So a couple of people who read The Pure and the Tainted asked for another chapter, more AceLu, ect. So. This was born! The Deepest of Ties is going to be a collection of one-shots from what I'm calling the Soulmate!verse. These one-shots will take place anywhere in the time line, from early childhood to years in the future. Some one shots will be sad, some will be fluffy. Some will focus on Ace, some on Luffy, some on both. Some will be a slight AU within the Soulmate!verse if I come up with an alternate series of events that could have happened.
This is the first chapter.
In this one, we're going to pretend that the Straw Hats have never seen Luffy's Angel form before. Okay? Okay. It takes place sometime after the events of The Pure and the Tainted.
Disclaimer: Still own nothing.
The Straw Hats learn the hard way why you should never, ever remove an Angel's halo.
Nami walks up onto the deck stretching and covering a yawn. She's always one of the first up, Sanji being the first so that he can have breakfast ready by the time everyone manages to drag themselves out of bed. The navigator can hear the sounds of said meal being prepared and gets read to make her way to the library to get some work done before it's time to eat.
She stops however, when she sees her captain standing by the rail.
Luffy is never up this early. Ever.
Curious, she changes direction and heads for the rubber pirate. As she gets closer, she notices that his precious straw hat is dangling from his neck and in its usual place on his head is a golden circlet. Her brows furrow in disapproval; Luffy knows he's not allowed in the treasure room.
"Luffy," she says pleasantly through clenched teeth when she reaches her captain.
Luffy turns at her voice and Nami pauses for a moment when she catches a glimpse of his half-lidded, sleepy, silver eyes. She brushes it off as a trick of the light.
"Did you get that crown out of the treasure room?" she asks sweetly.
Luffy blinks at her, a slow, drawn out movement, before his normal, blinding grin splits his face. "Yeah!" he says excitedly, like she's just promised him a treasure map to a chest full of meat.
Nami gives an exasperated sigh. "You know you're not supposed to go in there," she scolds, still not quite awake enough for a full-blown explosion. Maybe right before breakfast. She reaches up and slips the gold circlet off Luffy's head. "Now I'm going to take this back and because I have to go through the log books to find out exactly what you've taken, I'm adding 50,000 beli to your debt."
She is so caught up in her rant, that she doesn't notice the way Luffy's silver eyes go wide. Doesn't notice that as soon as the gold band leaves his head, they go dull and lifeless. Doesn't notice the momentary spark of panic and fear before it's locked under a dead mask.
And by the time she walks away, gold in hand, it's already too late.
Luffy is having the best dream ever.
At least he's pretty sure it's a dream. Because Sanji is never this nice.
But he can figure all of that out later.
The blond chef is making him anything he wants. Which is obviously meat. There's so much of it he can't reach the top of the pile even with his rubber arms, so he uses his wings instead. And when reaches the top, he decides this is the best meat mountain ever.
"Hey, Luffy!" Sanji calls from somewhere below, "You want some more meat?"
"Yeah!" Luffy calls back with a grin.
He's in heaven; he has meat and he's flying higher than everything else in the world. It's perfect.
Suddenly, he chokes and there's a stabbing pain in his chest, like a sword was just thrust through his heart. The air rushes from his lungs and then he's falling, wings crumbling to ashes. He hits the ground hard. His eyelids feel heavy and it's hard to keep them open; he can't move, can't feel his arms or legs. His wings are gone and panic starts to build in his chest when a dark, shadowy blackness starts to cover up the light of his world. He wants to get up, fight it back, but his body isn't listening to him and he's just so tired. Black tendrils wrap around his body, locking him in a numb embrace, choking him. He wants to struggle and fight but he's suddenly become nothing but a lifeless doll.
The shadows close in around him, cutting off the last of his light.
And as his eyes finally slide shut, he calls out.
Ace scowls as he eats his breakfast, listening to Vista and Haruta taking bets as to when he'll fall asleep in his breakfast. He does not do that every meal, thank you very much. And when he is kind enough to inform the two of them of such a fact, they just laugh.
"Right," Haruta chuckles, "And you aren't the Demon."
Ace rolls his eyes. The constant teasing and joking about what he is has actually made it easier for him to accept and come to terms with it. That doesn't mean it's not annoying. Just as he opens him mouth to make a sharp retort, all the air rushes from his lungs and a sharp pain explodes in his stomach, like he's just been punched in the gut. He drops the food in his hand, eyes going hazy and distant, like he's seeing something that isn't there. There is a sudden sinking in his stomach and a growing feeling of dread.
