Hey lovelies! Sorry for the delay in getting this chapter up. School killed my time u_u But hopefully you'll enjoy it now that it's here!
Crumpling to the ground in a heap of limbs, Luffy swore to never run that desperately again. The adrenaline faded, leaving his muscles screaming at him to take a break—allow them a moment's rest—and he did just that. There was no way Smokey followed them that far. Hell, he probably took a few seconds too long to react. That was one problem out of the way.
The other one was staring down at him, confused.
"Mind explaining what the hell that was?" Ace asked, sternly crossing his arms, almost as if to scold him.
Luffy met his glare evenly, furrowing his brow. "You almost blew my cover, you damn pirate!"
"Ha? The hell are you talking about?" Before the marine could say any more, a swift punch to the head stopped him. "That's for hitting your big brother, you brat."
Luffy narrowed his eyes. "I'll be sure to play nice in the future," he said sarcastically.
They fell quiet, breaking their locked gazes awkwardly. Luffy would never openly admit it, but in a way he was… kind of… happy to see the commander. He still hated pirates with every fiber of his being but maybe, maybe there were exceptions to that rule. They were family, right? That's what Gramps said—brothers by bond. Sometime long ago, long out of conscious thought, he felt close enough to that person to call him his sibling. He cared enough to consider him family. Thinking about that felt strange. There was such disconnect between his current self and the one forgotten years ago that he couldn't think of that child as himself. That little boy running through the forest, chasing after his two big brothers and doing his best to keep up, hardly seemed real.
His eyes widened.
"I thought you were in East Blue."
The voice pulled Luffy from his thoughts. He looked up to find Ace still averting his gaze, staring out at the sand dunes in the far distance. How did he know about that? Well, whatever; he wasn't going to bother asking. "I'm on a mission." Shit. Why did he tell him that? It was 'top secret' for a reason!
The fire user raised an eyebrow, his interest piqued, and turned his way. "Oh yeah? What kind of mission?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Ow! Stop hitting me!"
"Why should I?" the commander mocked, looking away once more.
He groaned. "Geez, Ace, never thought you could be such a brat," the marine mumbled, removing his hat to inspect it, wipe away some of the sand. He saw Ace's face flash something akin to surprise but wrote it off. Maybe something he said reminded him of the time before Luffy's amnesia, or maybe it was the opposite—that he was acting completely unlike his former self. Either way, he didn't care. Or maybe it was that he didn't want to think about it. "Senny and Gramps want me to beat up Crocodile," he unwittingly divulged, never once taking his eyes off his precious treasure.
"The Shichibukai? I thought the marines were—"
"That's why I'm in disguise."
The pirate looked him over, analyzing his attire. Moments later he sighed, sliding down the stone wall of the crumbling building behind them until he was seated next to his sibling. He placed a hand on the younger's head, staring at the ground beneath his feet. Luffy narrowed his eyes, resisting the urge to back away from the touch. It was uncomfortable but, at the same time, it felt almost familiar—nostalgic.
"It's nice to see you out of that uniform," Ace stated, a half-hearted smile gracing his lips. "It suits you."
The teen huffed, crossing his arms. "I'm still a marine, you know."
"Is it wrong for me to miss my little brother?" Ace interrupted, lowering his hand to his side.
At first Luffy didn't speak. He wasn't really sure what to say to that. Instead of answering the question, he settled on asking one of his own. "When did we meet?" He'd been curious about that ever since they last saw one another, all those months ago. It'd been gnawing at him since his grandfather said that they weren't related by blood. The old man never mentioned anything about his parents or adoption. When he saw the commander's eyes widen, he added, "Gramps told me."
After a brief, awkward silence, Ace scratched his head. "You were seven," he stated, "when you came to live with us."
"Me 'n the mountain bandits," Ace elaborated. Seeing the blank look on his sibling's face, he snorted. "Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? The old man wanted us to become marines so he sent us to live with a bunch 'a criminals."
