That which defines us.
Part two: the deep and dark.
Luffy was having a great day.
Despite being shot. That sucked.
Still, he was having loads of fun, with his brother at his back, and about to fetch his other brother. He was excited to see how this Sabo turned out. Apparently the kid hadn't gotten blown up when he was ten and went on to be a pirate. While the Revolutionaries were cool, being a pirate was way better.
Ace was still lecturing him about how 'he can't just waltz into Marine strongholds and expect them to do as he tells them'. Luffy pouted and crossed his arms over his chest – he didn't do anything that bad. Besides, when they attacked he took care of it, despite the dull throbbing in his shoulder. Also, he was not showing off just so Ace would think he was cool, nope, absolutely not.
It went something like this:
"Hi! My name is Monkey D. Luffy, but not the Marine one, the other one from an alternate dimension. This is my not-dead brother Ace, and we're both pirates. Can you tell us which level you're keeping Sabo at?"
It's safe to say that it didn't end too well. The guards were still unconscious and foaming at the mouth. Alarms were blaring obnoxiously and all the surveillance snails were focused intently on them, but it didn't bother him too much. It wasn't his first time at this rodeo.
The prisoners that were being tortured on the above-sea floor were either trying to pull themselves together, break their shackles or were curled up in tight sobbing balls of misery. The Pirate King watched them, head tilted to the side and eyes blank. The first time he was on this floor he was under Hancock's cloak; the second time he was too focused on other more important things. They all looked pretty weak, though some were tougher than others.
A few inmates were looking up at the almost-brothers in something akin to awe. Maybe we could stage another mass breakout? It might keep the Marines off my ass for a while.
"You're not listening to a word I'm saying, are you?" Ace deadpanned, interrupting his train of thought.
"Nope, shishishi," Luffy laughed and rubbed his injured shoulder, immediately forgetting whatever he'd been contemplating. His armpit muscles twitched painfully, and he turned to look back at the lift. The bullet would need to be removed quickly. It was starting to become a real pain in the ass now that his powers had been short-circuited. The only things he had at his disposal were his own breed of mixed martial arts and Haki, and even then those were limited because he was so exhausted.
And he needed food, really badly. Wow was he hungry.
"Where should we start looking for Sabo?" Ace asked, sounding just as tired as Luffy felt. His hand idly scratched at the cut on his stomach, the dried blood flaking under his fingernails. The commander hadn't even bothered to clean it up in his concern (and annoyance) for the other pirate. Luffy couldn't help but think about how the two Aces were so similar … and at the same time very different. It was starting to give him a headache. Was this what it was like for those Marines when they met him?
Luffy shrugged, "Probably Level Five."
"What's in Level Five?"
"It's where they keep people with bounties over one hundred million. It's really cold – I got frostbite when I was there."
Ace rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Luffy thought it was weird that Ace wasn't burning his way downstairs, but didn't comment. They still had a lot of ground to cover, and they weren't alone. When he thought about it, Marines were kind of like cockroaches. They could survive just about anything and unless every single one of them was dead, they would multiply at a stupidly rapid rate. It was like for every one Luffy punched in the face, two more would step up to take a crack at him.
They were kind of stupid.
Their attention was drawn to the massive lift once again, as they realized it was actually heading upwards towards them. Ace looked on in surprise while Luffy watched curiously. When it finally clanked into place the giant portcullis gate began to lift. Great, a shortcut, Luffy thought cheerily. This was going to be easier than he first thought.
The powerful smell of wet fur hit the two of them, and they gagged.
Out from the lift came a man in the staff's uniform. He was holding a pitchfork in hand with two bat-wings sprouting from his back, as it seemed to be the theme in this place (seeing as they called it Hell on earth and all). His face was a little droopy and it looked like he was incapable of any expression other than a frown. He was definitely not a welcoming party. Behind him were at least a dozen blue gorilla-type things, and obviously the source of the revolting smell. They were jumping up and down, growling and screeching at the two intruders.
"Do those things have rabies?" Ace asked bluntly, to which Luffy laughed.
The guard lifted up a whistle and blew into it sharply. The gorillas stilled, and then surged forward. Before Luffy could make a move, Ace stepped in front of him and let fire flare up around his arms. "I hope you've had your shots!" he yelled before punching the first one to arrive. It went flying backwards, crashing into some of the others as though they were bowling pins.
