Hello everyone!

If you were brought here from my most recent update to The Deepest of Ties, then I love you and everything about you is perfection. Here's a cookie. If not, have a cookie anyway!

This was originally just supposed to be a one-shot and was published as such in the above mentioned fic. However, the plot has seemed to developed a mind of it's own and the demand for it was so great, that I have decided to publish it as it's own story.

So, things you need to know.

This story is an AU based partially on the fic I wrote titled The Pure and the Tainted. You do NOT need to read that story to understand this one, but if you want to, feel free. Ace is about fifteen; Luffy's twelve.

Warnings: implied violence, talk of large-scale massacre, Tenryubito being Tenryubito (aka the biggest dicks on the planet), angst with a side of fluff

Yep. That's about it. So enjoy!

Disclaimer: Nada.



Strangers are on their island. Powerful strangers that smell of the sea and freedom.

When the Whitebeard Pirates stop at the deserted island, they don't expect to find much. Maybe some edible wildlife to add to the all-important food supply, a little downtime to explore and relax. But life has this thing about going as planned; it doesn't. Ever.

So when the infamous pirate crew arrive at this island, obviously, nothing will turn out the way they expect it to.

Because life is a bitch like that.

But sometimes – just some, mind – that isn't always a bad thing.

Thatch is convinced the island is out to get them.

That's the third time a tree has almost crushed him. Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times? Someone is clearly trying to get rid of them.

"I'm serious, Vista," he says, glaring at the tree that just missed him, "Something's going on here."

Vista just sighs. "I'm not saying you're wrong," he placates, "I'm just saying you don't need to go off on a tangent every time something tries to kill you."

Thatch's eyes narrow. "So you admit something is trying to kill me."

Vista just rolls his eyes.

"You guys coming or what?" Haruta calls from up ahead.

Thatch huffs. "We're coming, we're coming."

The three continue their trek through the woods, until the fourth tree falls. Vista holds up a hand before Thatch even opens his mouth.

"Don't even say it. We get it," he says.

"Something is weird though," Haruta comments, "It feels like we're being watched."

"See!" Thatch practically yells, pointing in the female commander's direction.

"Thatch, we know you aren't actually threatened by falling trees, so please stop being overdramatic," Haruta deadpans.

Thatch pouts. "Fine."

No sooner is the word out of his mouth when a series of loud cracks echoes above them. Without even thinking about it, the three commanders jump aside, large, flaming branches landing where they had been standing just moments ago. Searching the trees, Thatch catches the outline of a person, sharp intense eyes glaring down at him.

"There!" he calls right as the figure takes off into the trees.

The three of them take off after it, surprised by its agility. They run to a cliff and when they look up, they see a boy at the top. He's somewhere in his mid-teens with dark hair and deep brown eyes. The freckles that are spattered across his cheeks should make him look childish, but don't as he stares blankly down at them, expression impassive, but eyes dark and dangerous. He's shirtless, wearing only a pair of black shorts and black flats, a string of red beads hanging around his neck, an orange elbow guard on his left arm. Something black is visible on his left upper arm, it looks like a tattoo of some kind, a series of letters, but they are too far away to make out exactly what it is. He's carrying what looks like a piece of pipe, long enough to be used as a staff.

Before anything can be said, the boy pushes a large bolder over the edge of the cliff, the movement starting a small avalanche. When the commanders look up after the rocks have cleared, the boy is gone.

"Looks like this island isn't as deserted as we thought," Thatch says seriously, "And it looks like we aren't exactly welcome."

Marco sighs mentally as Izo continues to complain behind him. If it was such as hassle to come, why did he? But Marco bites his tongue, knowing this will just get him even more complaints. Ones that will be directed straight at him.

He's distracted by the sight that greets them when they clear the tree line.

It's a village. Or what used to be a village anyway. It looks like it's been abandoned for years. The buildings are in ruins, crumbling and charred. Plants have begun growing over everything, weaving their way through streets, around fences, between stones. Marco and Izo exchange silent glances before they begin shifting through the ruins.

"This was an attack," Izo comments softly, voice carrying in the silence, "I wonder what happened."

Marco stills as a soft sound reached his ears. "Do you hear that?"

Izo stops and perks up, listening.

The sound of soft humming filtered through the quiet. The sound was high and clearly had no rhythm, but it was light and happy. Curious, the two commanders follow the humming. Slowly and carefully, they make their way to the edge of the destroyed village. What they see stuns them.

It's a grave site.

And it's massive.

