.
Ace's head snaps in his direction and he is immediately wide awake.
The two siblings lock eyes and the deck falls silent. No one moves, no one breaths. For a while, the two of them just stare at each other, shock coloring their features.
When Ace finally finds his voice, he says softly, "Hey, Luffy."
And Luffy is across the deck before anyone can blink, tackling his brother to the ground, chanting his name over and over again as he cries into his Demon's chest.
"Ace! Ace, Ace, Ace, Ace, Ace, AceAceAceAceAceAceAce – "
And then Luffy's sobs make it impossible for anyone to understand the words coming out of his mouth but he keeps on talking, pounding and clawing at his brother's arms and shoulders desperately. Ace is crying and laughing underneath him, holding him tightly.
Both crews watch the scene with fond smiles.
Luffy's hat had fallen off and Nami is quick to snatch it up, holding it as if it was more valuable than gold.
When Luffy shows no sign of stopping, Ace brings up a hand and buries it in Luffy's hair, tightly gripping the dark strands and dragging the younger pirate's face up to his.
"Hey, hey," he says, soothingly, tears still streaming down his face, "It's okay. Everything is okay."
And then, much to the complete and utter shock of Ace's nakama and the slight amusement and fond exasperation of Luffy's, the Angel crashes his lips to Ace's, kissing him deeply and frantically. Ace returns it without question or second thought, hands roaming.
"Is this…normal?" someone on the Whitebeard crew manages to ask after about five minutes, still with no sign of stopping. They know that Ace and Luffy aren't blood related, so that's not an issue, and no one really gives a flying fuck that they're both guys, it's just a little…unexpected.
"They're not lovers, if that's what you're asking," Nami says, nonchalantly waving her hand. She and four of the other Straw Hats are the only ones that aren't fazed by what's happening.
"What the heck are you talking about, Nami? They have to be!" exclaims Usopp.
Nami just rolls her eyes. "Usopp, this is their fourth kiss if we assume they didn't kiss at Marineford. They've never gone further than that. Besides, even if they did have sex, and I'm not saying I'll be surprised if they ever do or don't, they would literally be making love," she says, stressing the word. "They're more than brothers and lovers."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Usopp asks, perplexed.
"There's no lust," Sanji cuts in, taking a drag of his cigarette, "They have no desire for each other."
That comment has heads whipping back around to face the brothers, everyone examining the pair to find that the Straw Hat cook is right. Despite the intensity of the kiss and the roaming hands, it's innocent. It's strange, yet oddly fitting.
"So this has happened before?" Robin asks.
"Ace visited us when we were in Alabasta," Chopper answers, "He saved us from Smoker in Nanohana and then he spent a night on the ship with us. He's really nice, but a lot different than Luffy."
The other four who had been present at the time don't even bother to cover their snorts.
"Back then, huh?" Franky says, "Didn't even know Luffy-bro knew what a kiss was."
"Captain-san knows more than we think he does," Robin says with a calm smile.
"Their first kiss was shortly after Ace boarded our ship," Sanji says, "Surprisingly enough, it was Luffy who kissed Ace."
"No kidding," Usopp mutters.
By this point all of Ace's nakama are listening to the story, though the Straw Hats are either ignoring it or aren't aware of it.
"Anyway, we could tell from Ace's reaction that nothing like that had ever happened between them before," Sanji continues.
"The part we couldn't understand," Nami cuts in, "was that Ace didn't question it, he just went along it."
"Ah! A passionate story of love!" cries Brook, "My heart can't take it! Oh wait, I don't have a heart. Skull joke! Yohohohoho!"
"He just accepted it?" Franky asks, head cocked to the side.
"Weird, I know," Nami says, "It's not really something you can explain though."
"You could see it in how they acted around each other, though," Usopp adds.
"Yeah!" Chopper exclaims, "Sometimes it was like they were talking with their minds! Like they knew what the other was thinking before it happened!"
"They did have a lot of silent conversations," Sanji muses.
"Captain-san is exceptionally good at reading people despite appearances," Robin adds thoughtfully.