Luffy cheered from the sidelines as Ace breathed in and let loose a jet of flames, imitating a dragon's breath. Both of the pirates watched in morbid glee as the gorillas ran around screaming their heads off.
"Not bad," Luffy grinned cheekily at his brother's counterpart and jogged towards the stunned guard. He grabbed the man by one of his horns and dragged him back into the lift, Ace at his heels.
"Oi, oi, what are you doing?" Ace said in bewilderment as Luffy hit the guy on the head hard enough to knock him unconscious. Even with a severe handicap, he could still break bones.
A smirk was his only answer before the King tilted his hat back and looked the lift's surveillance snail in the eyes. "Take us down to Level Four!" he shouted, shaking their unconscious hostage roughly.
"Are you insane?!" Ace whisper-yelled at him, remembering that they were being watched.
"If they think we're going to hurt this guy, they'll take us down there," Luffy explained slowly. Maybe Ace and Sabo had hit each other on the head too many times when they were kids? Since Luffy hadn't been with them to lose all the time, they'd probably beaten each other into a bloody mess.
"So you're not going to hurt him?" Ace raised an eyebrow.
"If they take us down to Level Four," he shrugged casually, but his smile was wicked, "If not then we'll just go the long way down." Ace only sighed and buried his face in his hands. To the King's satisfaction, the lift gave a great groan and started to descend.
Luffy hummed as they passed by the first two underwater levels. "So why are we heading to Level Four? I thought we were going to look in Level Five," his almost-brother asked with slumped shoulders.
"That's where all the rest of the guards will be. It'll be way easier if we take them out first," Luffy nodded to himself, pleased.
"Right," Ace frowned, "And are you going to knock them out with Haki again?"
Luffy smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his neck, "Ah … no."
"Wait, so I have to fight all of them?!" Ace shrieked, "You can't just throw me to the dogs like that, you bastard!"
"I'll fight!" Luffy insisted. He wouldn't let Ace have all the fun – or else it wouldn't be fair! "I'm just too tired to use Haoshoku Haki again."
"You're the strongest man in the world and you can't use that attack again because you're too tired?"
"Oi, shut up! It's this stupid Kairoseki bullet that's messing with me! Even Rayleigh couldn't use it again that quickly, and he's the one that taught me how to use this stuff," he replied indignantly.
"Rayleigh is an old man and you're not, dumbass!"
"I was shot by one of those things and still managed to take a warship by myself! What's your excuse?!"
"Excuse me …" a new voice interrupted.
Both pirates froze and turned to stare at the open lift. In their argument they hadn't even realized that they'd arrived at their destination. The majority of Impel Down's forces were gathered in the sweltering hot level, all pointing guns, swords or other various instruments of torture at the pair (and, by association, their hostage). The head officials all had severe expressions, and were in no condition to feel any sort of mercy.
Unfortunately for them, these two weren't ordinary pirates.
"Return Saldeath to us," the tallest one said, whom Luffy recognized as Magellan.
A roguish grin crossed Luffy's face, "Tell us where Sabo is."
Magellan scowled darkly. Beside him Hannyabal and Domino were equally furious. Off to the side stood the weird devil-woman decked head to toe in pink, and for some reason she blew a kiss with her hand towards them. Ace lifted an eyebrow at her while she was utterly ignored by the Pirate King.
There was a tense silence as the two opposing sides stared each other down. Luffy's expression was unchanged and smug, his grip on their hostage tight. Ace cracked his knuckles and stretched out his neck while the jailers contemplated their next move. To attack or not to attack, that was the question.
(Secretly, Saldeath, who was starting to regain consciousness, prayed to whatever god he could think of that they would take the deal.)
"Level Six," Magellan said finally, to the shock of his coworkers, "We moved him there when we heard you two were coming."
Satisfied, Luffy threw their prisoner towards the guards. As soon as the barely lucid man hit the ground, he flexed his muscles and lifted his fists in a battle-ready stance. It sent a burning, prickling pain down his left arm. By some unspoken signal, the soldiers of Impel Down surged forward.
Both he and Ace pounced at the same time, taking the Marines by storm.
About two minutes later the rest of the guards had been dealt with, and were unconscious in a nice heap off to the side.