There are well over one hundred markers and it's not hard to guess that these used to be the people that lived in the village. The odd thing is, that, unlike the village, the graves have been maintained, cared for. The soft humming echoes between the markers and it isn't long before a young boy wanders into view. He's small, eleven or twelve years at the oldest, and skinny. He's shirtless, wearing only a pair of worn, blue shorts and a pair of sandals. A straw hat that is a bit too big for him covers a head of tangled black locks. His face is round and childish, wide eyes shining with happy innocence, a small scar under his left eye. He carries a long, staff-like pipe in one hand and a bag in the other. He walks among the graves, stopping at each marker and reaching into the bag, pulling out a rock or a flower or some other kind of trinket and placing it on the marker before moving onto the next one, humming a tune that is starting to sound like an old pirate song.

"Isn't this island supposed to be deserted?" murmurs Izo.

"Apparently not," Marco replies.

They must not have been as silent as they thought they were, because the boy suddenly freezes, straightening up and glancing in their direction. A number of emotions flash across his face, surprise, curiosity, and fear among them. He drops the bag, gripping his metal staff with both hands as he falls into a fighting stance, wide eyes never leaving them.

Marco immediately holds his hands up. "Easy," he says, "We're not here to hurt you."

The boy tilts his head to the side slightly, focusing solely on Marco. The Phoenix suddenly feels an unknown weight on him as the boy's eyes lock on his, searching. After what seems like hours to Marco, the little boy nods, slowly dropping his stance, tearing his eyes away and picking up his bag again, continuing as he was before. Marco can breathe again after the boy removes his eyes, and he wonders what just happened. He felt as if had been laid bare in front of this child, that he was able to see everything with a single glance.

"You alright?" Izo asks, noticing his slightly shaken expression as the boy starts humming again.

"Yeah," Marco says, his eyes following the boy's every move.

When the boy finishes his strange task, he bounces over to them and grins, all traces of earlier caution gone as he examines the pair of them, sounds of wonder and curiosity escaping his mouth. But not once does the boy speak.

"Do you have a name?" Izo asks when the boy pokes at one of his guns. The boy just grins and doesn't say a word.

"Can you speak?" Marco tries.

The boy just covers his mouth with his hands and giggles.

"I wonder if he can even understand us," Izo says.

Marco sighs. "I don't know. What should we do with him though? We haven't seen anyone else on this island. Can we just leave him here?"

"Well, it's clear he's been managing on his own fine," Izo comments, "But maybe bring him back to the ship and see what Oyaji thinks?"

The boy whirls around and looks up at Izo, eyes wide and a sound of wonderment escaping his lips. Izo blinks in confusion at the sudden excitement of the child, but Marco grins.

"Ship?" he asks. And sure enough, the boy turns to him, practically bouncing in place. "Do you want to see our ship?"

The boy nods, grabbing Marco's hand and tugging on it eagerly.

"Well I guess that answers that question," Izo says with a grin.

They reach the ship at the same time as Thatch's group. The little boy runs ahead, eyes wide with excitement, as the ship comes into view.

"So you found one too?" Haruta asks.

Marco frowns at her. "Too? You mean there's another one?"

"Yes," Vista says, "A little older than yours. Not nearly as friendly though."

Thatch snorts. "Friendly? The brat tried to kill us with trees, flaming branches, and rocks!"

"Well this kid didn't exactly welcome us either," Izo buts in before Thatch can get started on a full blown rant, "He looked ready to attack us when we first found him. One look at Marco, though and we've got the happy, bouncy kid you see now."

That statement gets raised eyebrows.

"How does that work?" Thatch asks.

Marco frowns. "I don't know. I can tell you one thing though, this kid isn't normal," Marco pauses, pressing his lips, "When he looked at me…it was like he was seeing all of me. I don't really know how to explain it."

Before anyone can comment, yells start coming from the ship.

"What the – !"

"Is that a kid?"

"Where the hell'd that kid come from?"

Marco sighed. "Let's go before they hurt themselves."

When the five commanders pull themselves up on deck, the sight that greets them is an interesting one. The kid is running around the deck, looking at anything and everything, while several of the crew attempt to catch him. Attempt being the key word. The boy somehow manages to escape every single time, no one ever managing to lay a hand on him.

He looks up and his eyes widen before he practically dives at Marco, yanking insistently at his sleeve and pointing up. The Phoenix follows his finger and sees that he is pointing at their jolly roger. But he doesn't look scared. In fact, he looks excited.

"Hm? That's our flag," he says, "We're pirates."

The boy grins, showing his pearly whites, eyes wide with wonder and curiosity. He points at the tattoo on Marco's chest and then points back to the flag.

Marco nods. "This tattoo is our mark," he explains, "Everyone in the crew wears it somewhere, either on their body or clothes."

He boy looks thoughtful for a moment, like he's mulling over Marco's words. Then he takes Marco's hand and pulls him to Thatch. He takes the Fourth Division Commander's hand and puts it on Marco's, before he pulls in Haruta. The others look on confused at what the silent boy is doing, but Marco thinks he understands.