Vista and Haruta frown, exchanging looks at Ace's sudden change. Before either of them can ask what's wrong, however, Ace's eyes go wide and he turns, throwing up everything he's just eaten onto the floor. Ace is aware of Vista crying out in surprise and Haruta jumping over the table to rub his back and ask him what's wrong, but it's muffled, like he's underwater.
He can only think that something is wrong.
Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
As soon as Ace finishes emptying his stomach, he's up and out of the mess hall, ignoring the glass of water Vista offers him, and heading straight for the Captain's quarters.
He needs to talk to Marco now.
He slams open the door, cutting off the Phoenix mid-word as he and Izo both turn to look at him. Seeing how disheveled and out of breath he is, Marco is immediately on his feet.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
"I need to leave," Ace says quickly, the words rushing out. Marco and Izo stare at him in confusion. "It's Luffy."
He receives a raised eyebrow in response to that. Before the Demon can explain, Haruta rushes in and latches onto his arm.
"Ace, why'd you run off?" she questions, anger and worry both underlying her tone, "You left Vista to clean up your mess and you didn't even go to the infirmary!"
"I'm fine," Ace growls, he doesn't have time for this. "I need to leave Marco."
Marco levels him with a look. "Why?"
"Something's happened to Luffy."
"Why does Haruta think you should be in the infirmary?"
Ace doesn't reply.
"He tossed his breakfast five minutes ago," Haruta answers for him, looking up at him disapprovingly.
Marco sighs. "Ace – "
"I'm not asking permission," Ace interrupts, eyes narrowing, face challenging, "I am telling you that I am going. I thought I'd be nice instead of just disappearing. You won't stop me from leaving."
Silence reigns in the room as both Izo and Haruta look a little shocked at Ace's outburst. They've never heard him talk that way before, not to Marco. Marco just searches his eyes before finally sighing.
"Haruta, take him to the infirmary and get him cleaned up," he orders, waving a hand, he continues before Ace can form an angry protest, "Izo, have someone get Ace some supplies together and then head to navigation. See if we've got any leads on Straw Hat." Marco opens one of his desk drawers and tosses Ace a baby den-den mushi. "Try to keep in contact."
Ace nods, a shaky, relieved smile forming on his face, and lets Haruta drag him to the infirmary. The knowledge that he's been given the okay to go and that his crew is helping him does nothing to quell the growing knot of worry in his chest or diminish the sense of wrong in his heart.
So as soon as everything is ready, Ace jumps into his Striker and heads off to find his brother without even a goodbye to his nakama.
Something bad has happened.
Something completely, utterly, and hopelessly awful.
And it's happened to Luffy.
To his Angel.
He can feel it in his bones, his heart, his skin, his being.
He just hopes he's not too late.
The Straw Hats know something is wrong when everyone is sitting down for breakfast.
And Luffy isn't there.
Sanji had called them in for their morning meal and there was an unnatural silence that rang out on the ship. There were no whoops of joy, no yells of excitement, no cries for meat. Not even the sound of stampeding feet. Nothing.
So when they're all sitting at the table and there is still no sign of their captain something has to be wrong. Everyone turns to Robin, who crosses her arms over her chest and closes her eyes. Seconds later, they're open again and the archeologist lets loose a light chuckle.
"It seems Captain-san has fallen asleep on the lawn," she says.
The crew, almost simultaneously, rolls their eyes. Nami kicks Zoro out to go get him, which he does, grumbling all the while, so the rest of them can start eating.
The swordsman finds his captain sprawled out face down on the lawn.
"Oi, Luffy," he calls as he approaches, "If you don't hurry up, we're going to eat everything without you."
Luffy doesn't even twitch.
Zoro frowns and places a hand on the rubber teen's shoulder, giving it a rough shake. "Luffy? Time to wake up."
That's when Zoro starts to notice that everything is out of place. Luffy never sleeps face down, always on his back or side. He also snores, or at least breathes, loudly. Zoro can't hear anything. Quickly, he rolls Luffy over onto his back. His captain is pale, his breath coming in short, shallow, wheezing gasps. The first mate presses two fingers to Luffy's neck and has to fight not to jerk away because Luffy is cold.
Humans should never be that cold.
A chill runs down Zoro's spine when he feels just how faint and weak Luffy's pulse is.
He does the only thing he can.
Back in the galley, breakfast has moved on without the captain and first mate. It's quieter than normal, but still enjoyable. It's peaceful for once.
But then the peace is shattered.
That was Zoro.
Zoro never calls for Chopper. Not like that. Not in that voice so full of panic and fear.