Nami shakes her head. "It's different than when he's with us or other people. You know that look he gets on his face when he knows something is wrong?" The Straw Hats nod. "Luffy didn't need it with Ace, didn't even need to look at him to know something was off."
"I remember," Chopper says softly, "Luffy made Ace stay."
"And then dragged him over to his special seat," Usopp adds with a nod. "They looked like they were having a great time. Luffy was laughing and Ace looked like he was telling a story," he says wistfully, but the hint of past worry makes those that hadn't been there perk up.
Nami nods. "And then we looked away for a minute and when we looked back, Ace was breaking down."
That startled Marco and some of the others. Aside from a few episodes immediately following Marineford, Ace hadn't really shown that kind of emotion. Marco was the only one on the ship who had ever seen the Demon break down, and that had been right after he had woken up the first time after the battle. To think of Ace like that was painful.
Sanji releases a slow breath of smoke. "He did say he was chasing a murderer," he points out. One thought runs through the Whitebeard Pirates' minds: Thatch. "He probably hadn't given himself proper time mourn his nakama, shoved it away in some corner of his mind and then he runs into Luffy. And well…walls don't really hold up around him."
"Luffy knew," Zoro says, speaking for the first time from his position against the rail. Most had thought he was asleep, but his crew shows no surprise at his input.
"What do you mean, Zoro-san?" Brook asks.
"You could see it in Luffy's eyes. He knew Ace was in pain, he knew that he needed someone," Zoro explains.
"How could you tell?" Usopp asks. Zoro just looks at him and Usopp sighs, waving a hand. "Right, right, you're the Universal Luffy Translator."
"Captain-san has always been like that," Robin states.
Nami sighs, trying to think of a better way to explain it. "What was it Luffy said? When Ace was leaving?"
"'Ace is my soul, but my nakama are my heart.'" Zoro quotes from memory without hesitation.
There was silence at that.
"Soulmates?" Marco questions, from where he stands listening. The brothers had long since stopped kissing and were now just staring at each other, hands on the other's cheeks, wiping away stray tears. Nothing was being said, but it seemed nothing needed to be. And from what Marco saw, soulmates seemed pretty accurate.
The Straw Hats turn back to the scene and came to the same conclusion.
Ace and Luffy are unaware of all the eyes on them, lost in their own world, taking each other in.
Luffy swept a thumb over Ace's cheek. "I thought you were dead," he whispers.
"I'm sorry," Ace says; it's the only thing he can. "I thought I was. It felt like I was."
"I'm glad you're not."
Ace smiles at that. "Me too."
Ace sits up, and Luffy slides from his stomach to his lap. His eyes fall on the X decorating the Angel's chest and he frowns slightly. He brings his hand up and traces his fingertips over it. "You scarred," he whispers.
Luffy copies his action, running a hand along Ace's bare chest. "So did you."
The Demon takes a shuddering breath and slowly drags his eyes back to Luffy's. "Show me your wings." Luffy looks at him, eyes searching. "Please," he says softly, voice dangerously close to cracking. The last time he had seen Luffy's wings, they were…
Luffy nods and stands, pulling Ace up with him. He turns his back to Ace and as the Demon pulls his red cardigan from his shoulders, he let his wings slide to the surface of his skin. There are gasps of surprise and awe as Luffy opens silver eyes, a golden halo sitting on his head. Pure white wings extend past him, exposed to Ace's eyes.
Ace looks at the wings with glassy eyes, like he's holding back tears. Slowly, he extends shaky hands, fingertips brushing feathers. And then his hands are everywhere, brushing along every ridge, curling around every feather, checking every single inch. He winces when he feels rough, hardened scar tissue, but Luffy hums in pleasure as Ace's hands brush over old wounds. After what seems like hours, Ace pulls away, walking around to Luffy's front.
"Can you fly?" He asks softly.
Luffy grins. "Yep," he says, and Ace sags in relief, "Rayleigh helped me get them back in shape. They're still not as strong as they used to be though."
They stare at each other in silence for a moment before they both break out in mad grins and dash for the rail. Ace takes a running leap off the side of the ship, half the crew shouting protests and getting ready to dive into the sea after him, when black wings sprout from his back. He looks back at them, crimson horns gleaming in the sun, and smirks at them. Luffy follows right after his brother, though his take off isn't as smooth.