"Family?" he asks.

The boy stops in the process of dragging Izo and Vista over and nods at Marco, pointing to his tattoo and then the commander's connected hands.

"Oh, so that's what he's asking," Thatch says, tugging his hand free. He kneels down in front of the kid and winks. "You bet, kid. We're all nakama. It means we're family. Our captain is our Oyaji and we're his sons."

"And daughters," Haruta adds.

The boy beams like they've just said the most wonderful thing.

"Speaking of," Marco says, "We need to report in."

"How 'bout it, kid?" Thatch asks, grinning, "Wanna meet Oyaji?"

The kid nods enthusiastically, grin never leaving his face, and he eagerly follows the commanders. When they reach Whitebeard, he stares, eyes going wide, jaw going slack. He tugs on Marco's shirt until the man looks down at him and then he throws his arms wide in the universal gesture for 'big', wonder clearly visible in his expression. Marco just chuckles at him.

"Well this is unexpected," Whitebeard says, eyeing the boy, who stares right back at him, completely unafraid and not even slightly intimidated.

"Found him on the island," Marco explains, "We came across a village, or what used to be one anyway. Massive grave site as well. Found this little guy wondering around, leaving trinkets on the markers."

Whitebeard looks down at the boy. "Paying our respects were we?"

The boy smiles, a positive hum sounding through his lips.

"We also haven't been able to get a word out of him," Izo adds, "But it's clear he's not mute."

"He's also not the only one," Thatch pipes up, "We ran into another boy, bit older than him, but a lot less friendly. Dropped a few trees and a ton of rocks on us."

The sound of laughter has them all turning to the boy and when he notices their looks, he throws his hands over his mouth in an attempt to smother himself.

"I'm guessing that they know each other," Vista deadpans.

"So it would seem," Haruta agrees.

Whitebeard eyes the boy, his gaze lingering on the straw hat covering his hair. "So you live on the island, boy?"

Looking up at being addressed, the kid nods.

"That straw hat you've got looks familiar," the Yonko continues, aware of the way the boy perks up at the mention of the hat, "Looks just like the one a brat named Shanks I know used to wear."

The boy practically glows at the mention of Shanks, pulling the too big hat further down over his head, a large smile forming on his face. His reaction earns a few chuckles from the surrounding crew.

Before anything else can be said though, the five commanders surrounding the kid are forced to jump away from him when a fireball comes flying right at them, scorching the deck where they were just standing. There's an inhuman growling and suddenly another boy is standing between them and the kid, flames licking across his arms and shoulders. Thatch, Haruta, and Vista immediately recognize him as the boy they encountered earlier. But he's different now. Now he has large black wings and crimson horns. A black tail has sprouted as well and his dark brown eyes are now a glowing, bloody red. Whispers break out among the crew and some even show fear at the appearance of an entity most believe to be a myth in this day and age. The Demon. He snarls at them, charging forward with a deadly swing of the metal staff in his hands.

The boy is strong, to say the least. Far stronger than anyone his age should be. He comes very close to landing a few blows on the five commanders, whom he is fighting all at once, though the commanders are reluctant to raise their hands against the boy. He lunges at the closest pirate, who happens to be Marco, when it happens.


The one word echoes over the sudden silence of the ship.

And suddenly, the younger boy is between Marco and the attacking Demon, his own staff raised to catch the one coming down, and the crew realizes it was the boy who called out. The older boy's – Ace? – eyes widen and he leaps back, away from the commanders, the younger boy between them. Ace glares, crimson eyes burning . The boy shakes his head.

The pirates watch as the two stare each other down, expressions changing, eyes burning, an occasional hand raised in some sort of gesture. But neither of them speak. Ace shakes his head furiously, making to charge again, but the boy cuts him off, white wings suddenly exploding from his back to box the older boy in. Ace snarls, crimson eyes flashing, as he skids to a halt in front of the younger. The crew can only stare at the events unfolding before them.

They have the Angel and the Demon on their ship. At the same time. There are old stories about these two; most of the world doesn't believe in them these days, but the evidence is staring them right in the face. The Angel and Demon are famous for their bloody battles and they can't help but wonder if one is about to take place.

Ace glares furiously at the smaller boy in front of him, who glares right back, crimson meeting silver. Neither of them move for the longest time until the younger subtly gestures in Whitebeard's direction. Ace frowns, almost reluctantly turning his glare to the Yonko. The crew tenses, waiting for an attack while Whitebeard just sits back and passively watches the little Demon in front of him. Slowly, his glare softens and his posture relaxes. Whitebeard is caught off guard by the spark of pure awe he sees in the boy's glowing eyes. Ace turns back to the younger boy, who is watching him curiously. Finally, he sighs and nods. The younger boy beams and closes his wings around the Demon in some sort of odd embrace before the feathery white appendages pull back, sliding back under skin and the silver fades from his eyes. When Ace is revealed, his wings are gone and he looks like a normal kid again. Brown eyes open and stare at the boy in front of him. He shakes his head before making his way to the railing, perching on it and watching the crew carefully. His eyes are distrustful and his body language is protective. The message is quite clear.