The entire crew bolts to the deck, breakfast forgotten, to find Zoro kneeling over the prone form of their captain. Chopper is next to them instantly, asking Zoro what happened, checking Luffy's pulse, his eyes, his temperature.
The crew is silent.
This has never happened before.
Luffy never gets sick.
The only time he's ever been exhausted enough to collapse is after a huge battle.
They haven't fought anyone in weeks.
Chopper orders Luffy moved to the infirmary, muttering under his breath about weak heartbeats and falling blood pressure. Zoro scoops up his captain and everyone is floored by how frail he looks. Luffy has never looked so breakable, so fragile, so tiny in Zoro's arms.
Not even after Water 7 or Thriller Bark.
An icy shard of fear lodges itself in their hearts.
But if anyone can fix him, Chopper can.
Chopper exits the infirmary, quietly closing the door behind him, before turning to the crew.
Zoro is the one who breaks the silence, blunt as always. "What's wrong with him?"
Chopper shakes his head. "I…don't know," he whispers. It sounds painful for those words to leave his mouth.
"But…you can heal him, right?" Usopp asks.
"I don't know."
The atmosphere in the room is heavy, silent, tense, unnatural.
This isn't how Luffy's ship is supposed to feel.
"What do you know?" Robin asks, her voice toneless and face blank. But her nakama can see the slight press of her lips and the tightness around her eyes.
Chopper sighs. He looks tired. And older. "It's like…it's like his body is shutting down," he says slowly, trying to find the right words, "His heart is slowing down, which is causing his blood pressure to fall. He also seems to have trouble breathing and he is no longer able to regulate his own body temperature," Chopper pauses, and unsure look on his face, "I don't understand though; he doesn't have any symptoms. His body is perfectly healthy. It's just…not working."
Then Zoro draws himself up.
He's Luffy's first mate. If Luffy can't command the crew, he will.
"Nami, how long until we reach the next island?" he asks.
Nami, jerks, startled by the question. "A…few days," she says, "Five at the most, three if we push it and the wind is on our side."
"Aim for three," Zoro says.
Nami doesn't argue.
Sanji doesn't yell at him for ordering her around.
No one makes a sound.
Zoro resists the urge to sigh. He wishes Sanji would yell at him, Nami would add to his debt. It would mean everything was normal. But it's not.
Wordlessly, he enters the infirmary.
Luffy is in the bed, buried under numerous blankets in an attempt to keep him warm. His face is pale and calm, but he's so damn still that Zoro just wants to march over to the bed, grab him and shake him roughly and yell at him to wake the hell up damnit. But he doesn't.
Instead, he sits in the chair by the bed, arms crossed over his chest. If he believed in God, he supposes this is the part where he prays. But he doesn't believe in God and he doesn't really know how to pray, so instead he takes Wado from its place on his hip and lays it on the bed next to his captain.
For now, it's the best he can do.
That's how long it takes Ace to find Luffy's ship.
By now, he's grown frantic and a little desperate. The sinking in his gut, the hole in his heart, the wrongness in the air is getting worse. And it scares him. He wonders if anyone else can feel it, feel the stillness, the quiet. It's like the world has stopped moving. The calm before the storm. For Ace it's the like the moment before the world comes tumbling down.
Ace barely has enough focus left to secure his Striker to the Thousand Sunny, before jumping on deck.
Luffy's ship is quiet.
Ace didn't think that was possible.
The crew looks surprised by his arrival.
"Ace?" Usopp asks, "What're you doing here?"
Ace ignores him, eyes searching the deck. He doesn't see what he came here for. The Demon zeros in on the first mate, who's watching him with a knowing eye.
"Where is he?" Ace demands.
Nobody has to ask who he means. Zoro is the only one who doesn't look away from him. Wordlessly, he turns and walks into the bowels of Sunny, Ace following so closely, he's almost on top of the swordsman. When they reach the infirmary, Ace rushes past Zoro. He ignores Chopper, who is sitting at the desk with various medical texts open and another pile on the floor waiting to be searched through. He goes straight for Luffy.
What he sees makes his heart freeze in his chest.
Luffy is pale. So so so pale. His normally, tan, sea-worn skin is a translucent ivory, dark blue veins easily visible. It makes a slightly morbid picture, the blue lines tracing over his face and neck. His Angel – bright, vibrant, happy, alive – is still. So still. Luffy is never still. Except now he is. His normally smiling face is blank, relaxed and calm, but empty. His lips are tinted with gray, slightly parted to take silent, shallow breaths.
What scares Ace the most is Luffy's glow.
