Disclaimer: I don't own One Piece. If I did, all this stuff going on in the manga won't be half as awesome as it is right now.
The mess hall was a loud place, even with the few numbers of staff and soldiers communed together in the space. Perhaps it was because it was the only time to fully relax and not be focused on work, or it was simply the cook's marvelous cooking that lifted everyone's spirits. The marines chatted animated with each other on various topics, completely unwound from the usual tense atmosphere. However, one who sat on the edge was a glaring exception, forming a silent dark cloud above him that none noticed.
Ace played idly with his food, sorting the miscellaneous vegetables in his salad into small groups on his plate. Another piece of corn was scooted by his fork into its respective pile while his mind was occupied with long trains of thought, his magnet on the log pose being foremost among the flow of information. His fidgeting hand twirled the metal utensil, coated with a thin sheen of sweat from nervousness. But all signs of anxiety were well hidden as his face remained a smooth emotional mask, the only giveaway being his disordered eating. With another vicious stab, he finally decided the salad would most likely remain untouched and stood up, lifting his tray with the intent on dumping it in the compost.
Two steps away from the trashcan, he choked on a breath from what he saw.
Down the vacant hallway, the navigator stormed in furiously, face a deep maroon shade and mustache bristling. Shouting profanities, he waved a small object in the air. "Alright, who the hell stuck this on the log pose, huh?! Who was the bastard that did this?!" Ace's heart sank into his stomach, but his mind was still in disbelief. He could not believe that his plan was so quickly foiled just like this; he had underestimated the man.
His deafening voice silenced the loud and chatty cafeteria within moments as all gaze zeroed on his livid expression. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Shigeru's eyes narrow suspiciously as he eyed the object held firmly in the beefy man's grasp and knew that the commander must be suspecting he was the culprit.
Ace ran through options in his mind with lightning speed, and-
"I- I did it, sir!" one of the soldiers stood up abruptly, his chair clattering noisily onto the floor behind him. He bowed his head. "I'm so sorry, sir!"
Then upon closer inspection, Ace saw that the object was in fact a thick wad of cute girly stickers stacked messily together with clear signs of being peeled roughly off a surface, and certainly not a strong magnet that would confuse the Log Pose. He breathed a silent sigh of relief and resumed dumping his tray, glad that it was not what he believed to be, though he had to command that soldier's bravery to have the guts and stick stickers like that when the navigator was an easily angered and violent man.
As his magnet was not discovered, it meant that he could begin phase two tonight. Good.
… He still couldn't get past those ridiculous stickers, though.
Somewhere far away was the dim room lit up only by the multiple monitors, ghastly test tubes, and glowing bottles of mysterious substances. Strange organs and body parts were contained in sealed jars, dotted around the room. A Bunsen burner gave off a green flame as it slowly heated up a thick bubbling liquid, letting off purple vapors not unlike a witch's cauldron. In another icebox stashed by a large cabinet in the corner, hearts were frozen for later experimenting, and one of the nearest containers was the freshly unfrozen organ, vigorously beating away despite the evident lack of veins to pump blood through. Computer screens resembled colorful lanterns as they added to the eerie glow of experiments, flickering on and off from the long lack of disuse.
And amongst all the mess was, Trafalgar Law, deeply buried in thick wads of paper and research as he typed rapidly away on the slim keyboard, focused solely on the screen in front of him. The bags under his eyes were even more pronounced than before from several nights without sleep. He took a long gulp of black coffee, continuing to type with one hand.
The incessant tapping ceased, replaced by a series of patterned clicks. "How interesting…" he murmured quietly in the empty room. "It's a fifty fifty chance, depending on how well he can fight it off, providing he doesn't interfere. General signs of stress, borderline madness…"
The liquid began to bubble faster, steam shifting into a light and translucent shade of magenta.
"I probably should have gone a little lighter on that… perhaps ketamine was an unnecessary element in it. Looks like it could go without it and that only adds to more damage." More typing. "And add a little of that, as well… This might lower the percentages even further down to forty… As long as nothing acts as an extra trigger, it should be fine."
He keyed in several new pieces of data in a spreadsheet filled with complex formulas and meticulously recorded number, drawing up a new graph through the fresh statistics.
There was still the factor of the project's devil fruit to take into mind, as it was natural for his curious physique to burn off drugs at a faster rate than normal humans. Would lessening some of these elements cause the intended effect of the serum to decrease its time limit? It might cause the entire balance to become disturbed. It called for another ten test trials.