You hurt him, you die.

The boy either doesn't notice or completely ignores the threat that radiates off Ace, instead rushing forward and brushing hands over the scorched and damaged parts of the deck, eyes flashing silver, and the crew watches as the ship seems to repair itself. Ace huffs and the boy just grins at him before bouncing over to Whitebeard and climbing into his lap. The crew gapes at the kid's bold move while Whitebeard just throws his head back and laughs.

"So that's Ace?" he asks, gesturing to where the older boy is watching them with sharp eyes.

The boy nods.

"Can you tell me your name?"

As he opens his mouth, Ace hisses a warning and his mouth snaps shut. He looks up apologetically at the Yonko, who just chuckles.

"Can you tell me how the two of you ended up on this island?" he asks.

The boy's brow furrows like he doesn't understand the question, he peeks over his shoulder at Ace, who just snorts like the question is one of the dumbest things he's heard. Confused, the boy shakes his head at Whitebeard, who seems to understand. "You've always been here?"

Slowly, the boy nods.

"Then can you tell me how the two of you ended up alone?"

The boy's eyes cloud over at that, becoming lost in memory and a pained, involuntary whimper escapes his throat. Ace hears it from his perch on the rail and starts to hum softly and soothingly, though the crew can see the shadows on his face as well. The boy seems to snap out of his daze and he clenches his hand over his heart, face sad as he shakes his head. Whitebeard hums in sympathy and gently pats the boy on the head.

"Well I don't think this island is a place for children," he says.

"Oyaji," Vista starts, "Are you suggesting…"

"I don't see why not," Whitebeard cuts in, "Can you honestly tell me it would be best to leave them here?"

"It's not that, Oyaji," Izo says.

"I know. But it doesn't change my decision."

The boy tugs on Whitebeard's captain's jacket, looking up at the giant man curiously.

"What would you and your friend say to coming with us?" the captain asks in response to the silent question.

The boy's eyes widen and a delighted gasp passes his lips as he gleefully turns to Ace, who looks both stunned and slightly hopeful at the offer. The two lock eyes, having another silent conversation, before the boy turns back to the giant man a slightly worried look on his face.

"Makino," he says, slightly cautious, like he's afraid of what the pirate will say.

Whitebeard raises an eyebrow. "Makino?"

The boy presses his lips, thoughtful, before he suddenly brightens, climbing down from the Yonko's lap and walking over to Marco. He presses a small hand to the Phoenix's chest, right over his tattoo and says, "Makino."

Marco blinks, before smiling in understanding. "Makino is family," he says to his captain.

"So there's someone else on the island, is there? Wouldn't be fair to leave them behind," Whitebeard says.

Marco nods before kneeling in front of the boy. "Makino can come," he says and smiles slightly when both boys relax, "Why don't we go and get Makino? And anything else you want to take?"

The boy smiles, excited and happy and innocent, and takes Marco's hand.

Thatch and Marco trail behind the boys as they lead the way through the forest. Ace keeps glancing at them, distrust clear in his eyes, but there is also this silent, cautious wonder. The boy whose name they have yet to learn runs circles around them, laughing and smiling without a care in the world and Ace looks after him fondly. They come to a tree, one of the largest on the island, and the boy eagerly points up. The commanders look and are met with the sight of a large tree house. A little higher in the branches, they can make out another structure that looks similar to a crow's nest with a branch through the center looking like a flag pole, though no flag is present. They follow the boys up, easily climbing the tall tree.

The tree house is built as a large, one room home. It's mostly empty, random belongings scattered about. A bed is tucked into the far corner; next to it is a pile of blankets and pillows arranged almost like a nest. Over the bed, hung on the wall is a pirate flag, a crossbones with the letters "ASL" over them. There is a rectangular table a ways away with two benches, one on either side, and a single chair lined with cushions at one of the heads. Two red apples sit on the table. The wall closest to the table is a series of cabinets and a fireplace that appears to work as a makeshift stove. A young woman, maybe in her early twenties, stands by it, her back turned to them. She has long, dark green hair that goes to her elbows tied back in a ponytail at the base of her neck, a dark purple bandana tied over her head. She's wearing a worn forest green blouse and orange skirt that stops halfway down her shins. Her feet are bare and her skin is calloused.

"Welcome back," she says, without turning and the commanders are a little surprised at how readily she speaks, "I finished your shirts, try not to rip them again, we don't have much material left. Those apples are for you, but they're the last ones so you'll have to get some more. Do either of you want some tea?" She picks up the kettle from the stove and turns to face them.