Their crewmates watch as the pair flies through the sky, circling over the ship. Ace helps Luffy stretch his wings, keeping safe distance in case the white appendages give out. But then Luffy is flying smoothly and grinning his Luffy-grin and the two start what looks like a game of aerial tag. Which quickly escalates to aerial sparring.
But the Angel and Demon are laughing and grinning so brightly that no one has the heart to comment on their antics. Eventually, it becomes clear that the brothers will not be stopping anytime soon, so both crews go about their business. The Whitebeard Pirates exchange stories with the Straw Hats and the older crew finds themselves a little stunned with the rookies. They're an odd crew, very odd. Some of the things that come out of their mouths sound like the most ridiculous thing they've ever heard, but the completely serious, resigned, proud looks of the crew halt the laughs of disbelief. The younger pirates are like them in a way: they're a family. But at the same time, there's something different about them. They have a uniqueness about them, no other pirate crew they have ever encountered acts like they do. They treat their captain with complete irreverence, but at the same time show an unshakable, unquestionable faith in him.
Then again, with all they've heard about Luffy from Ace, they suppose his crew wouldn't be any other way.
When Ace and Luffy finally come down, they lay out on the Black Moby Dick's figurehead, opposite each other with their heads resting right next to the other's, pleasantly aching wings sliding back underneath skin, horns, tail and halo melting away. They are panting heavily, Luffy more so than Ace, giggling like children. As they finally manage to calm down, they stare at the sky, taking in the fading light of the sun.
"Ne, Ace?" Luffy calls.
"Do you think Sabo is happy right now?" The Angel reaches a hand out, fingers straining towards the first stars of night.
Ace smiles at the question. One the Angel has asked many times before. He's never had an answer. But he thinks he knows now. "I think so," he says softly, raising his hand as well, "We're happy. I think that makes Sabo happy. Right, Sabo?"
A warm breeze brushes over them and the Angel and Demon each feel a hand slip into their own. There's a brief moment when the pair's fingers close around the presence; they feel a reassuring squeeze, and then it's gone. Both the Angel and Demon smile.
"Yeah," Ace says, "He's definitely happy."
And then Luffy laughs his bright warm laugh.
The moment lasts until Luffy's stomach growls, causing the younger pirate to sit up quickly.
"Hungry," he says and Ace laughs.
Luffy smiles down at him as he raises a hand to his head. He pauses, eyes going wide, as his hand meets hair. He gasps.
"HAT!" he cries, "Where's my hat? Food! Hat! Food! Hat! Food! Hat!"
By this point, Luffy has gotten up and starts running around deck, catching the attention of various crewmates. Ace watches it all, amused as Nami finally silences her captain by slamming his hat down on his head. Luffy blinks and then beams at his navigator.
"Shishishishi! Thanks, Nami!" Luffy says, then he turns to the deck and yells, "SANJI!"
Sanji appears from inside the Moby Dick's galley, and glances toward his captain, already knowing what he was going to ask. "Yes, Captain?"
Not one to disappoint, Luffy grinned. "Sanji, we need meat! Brook, we need music! We're gonna have a party!"
The declaration is loud enough to be heard all over the ship and the Straw Hat crew simultaneously throw a fist in the air and shout:
And then Sanji is making his way back into the galley, commanding control of the kitchen, sending Chopper and Usopp for various things from his kitchen aboard the Sunny. Zoro, Franky, Robin, and Nami all head back to the island's shore and start setting up various bone fires and makeshift tables and chairs. Brook stands to the side, playing his violin, the entire group singing Bink's Sake at the top of their lungs as they work.
Luffy, in the meantime, has glomped Marco from behind, wrapping rubbery legs around the Phoenix's waist and resting his head against the man's shoulder. Marco is so startled he almost falls over, earning a laugh from Ace.
"You guys have to come to!" Luffy says, looking up at him.
Marco raises an eyebrow, a little amused by the Angel's behavior. "Oh?"
"Yeah!" the young captain exclaims, "We gotta celebrate me an' Ace finding each other again!" Luffy states it like it's the most obvious thing in the world and Marco sees Ace fondly shake his head next to him.