Ace clapped his hands together, as though he was wiping dust off of them. The commander glanced around the room before spotting Luffy off to the side, leaning against one of the walls, putting as much space between him and the vats of boiling blood as possible. He was breathing heavily and had a slight glazed-over look.
"Are you alright?" Ace asked as he approached. Luffy looked up at him through heavy eyes. Honestly, it hurt like a bitch. Sure, he'd felt worse pain, but this was definitely way up there, and the adrenaline was wearing off. Also, did he mention that it was a motherfucking Kairoseki bullet? The shit hurt.
"I'm fine," Luffy declared, standing up straight again. He angled the left side of his body away from Ace so his brother's counterpart wouldn't see the large amount of blood that stained both his shirt and half his torso.
They made their way down to Level Five, hurrying through the frozen wasteland as fast as they could manage.
The cold had never bothered Ace. Hell, no temperature ever bothered him anymore. As he was made of fire his body retained a consistent temperature. Fortunately for those around him, when his body was flesh it was significantly cooler than when he was fire, though he was still warmer than a normal human being. It was one of the main reasons he could get away with wearing no shirt fifty percent of the time. People tended to get angry at him if he wasn't wearing pants though.
He had no idea how Mugiwara handled heat changes. As his body was made of rubber he assumed that he would be more sensitive to these things, but the straw-hat wearing man seemed unfazed by the tundra-like conditions. If anything, he looked more comfortable here.
Still, Ace could tell that something was up. The man's shoulders were stiff and he was a lot tenser than when they'd walked in. He had no idea if it was because of his wound or he was remembering what he'd gone through when he'd broke in the first time. And of course that would lead to remembering his Ace, and in turn, his Ace's demise.
Too late to turn back now, he thought somberly, trying not to feel guilty.
Prisoners stared out at them from their cells, shock and surprise written all over their faces. It was likely that the entire prison had heard the commotion from Level Four. Impel Down, for the second time in recent history, was falling to its knees. Miracles sometimes happened – but twice? It was unheard of. Ace could hardly call this a miracle though.
Mugiwara seemed to know the way, swiftly navigating them down to the lowest and final floor: Level Six. It was supposed to be a rumor, but the World Government never liked to show their cards. So, it didn't actually surprise him all that much.
It was dark. Like, really, really dark. He could hardly see three feet in front of him. Ace used his hand as a torch as they descended the steps. It was really easy to slip when the stairs were so slicked up with ice, and he wasn't in the mood to fall down said stairs, or have the other pirate fall down the them (especially when the other couldn't use their Devil Fruit powers).
When the prisoners down there caught sight of the light they caused a ruckus. A lot of them started yelling and screaming, insulting them (and their mothers). Ace snapped at them, shooting small bursts of fire in their faces. He made it clear that they weren't in the mood for bullshit. After that they were thankfully left alone.
He saw several familiar faces, though none that he'd actually met before. They'd all been famous pirates that had been captured and locked away for the rest of their lives. Several giants were imprisoned in huge reinforced cages. A few inmates were waiting for their imminent death, as they were given a death sentence. The rest only had the dark and silence to look forward to. He suspected that many of them had gone mad down here.
It made him shudder, walking down here, thinking that his counterpart had spent time in this place. But at the same time he was almost thankful that they put him on the execution platform instead of just letting him waste away down here until he died of old age.
They reached the other side of the floor, and the end of the cages. It was equally dark and damp, but much quieter than those closer to the entrance. The prisoners present watched the two pirates silently – their gazes almost predatory. The only sounds they could hear now were snores from one of the smaller cages. Ace lifted his arm higher and cast the light inside the bars.
There, lying in the tiny cage, snoring lightly, was his brother.
Ace's throat closed up, and he felt a surge of guilt. The fire flickered.
"Sabo!" Mugiwara called to the sleeping figure. The blonde pirate immediately jerked awake, sucking in a deep breath and visibly flinching. He then blinked blearily up at the two of them, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the light.
As soon as Sabo recognized him a large grin spread across his face. "Ace, is that really you?" he cried cheerily, scrambling to his feet, accompanied by the clanking of chains.
You're not going to cry.
"Yeah, it's me! Hold on a minute, we're going to get you out of here," Ace said, pulling the keys he'd gotten off the head jailer out of his pocket. His hands were shaking as he unlocked the cage and the cuffs around Sabo's ankles; they clinked in the near silence.