Now… scopolamine? That was an element he didn't remember adding in his hazy, sleep-muddled mind, and it was a redundant chemical in his concoction that would increase the probability of general psychosis, something he obviously didn't want. But it was also not possible for someone to simply sneak in a substance in his drug like this, not when he was the sole worker in his locked lab. And he was pretty damn sure no one knew where his lab was in the first place except Bepo, who would never say a word about his doings.
Frowning, he flipped back to the very first data collected, initially tested on various breeds of mice. Sometime between the fifth and sixth trial scopolamine was subtly sneaked in among the different components listed, yet he couldn't recall anything about the desire of double-loading chemicals for inducing amnesia. This was altogether very confusing for him, as he was functioning in the middle of the night after three straight days without sleep. Dismissing it as a slip of memory, he continued on, though there was still a small amount of suspicion that lingered.
Wait. Right… He now knew why he had decided to add scopolamine, as an additional chemical in case the project's devil fruit burned it off too quickly, but clearly also remembered taking out the component when it proved that the negative effects were simply too great. In the next column after he had withdrew it, the amount had tripled from what he started with when he unmistakably stopped using it. It wasn't a slip of data, because it was continued to be used in this amount in the continuous doses.
Someone meddled with his notes.
Some mysterious person had the nerve to touch his private and precious lab records, fiddled around and messed them up, resulting problems that shouldn't be there in the first place. A slow, maniacal grin spread across his face, eyes glittering maliciously. When Law found out exactly who the person was, the culprit would suffer in the most painful ways, hopefully involving skewering the heart and dismembering the body to add to his vast collection. Yes, that sounded perfect.
It was late; the crescent moon a thin sliver of light against the inky black of night, tiny specks that were stars dotted across this midnight tapestry and offered a limited amount of light in the darkened world. All in all, the stillness became a perfect cover for Ace to sneak around. The ones who were not on duty, he knew, were deep in sleep and snoring peacefully away on their warm beds, oblivious to even the loudest noises as he had the misfortune to find out when they first set sail for Elysia. Giving his scrupulously mapped out chart one final sweep, he locked it safely in the drawer and ventured cautiously out, eyes darting side to side for any suspicious activity. There should be none.
He dashed to the other side and slipped into an empty room, keeping the door ajar as he crouched behind the wall, stealing a quick glance over to the corridor. Within five seconds, one of the guards had emerged with a flashlight in hand from the corner, flashing a zigzag number on the ground as he hummed quietly to himself and made sure no unwanted person was lurking. Ace did not miss the furtive glance the marine had shot towards his room and saw the slightest indication of relief on the man's face as the light patterns became more erratic, his grip lessening almost unnoticeably.
The freckled man crept out of the room and stealthily down the hall, ducking back into another as a second guard came his direction. This one remained for a good two minutes, walking the small length over and over again as if expecting someone to pop out of nowhere and frighten the wits out of him. Well, in theory Ace could do that but it ruined the point of being covert. After one final look over his shoulder, the soldier cleared the hallway and continued on to his next segment.
All was going according to plan as he carefully counted the number of seconds it would approximately take for the next to come across. When the coast was finally clear, he walked warily out again as the guard was shrouded once more in darkness hundreds of meters away, only to double back in one of the rooms as he accidentally missed it and went into the wrong one instead.
This specific room had a strange hidden door he stumbled upon by chance. For whatever reasons, the shipbuilder had added a passageway leading right to the lower level in the ship but kept it well-camouflaged against the pale background of walls, blending in perfectly. Careful to not upset any of the oblivious inhabitant's belongings, he tiptoed over the strewn clothes and miscellaneous objects to where the secret corridor was incased, running his fingertips lightly over where the outline was cunningly marked.
The faint lines glowed a soft silver, illuminating the invisibly etched glyphs that appeared when the door was activated, mystic runes Ace had yet to decipher if there was any true meaning to it at all. He tapped the surface lightly, and it swung open smoothly with barely any sound, leading into a descending stairs of pitch black. He stepped in the darkness; the entrance shutting in noiselessly and blocking any remainder of moonlight. Raising a finger, he concentrated and lit the appendage on fire, a small ball of light to guide his way.
Ace made his way down the stairs, mindful not to slip on the impossibly glossy and slippery steps. One misplaced foot would send him toppling roughly down and stop in a crashing halt in front of the exit, causing bruises and scratches he didn't need. One time was enough. So with the embarrassing likelihood in mind, he kept his free hand trailing against the metallic walls for extra support, walking extra slowly to prevent the accident from repeating itself.
Finally he reached the bottom of the long descent safely and let out a relieved sigh. As he tapped the exit wall twice, he distinguished his flame before it drew attention. It swung open like the entrance, pale moonlight spilling in. Through the darkness Ace made out the form of a guard slumped against the doorway leading to the cells, snoring obnoxiously and unaware to the unwanted intruder. The freckled man crept past the sleeping man easily, melting into the shadows once more as he closed the door behind him.