She freezes at the sight of them, dark hazel eyes going wide and a gasp of surprise escaping her mouth. The commanders are now given a good look at her face and what they see surprises them; she as a deep scar that runs from her left temple, between her eyes, ending at her right cheek. Despite this, she is still very pretty, the air around her gentle and kind. In her surprise, she turns quickly, only for a look of pain to come across her face. She manages to put the kettle back on the stove before she falls to her knees, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other braced on the floor, holding her up.

The boys rush forward, identical expressions of concern on their faces.

The woman waves them off with a smile. "It's fine, it's fine," she says.

Ace completely ignores her and, in a show of strength, effortlessly scoops her up into his arms. He carries her over to the table and places her in the chair, the younger boy snatching a blanket from the nest and rushing to place it over her lap, carefully smoothing over her legs. The woman chuckles and catches his hands.

"It's fine, Luffy," she says gently, "I'm alright. Go put your shirt on and eat your apple."

The boy – Luffy – stares at her blankly for a moment, before smiling and bouncing over to the bed, pulling on a red t-shirt with a monkey on it. Ace isn't so quick to leave, but eventually does, retrieving the kettle and pouring the tea into mismatch cups from one of the cabinets.

The woman turns back to the concerned commanders and smiles. "Please come in," she says.

"We didn't mean to startle you," Marco apologizes as he and Thatch take the offered seats.

She waves away his apology. "It's fine," she says, "We're just not used to guests. It's been almost five years since we've had any visitors on the island."

Thatch raises an eyebrow. "Isn't that a bit long? What about merchant ships?"

She shook her head. "They stopped coming," she says softly, shadows of old wounds crossing her eyes before they suddenly clear again, "Oh! I'm Makino by the way."

"Marco. This is Thatch."

Makino smiles. "It's a pleasure to meet both of you," she says as Ace sets down three cups of tea in front of them.

He hovers there until she ruffles his dark hair. He huffs, grabbing the apples and tosses one to Luffy, who catches it from his place on the bed. Ace plops down next to him, slipping on a pale yellow, short sleeve shirt, leaving the front hanging open to expose his chest, before biting into his apple.

"I have to ask though," Makino says after taking a sip of her tea, "Marine or pirate?"

"Pirate," Thatch says with an easy grin.

Makino returns it with a laugh. "How exciting! We haven't had any pirate visitors since Shanks left five years ago."

Luffy pulls his hat over his head with a little giggle. "Shanks!" he says gleefully.

"I'm guessing there's a story behind that," Thatch says while Marco chuckles.

"Luffy has always liked pirates, pretty much since the cradle. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was his first word," she chuckles, "When Shanks showed up, the two bonded instantly. It was rather adorable actually. Though it is Shanks's fault that Luffy has a Devil Fruit power."

"Devil Fruit power?" Marco asks, glancing at the grinning boy.

Ace reaches up and pulls on Luffy's cheek. It stretches farther than what should be humanly possible. Thatch and Marco stare as Ace lets go and the skin snaps back into place.

"Gomu Gomu no Mi!" Luffy exclaims brightly.

"Ace has one as well. The Mera Mera no Mi I believe it was called," she says. Ace holds up a hand and his fingers catch fire.

Makino giggles, drawing attention back to her. "Shanks left Luffy's Devil Fruit out and Luffy has a tendency to eat everything in sight," she explained, earning an eye roll from Ace and amused smirks from the commanders, "Shortly after that, there was an incident where Shanks saved Luffy's life at the cost of his left arm."

That got the commander's attention. They remembered the uproar that had occurred when the Red-Haired Yonko returned to the Grand Line with only one arm. No one outside of his crew ever learned who he had lost it too and whenever he was asked, he would always give the same answer.

"I made a bet on the new age."

"When Shanks left, he and Luffy made a promise," Makino continues, unaware of the thoughts rolling around the commanders' heads, "Shanks left his hat with Luffy to represent that promise."

"Which is?" Marco asks, admittedly curious.

Makino smiles. "He's going to be –"

"Pirate King!" Luffy interrupts, his grin all determination. The fire in his eyes and the truth in his voice resonates with the commanders and they think that maybe they can see what made the rival Yonko bet on this kid.

"That's quite the goal," Thatch says.

Luffy giggles and Ace shakes his head, but the older boy's lips are twitching and it's easy to tell he's fighting a smile. Makino watches them with a fond smile.

"How did the three of you meet?" Marco wonders aloud.

"I've known Luffy since he was a baby. He was in and out of my tavern ever since he learned to walk," Makino says, "I didn't meet Ace until he was ten, when Luffy stared living with him. Their relationship is a bit…complicated. They're brothers, but more at the same time. To each other…well…" she trails off, eyes wondering down to the boys' intertwined fingers.