Luffy exhaled, leaning his head against the stone wall. "That sounds like something he'd do…"
Heavy winds broke through the quiet, carrying sand through the air as they sat there waiting, hiding. Aside from nature, nothing moved. Nothing sounded. If he wasn't sure before, it was now obvious that they'd lost their pursuers. He knew he should take that as a cue to move on and head out towards—what was that place called? Rain-something? Well whatever, he'd figure it out somehow. In any case, his crew would've been far enough by then for him to get a move on. They promised to meet in Alu-something when that whole ordeal was over and done with, so he couldn't fall behind.
Still, something was nagging at him, telling him not to go.
Why was everything so confusing? It was so annoying!
Begrudgingly he stood, duty winning out over curiosity. Ace didn't seem to notice right away, still staring at the cloudless, blue sky. Faintly he spoke, almost inaudible through the wind, leaving Luffy all but unable to hear his words. "In the end, it looks like he got his wish."
"Huh?" Luffy noised.
Ace snapped back to the present, looking at his brother with a smile, "It's nothing."
The teen didn't press, shrugging the comment off. It was about time to say goodbye to 'big brother' so that he could get to work. First, he had to make something clear. "Don't tell anyone you saw me here, got that?"
The commander raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Senny hasn't signed all of the papers to strip Croc of his title yet. We're sort of… low on evidence."
"Yet you still plan on taking him out?"
The fire user chuckled, "Same old Lu."
…What did he just call him?
"What d'you say to a travel companion?"
He blinked, "What?"
The pirate stood then, straightening his back until he towered over the younger, a sloppy grin plastered to his face. "What kind of big brother would I be if I left a stupid little brother like you alone in the desert?"
The marine didn't hear the taunt in his sibling's voice, didn't register the insult. For a moment, he almost said 'yes.' Before he could make such a big blunder his mind caught up with him and he scowled, shouting "I'm not traveling with a damn pirate!" as he stormed off.
Despite that, he said nothing when the sound of a second set of footsteps met his ears.
Ace looked amusedly at his little brother who sat across from him on the other side of the fire, wrapped tightly in a thick blanket as he sat, teeth chattering in the midnight desert. Just as the pirate suspected, Luffy hadn't prepared at all for his journey. He actually had to drag the brat back into town to grab enough supplies! But, well, he grew up with the kid's empty-headedness so he was used to it. And, in all honestly, it was nice to play the role of the protective older brother again, especially after all that happened.
His decision to go with his brother was brash and thoughtless, and in a way he regretted it, but how could he not worry when the amnesiac marine was going off into one of the most difficult climates to tread to fight a pirate so strong that the government turned a blind eye? Still, that did nothing on his guilt. Thatch needed to be avenged. Teach had to die—to pay for his crimes. It wasn't like he was giving up on his quest, just… postponing it. To be honest, he probably would have changed his mind, were it not for knowing what Thatch would say to him: "Go for it."
Brought from his thoughts, he stared questioningly at Luffy's glare.
"How are you not freezing?" the boy asked, emphasizing the last bit through his trembling jaw.
"Remember what they call me?"
"Fire Fist," he affirmed with a nod.
"I got that name for a reason, you know," he stated, morphing his index finger into flames to prove his point. It wasn't the first time he used his ability in front of Luffy—lost his temper quite a few times while trying to get through to the thick-headed moron—but why not?
Again it went quiet, the crackle of the flames and howl of the wind keeping them from total silence. It wasn't as uncomfortable as it was on the Moby Dick. Actually, Ace found that it was almost pleasant. Sure the Luffy from his memories was a loud, obnoxious brat but even he had moments where he said not a word, taking in the peace. And there was something else—something more profound that Ace just couldn't ignore.
While their personalities were different, he was starting to notice an overlap. It started around sunset when they set up camp and ate dinner. Something clicked in the boy's head—flipped his mood from brooding to excited. When the meat was done cooking he tore into it immediately—even started a conversation with the pirate, going on about some guy named Sanji and how unbelievably amazing his cooking was. Then he started on the adventures he'd been on since he first set sail in East Blue, laughing about some of the things that happened. All-the-while Ace listened, astonished by the similarities he found between the marine and the boy he used to know. The moment ended when dinner was over, but it stuck in his mind as a testament to just how wrong he was months ago, saying that he was completely different. Memories or no, Luffy was Luffy.
"…Hey, Ace," Luffy called.