Even in the chaos and carnage that was Marineford, Luffy's glow remained strong and constant. But now. Now it's just a dim flicker, like a candle that's just about reached the end of its wick and is about to go out. The light that has always lived under Luffy's skin, never flickering or faltering, is about to go out.
Ace thinks he might cry.
He doesn't know if the others can tell. But.
Luffy is dying.
His knees go weak and he has to force himself to sit down on the edge of the bed slowly so he doesn't cause Luffy anymore pain than he's already in.
"What happened?" he finally manages to choke out.
"We found him collapsed on deck two days ago," Zoro says tonelessly.
If Ace didn't know any better, he'd say the swordsman didn't care. But he can see the lines of tension, the bags under his eyes. Ace tears his eyes from the first mate and looks back to his fading brother.
"What's wrong with him?" he asks.
Chopper shifted, biting his lip and turning away from his books to face the Demon. "Honestly, I have no idea," he says and his voice is so full of pain over that single face that Ace flinches. "Ever since he collapsed his heart's been getting…not weaker, but it's like his brain has stopped telling it to beat often as it should."
Ace narrows his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"As hard as it is to believe with his current appearance, Luffy is still in excellent physical health. His body has just…stopped working."
Ace frowns, peering down at his brother. He reaches out a hand, brushing fingers along a pale cheek. Ace only has time to register that it is too cold, before Luffy's eyes fly open and he inhales sharply.
Zoro and Chopper are immediately at the bed with him, holding their captain down, while Ace holds his Angel's face between his hands. Luffy's eyes are a washed out gray and going white, a pale imitation of their once shining silver. He sees the recognition flash in them and then Luffy's mouth is moving and he's choking on air.
"Shhh, Luffy. Shhhh, I'm here," soothes Ace, sweeping his thumbs over the young captain's cheeks.
Luffy's eyes are drooping again and Ace can tell he's fighting to stay awake even though he can see how much it hurts the Angel just to breathe his name. His throat tightens and his eyes burn.
"It's okay," he finds himself saying, "Everything is okay. You'll be fine."
He looks up at that. The finality in Luffy's voice, in the way he says his name. Luffy knows. Knows that he's dying. Knows that there is nothing any of them can do. A choked sob forces itself free and he presses his forehead to his little brother's.
"Please don't leave me," he begs, voice shaking, broken.
If Luffy leaves, he'll be alone again. Back in that dark solitude before Sabo and Luffy and their brotherhood. Before he knew what happiness felt like, before he knew how freedom tasted.
And then Lufy's pale eyes are glassy and blank and dead and Ace knows those eyes will haunt his dreams even as veiny, grayish lids slide shut over them. Luffy is still again. Back to that unnatural stillness and that damn silence again and Ace wants to scream. He feels Zoro and Chopper shift off the bed, hears Chopper babble hopefully about how this is the first time Luffy has regained consciousness and that it might be a good sign.
Ace takes a deep, shuddering breath and forces himself to pull his hands away from Luffy's cold face.
"Chopper," he says softly, the misery and pain in his voice a tangible thing.
The little doctor looks up at him. "Don't worry, Ace. I'll take care of Luffy."
He shakes his head a rueful smile on his lips. "I know you will," he says, and then he looks at Zoro and sees that the swordsman has guessed, but doesn't want to believe. Still he doesn't want to say it out loud, to crush the young doctor's hope or shatter the first mate's will. "Just…make him as comfortable as you can."
Chopper nods and Ace leaves the infirmary as fast as he can. He almost runs to the darkest corner of the ship, curling in on himself and sobbing when he finally reaches it, Luffy's love echoing in his head.
The ship has been docked at an island for the past day.
Chopper his been doing everything he can, checking books, trying every medicine he can think of, to try and get Luffy back on his feet. Nothing's working.
Ace hasn't left Luffy's side since his break down. If Luffy is going to leave him, he's going to spend every possible moment with him, no matter how painful it is. Eventually, though, Chopper forces him out of the infirmary and tells him he needs to eat something. He doesn't need to unhealthy charges. Reluctantly, he obeys, his stomach echoing his agreement. He hasn't eaten properly in days. So he heads to the galley. As he approaches, he hears voices inside, but pays them no mind as he steps closer.
Nami sighs in frustration, running a hands through her hair, glaring at the log book she has open on the table, the golden circlet she had taken from Luffy five days ago sitting on the table next to it.
"Something wrong, Nami-san?" Sanji asks from where he's washing dishes. The cook has been less flirtatious these last few days, but he is still very polite and sweet to his Nami-san and Robin-chan.