"To each other?" Thatch asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Soulmates," Luffy says, beaming proudly. Ace's face remains indifferent, but they can all see the way his hand tightens around the Angel's.

"Just think of them as brothers," Makino says, "It's easier than trying to puzzle out the depth of their relationship. Only the two of them seem to really understand it anyways."

The boys have stopped paying attention to the conversation. Ace is busy wiping the apple juice from Luffy's face and then licking it from his fingers while Luffy squirms and giggles. The commanders would be lying if they said it wasn't cute.

"So what brought you to our island?" Maknio asks.

"Nothing in particular," Marco replies, "We were just stopping to take a break, I suppose."

"Then we ran into these two troublemakers," Thatch says, jerking a thumb at the two boys.

"And I suppose they didn't exactly welcome you," Makino says, looking right at Ace. The teen looks slightly guilty for a moment before it's replaced with a false innocence and he's looking at her with an expression that says 'Who me?'

"They weren't that bad," Thatch waves away her concerns.

"Our captain has decided to take the boys with us when we leave," Marco says, "They refused to go without you though."

Makino looks stunned, her expression equal parts hope and disbelief. "Leave?" she whispers softly, shock heavy in her tone.

Ace and Luffy watch from the bed, leaning forward slightly with concerned looks.

Marco frowns slightly. "Do you not want to leave?"

That snaps Makino out of her shock. "No, no! I'm very grateful for the offer," she says quickly, "I'm just not sure you or your captain understands what it means that your offer was accepted."

Thatch raises an eyebrow. "What it means?"

"I'm sure by now you've noticed the boys aren't exactly…normal," she says slowly, unsure.

"If you mean that whole thing about them being the mythical Angel and Demon, then yeah, we got that lesson already," Thatch says with a shrug. Marco rolls his eyes next him.

Makino gives them a small smile. "Their…circumstances growing up have been a little rough, to say the least," she says, "Luffy has always been very trusting by nature, though if he has doubts about you, he looks into your core to see what kind of person you are." Marco's eyes widen slightly at that. "Ace is not as trusting; with perfectly good reasoning. But for both of them to agree so easily," she pauses, glancing at the boys, "You must have made quiet the impression on them."

Thatch and Marco trade looks. "We didn't really do much of anything," Thatch says slowly.

Ace is looking at them thoughtfully, a spark of wonder in his dark eyes.

"Ace?" Makino asks.

He glances at her before turning back to the pirates. "Freedom," he says softly, speaking for the first time. "Smell free."

It's a simple statement, but the two commanders can feel the weight in it. Makino looks surprised before a small smile breaks out on her face and Luffy just grins up at the older boy.

"Well the sea's the freest place there is," Thatch says with a grin that becomes a full blown smile when Ace's lips twitch up into a smile of his own.

Marco smiles as well before turning back to Makino. "I was wondering if you could answer a question for me," he says. She looks curious and gestures for him to continue. "What exactly happened here? We found the village earlier; it was obvious that this didn't just happen."

Makino gives him a very sad, very pained smile. "You're right," she says softly, "It didn't just happen."

There is a pause and the atmosphere is suddenly tense. Makino's eyes cloud over and every line of her body screams sadness. She looks down at her empty cup, fidgeting with it, rolling it slowly between her hands.

"It was a massacre," she whispers.

Luffy moves away from Ace, walking up to Makino and placing his hat on her head. She startles at the movement, but smiles softly when she realizes what he's done. Luffy grins back and climbs up on the chair next to her, carefully settling against her side and leaning into her cautiously, as if she's made of glass. Makino wraps an arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer and rubbing his arm.

"It happened about five years ago," Makino says, looking back up at the commanders, "Luffy and Ace, along with another boy named Sabo, had sworn to be brothers and fancied themselves pirates," she grinned fondly, but it was pained. Luffy rests his head on the woman's shoulder and Ace stares at the floor. It is easy to guess what had happened to their brother. He isn't here after all. "The three of them built this tree house as a hideout of sorts and lived here when they finished it. I'm sure you saw the crow's nest on the way up; they hung that flag up there," she gestured to the flag above the bed, "It's their flag; Ace, Sabo, and Luffy. ASL."

Makino sighs. "This is actually one of the biggest trees on the island and the top is visible from most anywhere if anyone bothered to look. One day a ship was passing our island. It was big and important looking; it wasn't going to stop for such a small, back water island. It was a Tenryubito's ship." Makino pauses, pressing her lips into a fine line, her grip on Luffy unconsciously tightening. "Apparently, he saw the boys' pirate flag in the trees and took offence," she continues softly. Luffy turns, hiding his face in Makino's shoulder. Ace's eyes clench shut as an expression of guilt forms on his face.