As soon as he was free, the blonde pulled him into a bone-crushing hug, laughing loudly and obnoxiously. "I've missed you! It's stupidly boring down here, you have no idea!"
They pulled back, both grinning stupidly, Sabo's hands still on his shoulders. Ace examined his brother closely. He hadn't grown much in the last year, but he'd certainly gotten skinnier. His curly hair had grown down past his shoulders, and he'd tied it back in a messy ponytail. The prisoner's uniform was torn in some places and just a little too big for him. But his eyes hadn't changed – they were still bright and shining with mischief. It was like a great weight had lifted from Ace's shoulders, and he felt relieved. "I missed you too," he chuckled.
"Your hair is so long!" Mugiwara exclaimed suddenly from beside the two brothers, "Can I touch it?"
Sabo nearly jumped in shock, whipping his head around to stare at the shorter man. "Who are you?" he asked hesitantly, clearly on guard.
Mugiwara looked put-out, but it was only momentary. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy," the pirate nodded, smiling again.
The blonde then looked at Ace incredulously, his hands now on his hips in his 'you're an idiot' stance. "Are you serious, you brought Garp's grandson here?!" he hissed in outrage. "Isn't that kid a fucking Marine Captain?!"
"This isn't the same one," Ace explained hurriedly, "He's from an alternate universe!" Only after the words had left his mouth did he realize how unbelievable it had sounded. The sole reason Ace had believed Mugiwara off the bat was because they had a mole in the Marine's central science division, relaying their every move. It was lucky that Vegapunk was so loose tongued when it came to his opinions of the Marine's plans.
There was a brief pause before Sabo groaned, "Great, just great, I really have gone crazy after all."
"Join the club," Ace shook his head, "But it's true. You've missed a lot in the last year."
Sabo deadpanned while Luffy tried to pet his hair, "Evidently. Hey, cut it out." The soon-to-be-former prisoner grabbed Mugiwara by the wrist and glared at him.
"That's so cool! You almost look like a girl!" the rubber man laughed.
"You bastard!" Sabo snapped. Ace rolled his eyes. "Wait a minute, are you bleeding?"
Both Ace and Mugiwara froze. The commander turned to stare the other in the face, who was staring at Sabo seriously. When he looked closely the side of his black hoodie shined in the light of his fire – it was wet, and since the rest of his shirt wasn't soaked it was safe to say that it was blood. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" Ace scowled, "You shouldn't be fighting if you're going to keep hurting yourself."
"Look who's talking," Sabo snapped at Ace before looking at the wound more closely. Mugiwara tried to pry the blonde's hand off his forearm, but it was more of a half-assed struggle. "Shit, there's a bullet in there. You were fighting even though you got shot?"
"It's not that bad," Luffy denied. "It's just annoying because it's made of Kairoseki."
Sabo frowned and pressed the back of his hand against the pirate's forehead. "You're running a fever," he stated. "The cold on Level Five should slow your heart rate so you don't bleed out in the next hour, and will help with the fever. It'll give us time to patch you up until we can get that properly treated."
"You sound like Chopper."
"So he isn't invincible," a dark voice spoke from the cage next to Sabo's. The three pirates turned to look into it, and they all froze in surprise at who was in there. Grinning like a maniac, Blackbeard was watching Mugiwara like he was a piece of meat.
"Teach," Ace growled, the fist that wasn't their light source clenching until he was white-knuckled. He had hoped that the fucker would be put on death row, but either the government wanted everyone to forget about him or they hadn't gotten around to doing the deed. Bastards.
He'd been pretty distracted when he and the two Luffys had seen him on that out-of-the-way autumn island. Obviously it had been Mugiwara that was taking up his attention. Their fight had been seriously intense, and watching the small man absolutely destroy the Yonkou had actually been pretty satisfying. Still, if the Marines hadn't been on their way, Ace would have likely finished the job.
Teach had to die.
"Enjoying the hospitality, are you?" Ace sneered, eyes narrowing. He'd started to shake in rage. Beside him Mugiwara also watched the large man in absolute loathing. It was actually kind of nice to know that someone also wanted to murder this poor excuse of a man in many painfully creative ways.