Nami sighs again. "It's this crown," she says, tapping it lightly with the tip of her finger, "Luffy said he got it from the treasure room, but I can't find any record of it. And there's no way Luffy could have managed to hide it."
Sanji glances over at the piece sitting on the table, a thoughtful frown on his face. "I don't recall seeing it before," he says.
"I know," Nami replies, leaning back in her chair, "But it's not like I can ask Luffy. He's…" she trails off, unwilling and unable to finish her thought.
Before the silence in the room can become too uncomfortable, Ace swings the door open and steps in.
"Hey, Sanji, can you –"
The Demon cuts off when his eyes fall on the golden circlet resting on the table. His world freezes, grinds to a complete halt. That shouldn't be there. Why is it there? It doesn't belong. Agonizingly slowly, unaware of the strange looks he's getting from his brother's cook and navigator, he takes a few halting steps forward as the conversation he just barely heard replays itself in his head.
Suddenly, Ace's body moves. Nami doesn't even have time to scream before Ace's hand is around her throat, lifting her off the ground and slamming her back into the closest wall.
"YOU FOOL!" Ace roars. Nami's hands fly to the man's wrist, trying tug the hand away from her neck, as her eyes widen in surprises and fear. She has never seen someone this angry before. Fury is rolling off Ace's already changed body, glowing crimson orbs bore into hers and she sees tendrils of black begin to lick at the edges of his eyes. Ace doesn't look away from her and doesn't listen to the enraged words spilling from Sanji's mouth when he raises his free arm and slams it into the cook's gut, sending him flying into the opposite wall. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'VE DONE? WHAT YOU'VE TAMPERED WITH?" Dimly, Ace is aware that his hand is tightening around Nami's neck, aware that she's clawing desperately as his wrist as she tries to breathe, aware that if he doesn't stop soon he will kill her. But she has done something unforgivable and he can't shake his complete and absolute rage long enough to regain his crumbling control. "HE'S DYING! YOUR DOCTOR CAN'T FIX HIM! NO ONE CAN! HE'S IN THAT BED BECAUSE OF YOU! I'M LOSING HIM BECAUSE YOU'RE KILLING HIM!"
Ace's senses are suddenly snapped back into place when he feels the cold steel of a blade against his throat. He turns to glare at Zoro, no less angry, but finally in control again.
"Let her go," he says.
Ace sneers, tail wrapping around Zoro's arm and wrenching the blade from his neck. Still, he releases Nami and she falls gracelessly to the floor, gasping and clutching at her throat. The Demon stares down at her coldly while he lets his wings slide back under his skin, the glowing crimson remaining in his eyes as the rest of his transformation fades.
He's now aware of the crew (minus Chopper), gathered in the galley, all in fighting stances and regarding him warily. He ignores them. Instead, he turns back to the table and carefully picks up the golden circlet, holding it as if it's made of glass. He sees the faint glow that surrounds it, that weak, flickering light that's about to go out.
"You better hope he lives," Ace says, looking directly at Nami over his shoulder, glowing eyes still radiating fury, voice cold and deadly, "Luffy's nakama or not, I may not be inclined to forgive you this."
And with that, he's out the door, brushing past the confused and nervous crew and heading straight for the infirmary. He meets Chopper at the door.
"Ace?" he asks, worry lining his features, "What's wrong? I heard yelling."
"Nothing," Ace says shortly, and makes a move to enter the infirmary only to be blocked by the little doctor. "Move, Chopper. I need to see Luffy."
Chopper shakes his head. "You haven't been gone long enough to eat anything. Besides, you're angry."
"I'm fine," Ace snaps, control already fraying. He doesn't have time for this.
"No you're not. I'm not letting you see Luffy like this."
That is the wrong thing to say.
"YOU'LL LET ME SEE HIM OR I'LL BURN THIS WHOLE DAMN SHIP DOWN!"
As soon as Ace stormed out of the room, Zoro kneels down by Nami. Robin rushes over to them while Brook and Usopp pull Sanji to his feet. Sanji waves them off and insists that Nami is in more need of the attention than he is.
Nami's breathing is still a little ragged and Zoro can see the angry red mark on her neck that he knows will be a bruise later.
"What happened?" Zoro asks.
Nami just shakes her head while Sanji growls in frustration. "We don't know," he says, "We were just talking; Nami-san was doing some accounting, trying to figure out where Luffy got that crown and then Ace walks in and next thing we know he's gone berserk."
He's on edge, they all are. Luffy's condition is taking its toll on all of them. But this behavior is still unlike Ace. Ace has never even once expressed anger toward any of them. This sudden change is completely unexpected.