Marco and Thatch close their eyes in realization. Over something so simple, over something that was just a childish game.

"He ordered the island's destruction," Makino says, "We're a small island, with only one village, so it wasn't much of a challenge for them. The boys weren't there when the attack started, but when they saw the fire, they came running. Ace is the one who found me; they'd split up," she explains, absentmindedly running her fingers through Luffy's hair, "He managed to carry me out of the village and he and Luffy brought me back here. The only reason I survived that day was because Ace cauterized the worst of my wounds." She places a hand on her lower abdomen almost automatically. "They patched me up the best they could, but they were only seven and ten at the time, far from trained doctors," Makino smiles sadly, "I've never fully healed and at this rate I think it's safe to say that I never will."

Luffy makes an unhappy sound, reaching up to trace the scar on her face. Makino smiles and gently takes his hand, placing a kiss on his forehead.

"By the time the boys had finished treating me, the attack had ended and the Tenryubito had left. Ace left Luffy to watch over me before heading back to town. He was gone all night." Makino pauses, swallowing, a pained look coming to her face. "When he came back the next morning, he was carrying Sabo's body. Ace told us that Sabo loved us and that Luffy should never give up on his dream. He never told us what happened when he found him," she whispers brokenly.

One of Ace's hands is fisted in the sheets of the bed, his shoulders shaking as he glares at the floor, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. His other is tightly gripping the crossed out S tattooed on his arm, which the commanders now realize is not a mistake, but a tribute. Luffy is shaking as well, tucking himself further into Makino's side, trying to become as small as possible.

"The boys buried him on a cliff that over looked the sea. He wanted to set sail when he turned seventeen," Makino goes on after taking a deep, steadying breath, "When they decided I was well enough to leave on my own for a while, they went back to the village and buried everyone. I'm sure you've seen the grave site," she says and Marco nods solemnly, "They looked for survivors; all over the island. But it was just us. We were the only ones left."

She pauses for a moment, her lips trembling. "Ace and Luffy went quiet after that, only speaking when it was necessary to communicate with me. It took a while to get used to," she says softly, "They used to be so loud."

She chuckles and it's a watery sound. Luffy looks up in concern, eyes wide and worried and innocent despite everything they've seen. Ace shuffles slightly on the bed.

"Sorry," he whispers, "Our fault."

Luffy reaches up and traces the scar on Makino's face again. "Our fault," he echoes.

Makino's eyes are sad and the pirates can tell they've had this conversation many times. "No, no," she says softly, "You two have done nothing wrong. Nothing that happened that day was your fault."

The boys nod, but it's painfully obvious that they don't believe her.

"She's right," Marco breaks in gently, "The Tenryubito are a group of people who believe themselves above the law. They do what they please and have little concern for any form of life outside of their own. The rest of the world is nothing but trash to them."

Thatch nods. "If it was a Tenryubito, then it was definitely not your fault. They were probably just bored and looking for some sport," he says, face wrinkling with distaste.

The boys look at them, blinking in surprise. Makino smiles at them and mouths her thanks over Luffy's head.

"Well," she says, a bright grin making its way to her face, "If we're leaving then I suppose we need to pack."

The boys jump up, shifting through their belongings and grabbing bags to put them in. Makino laughs and carefully pushes herself up, walking to the wall and grabbing the bright orange hat hanging from a hook on it. A string of red beads sits around its brim and two smilies, one grinning and one frowning, rest among the beads.

"Why don't you two go say goodbye? We can take care of this," she says, placing the hat on Ace's head before taking the straw hat from here own head and putting it back on Luffy's.

The two stop and glance at each other before nodding to Makino and heading out the makeshift door.

"They are very strong," Marco comments after they've left.

"They always have been," Makino says.

The three of them begin packing. Marco and Thatch stuff all of the clothes into a bag, while Makino grabs a few trinkets. After everything has been packed away, she carefully removes the pirate flag from the wall and folds it up, placing it in the bag before closing it. Even with all of that, there belongings are still few and between the three of them, only two large bags are filled.

"Well, that's everything," Makino says.

Thatch grins at her. "Ready?"

She slips on a pair of black flats and nods, running a hand along the wood of the wall. "Yes," she says, smiling softly.

Thatch grabs the bags and Marco scoops up Makino, who blushes while apologizing profusely at having to be carried only to be brushed off good naturedly, and the pirates jump from the tree house, landing effortlessly on the ground. Ace and Luffy are waiting for them, metal staffs in hand. The pair walk over to Makino and Luffy smiles up at her.

"Sabo loves you," he says.

"I love him too," Makino says with a grin, kissing the tip of her pointer finger and pressing it to the S on Ace's arm, "But you know it's not really goodbye, right?"