Marco chuckles. "Then I suppose we have no choice."
Luffy throws his fists into the air. "Yosh! Okay Beard-guy pirates, we're gonna teach you how to party!" The rookie jumps off Marco and runs to the side of the ship, shouting orders to his crew.
Marco, along with several others, turns toward Ace with eyebrows raised. "Teach us how to party?"
Ace just gives him a coy smile. "Surely you've noticed by now that my little brother is his own brand of chaos," the Second Division Commander says, "Why should a party thrown by his crew be any different?"
No one can really answer Ace; he's right after all.
"Oi! Fire Fist-bro!" Franky calls from the shore, "You got a light? I need to refuel on cola."
That comment causes some confusion, but Ace has long since learned that nothing even remotely related to Luffy will ever make sense, so he just smirks and joins his brother's crew on the shore offering his services.
Not even thirty minutes later, the party is full swing and it's a party unlike any the Whitebeard pirates have ever experienced. Luffy really is unique in everything he does; the kid is a ball of sunlight that never goes out. By now, Franky has refueled on cola and he, Usopp, and Chopper are dancing and singing. Nami and Zoro have gotten involved in several drinking contests, while Brook plays the piano that Franky brought ashore. Sanji has set up a cooking station and is cranking out food at a rate the Witebeard pirates have never seen before, though, after witnessing Luffy's appetite, they suppose it's a required skill. Robin sits back and watches all the chaos unfold, her normally calm features curled together in laughter. Luffy is everywhere at once; he is always within reach of his nakama and he doesn't leave Ace's side, dragging his older brother with him. It's interesting to watch the pair of them; Luffy is like a child, bouncing around, smiling and making friends with everyone, while Ace, for once, is the more mature one.
Ace is one of the youngest on his crew; so the crew has only ever seen him as a little brother. But in this case Ace is the older one. This is the first time the Whitebeard pirates have seen Ace act like an older brother and, somehow, it suits him. With them, he was always the troublemaker, the one that needed to be watched and taught and guided. With Luffy, they see him exhibit a tenderness they've never seen from him before. The pair of them are wild and crazy and a mess, but they fit and everything's perfect.
The party lasts well into the morning, by which point, most people have passed out from too much drink or fallen asleep where they stand.
Luffy and Ace are still awake, sitting on the beach, Luffy sitting between Ace's legs leaning back against his chest. They watch the sky and sea in silence, listening to the lightly crashing waves and the snores of their nakama. Luffy tilts his head up and plants a kiss on the underside of Ace's jaw, making the older pirate look down at him with a raised eyebrow.
The Angel grins; not his normal, wide, toothy grin, but a softer, gentler one. "Stay with me," he says.
The Demon chuckles fondly, bringing up a hand to cup the Angel's cheek before pressing his lips to the younger's in a chaste kiss.
"Always," he replies.
Luffy smiles his wide Luffy-smile then and burrows into his Demon's chest mumbling incoherently before finally succumbing to the pull of sleep. Ace just grins and scoops up his little brother, carrying him to one of the few bonfires still burning and laying them both down. He curls around Luffy protectively, his only response is the Angel snuggling closer murmuring something about being warm, before falling asleep himself.
The next day, after the crews have both cleaned up and are slightly coherent, it's time to part.
But like everything that involves Luffy, as the Whitebeard pirates are coming to learn, it's not quite what's expected.
The brother's knock the backs of their fists together and Luffy grins that wide, contagious grin of his and says, "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna be King of the Pirates."
He states it like it's a fact. For him it's not a matter of if but when. His determination shines in his eyes and everyone knows that he won't fail.
Ace returns his brother's grin full force. "I know," he says, "You're my little brother after all."
One last grin and Luffy and his crew are back on Sunny ready to depart. The Angel and Demon stare into each other's eyes long after they can no longer see the other.
They don't need to say goodbye.
Because they haven't left.
They'll see each other again.
Because one is the Angel and the other the Demon.
Two opposites bound together by the deepest of ties.
Whelp. There you have it. My first One Piece fanfic. Thoughts?
Please let me know what you think! :D
Until next time!