"He said it was my fault," Nami croaked with a cough, "He said Luffy's condition was my fault."
"That's not possible, Nami-san," Sanji says reassuringly, "Ace is just upset is all. We all are –"
Anything else he would have said is cut off by Ace's enraged voice echoing over the ship.
"YOU'LL LET ME SEE HIM OR I'LL BURN THIS WHOLE DAMN SHIP DOWN!"
That has the entire crew running to the infirmary, worried for both Chopper and Luffy's safety. What they find is Chopper in heavy point, standing in front of the door a determined frown on his face, Ace standing opposite him, crimson eyes narrowed, one fist raise and on fire ready to strike.
Zoro quickly steps forward. "Enough you two," he says firmly. Ace whirls on him, eyes wild and frantic. "Ace, you need to calm down." The swordsman says it as softly and soothingly as he can manage.
Ace blinks at him, the fire in his hand and across his shoulders flickering out. He glances down at the gold band in his hand, closes his eyes and takes a deep shuddering breath. When he opens them again, his eyes are back to brown, anger and rage replaced with fear and pain.
He doesn't say anything, just looks at Chopper and the young doctor is so shocked by what her sees in those eyes, he shrinks back to brain point and stumbles out of the Demon's way.
Ace wastes no time; he's through the door and hovering over Luffy's bed before any of them can blink. The crew watches as he carefully slips the circlet in his hands over Luffy's head. The reaction is instant. Luffy suddenly inhales, the movement so powerful that his body arches off the bed, freeing itself of the numerous blankets. His hands come up and start clawing at his throat, only for Ace to grab is wrists. Luffy struggles, eyes half-open now as he chokes on air, trying to break free, to move, to breath, to do something. Ace pulls him into his arms as he thrashes wildly, preventing him from hurting himself.
"Shhhhh, Luffy, shhhhh. Everything's okay, everything's fine," Ace soothes, "Just breathe. Everything will be fine. Breathe. You won't run out of air. Okay? In, out, in, out. There you go. It's alright. You're okay. You're okay, Luffy. Shhhhhh, you'll be fine."
Slowly, Luffy's struggles calm until he rests limply in his brother's arms, his breathing finally, finally, normal. And for the first time in days, Luffy is asleep, not unconscious, but actually a peaceful, natural sleep. Ace holds him for a little longer, breathing in his scent, taking in his slowly warming body, his steadily brightening glow, the fact that he's still here. Then he gently lowers his little brother down onto the bed, pulling some of the blankets back over him and smoothing a hand over his dark hair. The gold band gleams brightly from its place on his head.
He takes as deep, steadying breath and leans back against the wall at the head of the bed, his thigh resting by Luffy's head, and buries his face in one of his hands, his shoulders trembling with relief. His other hand stays tangled in Luffy's hair as an anchor of sorts and he watches through his fingers as shining gold melts into hair and skin.
Franky is the one who finally breaks the silence.
"What just happened?"
Ace lets his hand slide down his face until it rests over his mouth, his eyes taking in the Straw Hats. He tries to push back the burning anger because it isn't all their fault, but it's heard because Luffy almost died. Since he doesn't let himself feel the anger and he's so drunk on relief, he's mostly just tired. So tired. But he sees their confusion, knows they have been just as terrified as her has these last few days, so he sighs, lowing his hand from his mouth.
"You've never seen Luffy in his Angel form, have you?" he asks softly.
Usopp blinks. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Nami, however, has her eyes locked on Luffy's head where the gold band disappeared, a look of disbelief on her face.
"Everything," Ace says, looking directly at the navigator. She gulps at the weight of the stare, but Sanji gets between her and Ace and the weight lessens. "Do you know anything about us?" he asks, voice still soft and calm and tired, but serious.
"That there is only one Angel and one Demon at a time," Robin says, "That the two have a long history of bloody conflicts."
Ace snorts at that, an amused smile briefly making its way to his face. "Those are the stories everyone seems to know," he muses, "Can't do anything but fight with each other. What a load of crap." He sighs and shakes his head. "The Angel and the Demon are very different, but in reality, are almost exactly the same," he explains, "One thing in particular we share is that we each have one glaring weakness." Ace pauses, looking down at his hand. "For me, it's emotion. Rage, anger, hatred. It's easy for me to lose myself in it; to lose control." He looks down at Luffy's sleeping face. "When that happens, I stop being me. I become something else. I become a creature of rage hell bent on killing anything in my way." He doesn't want to look at Luffy's crew as he says this, but they need to know, so he makes himself look up. "I've only ever lost control twice and I promised myself I would never lose control again." He chuckles bitterly, eyes lingering on the bruise forming on Nami's neck. "Some promise," he says, ruefully shaking his head, "I almost broke it today."