The boys nod and Makino smiles at them as Luffy grabs Thatch's and Marco's hands and begins dragging them through the trees, Ace rolling his eyes as he trails after them next to her, helping her over tree roots and making sure she doesn't fall. When they reach the Moby Dick, Luffy drags her to Whitebeard. Considering what they've seen of her so far, Marco and Thatch aren't that surprised by her reaction to meeting the Strongest Man in the World. The rest of the crew, however, is left to gape in shock at her lack of fear and intimidation.

Luffy stops before Whitebeard, holding Makino's hand. Ace is on her other side, much more relaxed than he was during his previous visit.

"Giant Ossan!" Luffy cries, beaming up at the Yonko.

Marco can't help the smile that forms on his face and Thatch stifles a snicker. The other commanders have similar reactions.

Luffy tugs Makino forward. "Makino," he says.

Whitebeard chuckles. "So you're Makino, are you?"

The woman smiles and gives a slight bow. "I am. It is a pleasure to meet you Whitebeard-san."

"Gurararararara! You're a polite one."

"If you don't mind, Whitebeard-san, may I ask what you plan to do with us?" Makino asks, looking up at the giant man.

"Do with you?" Whitebeard muses.

"Even if I was at full health, I'm sure I would be of little use to you," Makino says, curling an arm around each boy, resting a hand on their shoulders. "The boys, as I'm sure you've seen by now, have potential, but they are still just children. What I'm asking is whether or not you are intending for us to stay, or if you plan to drop us at the next island."

The boys' eyes go wide as they look first at Makino and then Whitebeard, an action that does not go unnoticed by the man. Makino's gaze remains on the Yonko, level and firm, silently challenging as she squeezes the boys' shoulders. It isn't hard for Whitebeard to figure out he is being tested.

"It would be rather dangerous for the three of you to stay with us," he says.

"It would," Makino agrees.

Whitebeard levels his gaze on the boys. "Why do you boys want to come with us?" he asks.

Ace and Luffy trade a look before turning back to the Yonko. "Freedom," they say in unison.

Whitebeard grins. "Then welcome aboard!" he says.

Makino smiles. "Thank you, Whitebeard-san."

That night, they get ready to set sail the next morning.

Ace and Luffy sit outside the infirmary, not moving, staring relentlessly at the door. Makino had been dragged away by the nurses when Marco and Thatch had relayed the trio's story to their captain. It had been hours, but the two hadn't moved since the nurses had closed the door in their faces. Luffy leans into his older brother, clutching his hand while Ace buries his face in the younger's hair.

Finally, the door opens and a nurse steps out, smiling down at them kindly. The Angel and Demon stand, staring up at the nurse with concerned expressions.

"She'll be fine," the nurse says, and the pair sighs in relief, "We managed to fix some of the internal damage and with some physical therapy, she'll regain some of her strength. She won't ever be as healthy as she was before," she warns, "But she will get better."

Ace nods and Luffy glances at the door, eyes wide and pleading.

"You can see her. But be careful, and don't disturb her to much or we'll make you leave," the nurse says firmly, but gently, "She's still recovering from surgery."

The boys nod before quietly entering. Makino is asleep on one of the beds, an IV hooked up to her arm, sleeping peacefully. Luffy rushes over, slowing only to take off his shoes and put his hat on the little table next to the bed before pulling back the covers and carefully climbing into the bed, curling into the sleeping woman's side. Ace is slower, but he copies his brother, removing his shoes and hat before laying down on Makino's other side above the covers, his body its own heat source. He reaches over, ruffling his brother's hair and brushing fingers across Makino's cheek before curling up and falling asleep with a small smile on his face.

About an hour later, Marco is doing rounds and finds Makino awake, her arms wrapped loosely around the boys, lightly stroking their dark hair. She smiles at him and he returns it; it's hard not to when faced with a scene like that. The shadows that both boys carry seem to have vanished into thin air, Makino's presence providing a warm, safe blanket of security.

"You're stuck with them now, you know," she whispers softly across the room as he silently pads over to her, "They aren't going to leave this ship unless they want to."

Marco smirks. "So it seems," he says lightly, voice just as soft, "They really care about you."

"We take care of each other," she replies.

Marco tucks the sheets a little tighter around Luffy's slumbering form and readjusts Ace's position so that he's not in danger of falling off the bed. "You're nakama now," he tells her, "We'll take care of you too."

She smiles up at him, hazel eyes brimming with hope and grateful tears. "Thank you," she whispers.

"Anytime," Marco replies with an easy grin, "Get some sleep."

Makino give him one last smile before closing her eyes and pulling her boys closer, quickly falling asleep, her body still exhausted from her earlier treatment. Marco shakes his head fondly as he quietly exits the room. Already, those three have earned places on the ship.

It seems life at sea just got more interesting.