That was the second time that day he was called by his name. Luffy didn't even seem to notice he was saying it, but Fire Fist treasured each moment, knowing that maybe one day he would remember. "Hm?"
The teen was hesitant. At first he seemed ready to revoke whatever question he was about to ask, but after a small stretch of wordless contemplation he bundled up tighter in his blanket and stared hard at the orange and yellow flames between them. "Who's the blond one?"
The commander raised an eyebrow, not quiet understanding.
"That blond kid—the one you were always with." Ace's jaw went slack. "What was his name?"
Before speaking, he composed himself. It wouldn't do good to make a big deal out of it—ask how much he remembered or quiz him on the top-hat-wearing boy from ten years ago. That would just scare him away, right? Or would it? Internally he groaned, wondering why there wasn't some sort of manual for dealing with an amnesiac sibling. It would make life so simple!
Licking his dry, parched lips, excitement and nervousness welling up within him, Ace spoke. "Sabo," he divulged, watching the marine's reaction closely. "He was our brother."
And now came the hard part.
Releasing a deep, shivering breath, Ace moved forward and grabbed a piece of firewood, throwing it into the blazing inferno, never once meeting the large, wondering eyes of the one across from him. "He died."
The boy didn't react, asked no further questions. He made no cruel remarks nor did he press for more. They both allowed solemn wordlessness to pass, stretching on into the night. After some time Ace chanced a glimpse at Luffy's face.
He pretended not to notice the faint, glossy film in his brother's eyes.
A/N: And that's that. Yup. This story's going to be fun to write now :D Not that it wasn't before, but I don't like sticking so close to canon e_e;;
To my lovelies~
samettikettu: Dramatic endings are fun :D The hiatus is over! WE ARE FREE!
saltandburnit: Good question. Guess we'll have to see what Dragon thinks of his marine son later :P Hey, I can have simple and obvious plots, too, you know! Not EVERYTHING I write is like Divide where I'm constantly fucking with people... hehe...
Okinawa Angel: You're welcome~
xXxWolvesInTheNightxXx: I had fun with writing the end of that chapter XD
Yannaninin: Yes, yes he is.
MeikoKuran999: Hope it met your expectations :)
Wolf and MR Lover: Here it is! Glad you like!
Bluebird42: Lol things may be looking up from our perspective, but not from his XD
4fireking: Lots of things are going to be expanded on later. Unless you mean canon-wise, in which I'm not bothering since I don't like just repeating what someone else came up with. Sorry, I don't like OC stories :/
SkittlesTheUnicorn: Here's an update!
ClaireW: You're welcome ^^ Haha nope, he really can't. They chose the worst possible person for this job XD
94Insane: Nope, Smoker will always be after Luffy, no matter the universe :P
mad100101: Chopper isn't dead, I just didn't mention him in the chapter. You're looking into it too much, I just didn't mention him because I was trying to veer away from talking about the canon stuff everyone already knows about :P Just because Luffy has a log pose doesn't mean he went straight there :P It's Luffy we're talking about! And Robin and Franky, as I've said before, will be covered later on. I don't really think it's appropriate to randomly make a joke about Alzheimer's disease... it's fatal, you know, and a lot of people have it, including my grandmother...
I want some pie: Those questions will be answered eventually :P
teengens: Hope this chapter was interesting as well!
Son Goshen: And now you know! Chopper's around, he just wasn't mentioned.
spoons-are-evil: Haha I actually didn't think of it as a cliffhanger at all but some of you guys did, it seems XD Hope it was as interesting as you expected it to be :) True, it's not the same as it is with Luffy, but they'll manage ;) Luffy's pretending to be anything but a marine, really :P Yeah, this Luffy can be an ass sometimes -_-;; They all think they're going to die and he thinks it's hilarious...
azab: Glad you like.
mandacub: Glad you like!
xheartkreuzx: Here's more!
CrazySarahify: Here's an update!
Gyuchin: Here's more!
jazz5955: Well, Luffy IS pretty rude, even in canon :P Glad you like! Here's 17!
(And there you have it: the end of the update. I almost put 'end of the story' on accident. I think you guys would've killed me. Hope you enjoyed! Review if you can, I love reading them and I'll be back later! Oh, and since I won't get to posting the next chapter before Christmas, happy holidays! Adieu~)