As if sensing his brother's distress, Luffy turns his head so that his cheek is resting on Ace's thigh, a hand comes up and latches onto his shorts. Surprised, Ace blinks down at him before chuckling softly. "He'll be mad at me when he wakes up," Ace says, turning back to Nami, that same sad, bitter smile on his lips, "I'm sorry."
Nami shakes her head, floored by the emotion and conflict on the fire user's face. "It's fine," she manages to choke out, her throat still sore, "I'm sure you had a reason."
Ace's smile changes then, filled with restrained anger and fear. It startles the crew.
"What about the Angel's weakness, Ace-san?" Brook prompts gently.
Ace takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. "His halo."
"His…halo?" Sanji repeats slowly, unsure, but tone holding an underlying realization.
"What do you mean, Ace?" Chopper asks.
"Aside from the obvious white wings, the Angel also has silver eyes and a gold halo," the Demon says, looking directly at Nami, whose eyes are slowly widening, "If that halo is ever removed, the Angel falls into a coma and inevitably dies."
Ace's face and tone are blank as he says it, revealing nothing of his personal feelings after he delivers the cold fact. The crew seems to be in various levels of shock. Nami's hands fly to her mouth and she falls to her knees. Her eyes are wide and she's shaking.
"You mean," she chokes out, shocked beyond anything, "that I…"
Ace nods, eyes revealing nothing. "Almost killed Luffy? Yes."
He's blunt and he knows it's cruel of him, but the Straw Hats need to understand the what they almost did.
"His wings don't have to be out," Ace explains, "Sometimes just our eyes change; other times it's my tail or his halo. We don't always have to fully transform, there are in-betweens. The one constant are the eyes. Mine turn crimson, Luffy's turn silver."
"Silver," Nami mutters. She looks numb, "His eyes were silver that morning."
Ace's face finally showed a sliver off compassion. "Chopper, you should look at her and Sanji. I was a little rough on them earlier."
Sanji waves them off. "I'm fine. Nami-san needs attention more than I do."
Nami looks like she's in shock, she's staring at nothing. She almost killed Luffy. Luffy. Her captain. Her liberator.
Ace's voice cuts through her thoughts. The looks he's giving her is hard. "Stop. That's not helping anyone. Luffy is still alive. I'm not blaming you. And I know for a fact that even if he had died, Luffy won't blame you. So knock it off. The only reason I'm telling you any of this is so it doesn't happen again. Are we clear?"
Nami gives a shaky nod and lets Chopper examine her. Ace sighs, knowing that she won't really be better until Luffy speaks to her, but for now it will have to do. He's too tired, his earlier adrenaline rush fading and leaving him exhausted. He lets his head fall back against the wall and next thing he knows, he's asleep.
Luffy wakes a day later.
His skin has regained his color and his body is warm again and he's smiling and Ace feels the weight on his chest lift. The Angel doesn't really remember what happened and of course the first thought he has when he wakes is food. He's been asleep for a little over six days after all and that's thirty meals.
So Luffy bounds off to the galley, where Sanji is conveniently enough finishing making lunch, dragging Ace behind him. He barges into the room with his usual grin and declarations for meat, sitting in his seat and practically bouncing in excitement. It takes him a while, but eventually, he notices the relieved stares he's receiving.
"Huh? What's with you guys?" he asks, tilting his head to the side.
"It's nothing, Captain-san," Robin answers, a calm smile on her face, "We are just happy to see you awake."
Luffy blinks then grins. "Me too!" he exclaims.
Sanji then places the meal on the table, more food than usual because he knows Luffy will want to make up for all of the meals he's missed. The young captain reaches for the food, but, to everyone's surprise, his hand freezes just short of it before it's pulled back. His eyes are on Nami. On the large, dark purple, hand-shaped bruise on her neck.
"Nami," he says, and he's wearing his serious face and using that voice and the room freezes, everyone suddenly at attention, "Who did that to your neck?"
Nami's hand goes to her throat, it still hurts, but she doesn't blame Ace for what happened, not really. She presses her lips together, not wanting to rat out the fire user when it really isn't his fault.
But apparently, Ace has no problem ratting himself out. The room holds its breath as Luffy turns serious eyes to his brother.
"I came to close to losing control. I'm sorry."
Luffy studies his brother, eyes serious, expression blank. Ace looks back with an expression that's just as empty.