As soon as he stepped in, he was aware of several pairs of eyes immediately zeroing in on him, staring sharply at him. They were all awake.
He marched on despite the wary looks he received, ignoring how distrustful most of them were; some even strangely seemed to be accusatory. It was almost as if he was being put on trial with everyone on the opponent's side, though he morbidly thought that if this was a trial, he'd plead guilty. For some reason he felt that he had wronged them all, even though he didn't even know who they were. The curious feeling only grew and nagged him constantly as he came face to face with the captain.
Luffy's face was an impassive one as he silently regarded the older with scrutinizing eyes, exuding so much power through his mere presence even though he was chained and barred.
Ace cleared his throat and shifted uneasily. "Well, I'm here now…"
An awkward silence passed.
"You don't remember me, or anyone else here?" the Straw Hat captain said quietly.
Almost regretfully, Ace shook his head slowly. "Sorry."
The younger bowed his head sadly and clenched his fists tightly together. "Nothing?" The short word came as a barely heard whispered, yet so packed with emotion. Anguish. Desperation. Pain. Fury.
Resisting the sudden desire to walk in the cell and comfort the Straw Hat, he shook his head a second time. Watching the other's expression drop again tore painfully at his heart; he just couldn't stand Luffy being hurt like this, even if he didn't know who he was. "Sorry," he said, hoping to offer a tiny bit of consolation.
Luffy smiled sadly as he looked up. "Guess Robin was right, then. They really took away your memories."
"Yeah…" he replied lamely, hands playing with the hem of his shirt. "I don't even know who I am anymore." The deeply-buried confession spilled out so easily from his heart that it surprised him. It was something he always kept hidden away in the darkest corners but thought constantly, spending all his free hours pondering over the question. Who was he? And where did he come from?
The answer that always came foremost was a demon, a disgusting monster that killed in cold-blood and shed hundreds of innocent blood that permanently stained his hands. A man like himself doesn't deserve the gift of life, not when he had done so many unspeakable things under the mere whim of his superior to the people often without a second thought. The hesitation and guilt had long eroded to resignation, and the process would only happen to a demon that had no heart and humanity. He was so sure that he was just an unwanted person casted away by society, and there was no point for people like him to exist in this world. No one wanted him except the government, who used him for experiments and shady missions to keep their glorious name unblemished.
Gol D. Ace. The name was so nauseatingly fitting for someone like him. It was almost as if he continued the legacy of the renowned Pirate King, sharing the man's last name. The Pirate King was the Devil himself to the people's eyes having conquered the seas, and here he was, bearing the surname with a long streak of sins.
So it surprised him when the Straw Hat captain responded so quickly, so easily, "You're Portgas D. Ace, of course. My brother."
… Portgas? The last name sparked unexplainable warmth in his chest, a feeling of comfort and happiness that filled his depressed and miserable shell. And it seemed right, even though he didn't recognize it as anything note-worthy. Nothing of the World nobles, the leaders, royalty, the government, simply nothing.
But he was Gol. D Ace, not Portgas. "You're wrong," he corrected, feeling a strange obligation. "I'm Gol D. Ace."
Luffy registered shock. "I never thought you'd take up that name… Why do you call yourself that?"
"Because that's my name, one of the first things I was ever told." He didn't mention the fact that he yearned to be called Portgas as opposed what he currently held, even if the desire was overpowering; the words wanted frantically to slip through his lips.
"It's so strange to see you calling yourself that," the Straw Hat said. "You hated the name so much."
It was funny how the exact sentiments had crossed over from his amnesia to his present state. "Why?"
"They didn't tell you?"
Ace shook his head numbly.
"Roger was your dad, and you hated him."
His identity crisis suddenly got a whole lot more complicated than before.
(I was playing Demons by Imagine Dragons on repeat while I was typing out the last scene, and gosh that felt so awesome! (Total Imagine Dragons fan~) The title fits so perfectly with Ace's introspection, don't you all think?)
I sincerely apologize for the late update, as I'm too caught up with writing a few side stories I plan to publish soon, one of them being a very sappy romance I didn't know I was even capable of thinking up, inspired by an equally sappy romance song that I've been listening since it came out six or seven years ago. I've also decided on adding AceLu to the story, but I'm also leaving it open-ended enough to be interpreted both ways as romantic affection and brotherly affection for non-AceLu fans.
Hope you guys enjoyed the chapter! And as usual, leave a review! They make me happy and motivated to write more quickly. ;)