"There's nothing else like it," Blackbeard replied sarcastically. "Still got that brat following you around? He is kind of pretty – I didn't know you were into that sort of thing though."
Fury ripped through Ace, along with a flash of disgust. "Go to Hell!" he yelled. Fire flared up around his shoulders.
"Are you angry, Ace?" Teach chuckled, "Or are you just worried that your new boyfriend is going to die?"
That was the final straw.
"SHUT UP!" Ace shouted in rage. He sent a blast of fire into the cage, and heard Teach scream in pain. His sadistic side didn't show often, as his self-control had grown exponentially in his time working under Whitebeard. But every so often it boiled forth, and he was nearly unstoppable.
The smoke cleared and Blackbeard glared up at him, his face set in a sneer, "If I didn't have these chains on …"
"I should have killed you last time," Ace spat. "I wanted to fight you, beat you and then watch you burn. But since I can't do the first two as you're already locked up, I'll have to settle with the third."
"You wouldn't dare," Blackbeard growled.
"I always knew something was wrong with you, you piece of shit," he hissed, "But Marco insisted that I leave you alone. Then you killed Thatch, and hurt Sabo, and I knew it was my responsibility to serve revenge." His forearms became fire, and he smirked maliciously, "I've been waiting to do this for years."
Marshall D. Teach screamed loudly enough that his cries of sheer agony could be heard all the way at Level One.
When it was finished Ace turned his back to the smoking pile of blackened bones and ashes. His blood was still boiling, but the lust for destruction was waning. Sabo had turned away from the grisly scene, but now he looked at Ace with deep sadness. Mugiwara was watching him with a stunned, wide-eyed expression.
He couldn't meet their gazes.
A/N: You've all been so patient with me ... and I'm not sure that I deserve it, but I'll say it anyway. Thank you.
I'm still a little unsure about this chapter, but I am proud of it. At the same time ... well that ending was pretty intense. It's not exactly uncharted territory - I have dipped into some pretty morally ambiguous themes and have explored many dark places. I've got no real problems delving into those mind-twisting parts of literature, but I rarely SHOW it to people. It's safe to say that I'm a little nervous.
Please be gentle with me.
Last bit: Teach's comments. He's an asshole. What he said about Ace isn't true - it was just to get him riled up. I'm aware that there are stories about this, and that's fine, but it isn't included here.
I decided on the first story title, as you've likely noticed, but the other one will be a title for a future chapter. I think this makes more sense as ... well, with the tides come change. This world is changing.
MarzBarz: I'm glad that it had the impact it was supposed to have!
Blueskullz: Wow ... thanks. I think I'm crying now. And yeah, Marine Luffy's character development is a pretty huge aspect in this story.
Kitsune Foxfire: I think you just hit the issue on the head there. :)
KawaiiMellow: (On Ch.7) Honestly, I ship them too! XD I just want to keep it out of the story, but feel free to interpret it in that way!
69AnimeFreak69: They will definatley have a huge part to play. Just you wait. :D
Now ... the response for the last chapter included a lot of people detailing their opinions and beliefs on the Marines in this story and the issues that come with it. It's really interesting reading them, really.
The major problem with me specifically writing this is that I am a pessimist, and my worldview tends to lean on the more ... well, I'm not exactly very fond of humanity as a whole. When I discovered One Piece, I was hooked from the first episode because in a way, it gave me a hope that I only feel when I write and then hear how I make people happy with it.
All of you are brilliant, because as I was reading your words about justice and hypocrisy in a government, and how Marine Luffy was naive ... it reminded me of how strongly I feel about injustice. I'm a cynic, and I tend to lean on the realist side of things, but that's my logic taking over. I'm actually really sensitive deep down.
So ... I think in part this story is also exploring my own feelings on such things. Yes, Marine Luffy is closed minded right now, and a little naive, but sometimes ... sometimes people can change. Even if he has to make a whole lot of mistake to see it.
If there's one thing I've learned while being alive, it's that there is no true right and wrong. The important thing in all of this isn't intentions or ideals, and sometimes actions mean nothing either. Our morals are constructs, taken from what we've learned, lived and heard of ... but the truth in it is that they're all rooted in our emotion. Our feelings will not be ignored. They're neutral - they just are.
So ... let's see where this takes us, eh?