"Why?" Luffy asks. He knows Ace would never harm Nami, not without reason.
"Because she took off your halo," Ace says bluntly. Nami flinches in her seat.
Luffy just blinks. "Huh?"
Ace sighs. "You almost died, Luffy. I keep telling you to be more careful! It's not even Nami's fault! You should have explained things to your crew. You didn't even stop her from taking your halo off in the first place when you know exactly what would happen!"
Luffy's expression just goes more and more confused while the crew is stunned. Ace is putting a majority of the blame for what happened on Luffy.
The Angel just cocks his head to the side. "What are you talking about? I was just flying and eating meat and then there were these shadows that wouldn't let go of me, so I had to take a nap for a while."
Then Ace groans, throwing a hand over his face. "Son of a – you were sleep walking again weren't you?" the older accuses, "You were wandering around your ship asleep and half transformed and you probably said something stupid that made Nami think it was okay to take your halo off! Goddamnit! Now I feel even worse because it really was all your fault!"
"Ah," Nami speaks up, voice soft, "It really isn't your fault Ace, I did something without thinking of the possible repric –"
"So you're telling me Luffy didn't say anything that made it seem like it was okay to remove his halo?" Ace deadpans, not believing a word of it.
"W-well, he did say he took it out of the treasure room," Nami confesses, unable to hold up under the weight of Ace's stare.
Ace groans and lets his head fall back while Luffy just giggle. "Shishishishishi! You're silly, Ace! Nami didn't do anything wrong and I'm fine!"
Ace just sighs. "You're going to kill me one of these days, Luffy. You're going to do something stupid that gets you in trouble and I'll die of a heart attack before I even make it to twenty-five."
And suddenly, Luffy is in his lap, straddling his hips and holding his face between his hands. "No you won't," he says seriously, "You won't die. I won't let you. Tell me how to stop scaring you."
Ace stares at Luffy, eye wide, shaken by the seriousness in his brother's voice. Slowly, he trails a hand up Luffy's body until it's at the back of the Angel's neck. "Shit," he breaths, "Luffy it was a joke, a bad joke, but just a joke."
Luffy's eyes narrow suspiciously. "You're not going anywhere?"
And then Luffy is off his lap and walking around the stunned table until he reaches Nami. The navigator looks up at her captain, but before she can say anything, he's bent over and his lips are brushing against the bruise on her neck, which suddenly hurts a lot less.
"Oi! You shitty-Captain! What do you think you're doing to Nami-san?!"
"Shut up, Ero-cook!"
Before an argument can break out, Luffy backs away, a wide grin on his face.
"There," he chirps, "Now your Demon ouchie is gone, so Ace doesn't have to feel guilty and I'm fine so Nami doesn't have to feel guilty either. 'Kay?"
Nami can only nod as she brings a hand to her neck, feeling perfectly healthy skin.
Luffy beams. "Great! Now that that's settled, time for MEAT!" And the rubber captain is across the table taking food from anyone and everyone as if it were a normal day, which, for him, it was.
Chopper is peering up at Nami's neck in awe. "He…healed her bruise."
"I didn't know Luffy could do that!" Usopp exclaims.
"It's SUUUUUUUUUUPER cool, bro!"
"Yohohohohoh! Luffy-san has quite the gift!"
"I wonder why he hasn't used it before?" wonders Robin.
"Because it only works with stuff I've caused," Ace answers.
"What do you mean?" the archeologist asks.
"We're opposites," Ace answers with a nonchalant shrug, "We naturally compliment and oppose each other. We experimented with it a lot when we were younger."
"So his healing abilities only work on wounds you've caused?" Sanji asks.
"In my Demon form, yes," Ace says, taking a drink.
Before the conversation can carry on any further, Luffy pauses in his quest to eat thirty meals in one sitting. "Yhou guysh aurh bhuin borhin (You guys are being boring)," Luffy says through a mouthful of food before swallowing, "If you don't stop, I'm going to eat all your food," he says seriously.
And just like that, any remaining tension or worry that had built up over the past week is gone. Luffy is back and he's fine, well enough to steal all the food on the ship. The thought causes laughs all around and the Straw Hat's lunch resumes with its usual chaos.
Underneath the table, Ace holds Luffy's hand tightly. The Angel interlaces their fingers without a thought, not at all hindered by eating with just one hand, and gives Ace's hand a reassuring squeeze.
And he's not going anywhere.
See? See, Eve? *bounces excitedly* I did it, just like I promised! *is so proud of self*
Please review! Let me know what you think! ^^