(Wow it's been forever because I suck. And this chapter was written very late at night so I hope it doesn't suck as much as I do. Well…yeah. Hi everyone. Yes this story is still a thing. A thing I will be finishing. A thing that probably won't be finished for like 10 fucking years at the rate I'm updating. Oops. Wellllllllllll…yeah… how 'bout that…um…yeah. I'm on spring break so maybe there will be more writing time? Lol jk my friends are all like, "you never hang out with us! D:" so I have been swarmed. I have, like, three nights where I'll be permitted to stay up to absurd hours writing. This is one of them. Jetzt Hier ist Dein Sieg is also on the updating list, but I dunno if I'll be able to finish the whole chapter in the timeframe I have. Oh, and so's Maybe This Year! I've already written a fraction of the chapter, so that one shouldn't take as long. It's a bit easier to write than my other stories just because of the lighter (wow a story about the aftereffects of a life of prostitution and drug overdose and it's my lighter story? Sure am making the mother proud) tone, so that one has a significantly higher chance of actually getting updated.
Well now that I'm done rambling, I'll actually let you get to the chapter! I did a shit job of responding to reviews (did I even respond to anyone?), but you guys seemed to like the last chapter so yay! Hope you like this one!
(There's some KtR stuff but if you don't like it just kind of headcanon it out I don't have time to write an alternate chapter and I like the internal conflict so yeah.)
OH GUESS WHAT? I haven't taken physics since summer of last year and didn't do this calculation myself, so if my internet research is wrong I apologize.
Warning: this chapter contains GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENCE (specific trigger warning: *SPOILER**SPOILER*torture*SPOILER**SPOILER* (and dudes. I gave myself shivers. Doesn't help this is one of the things that terrifies me the most, but still. Brace yourselves.)) and SWEARING.)
~Oh you tell me to hold on!
Oh you tell me to hold on!~
Ace felt himself go very, very cold. Even without a mirror he knew he'd gone white as a sheet. "…Three…months?" he repeated breathlessly. The weight of this revelation crushed breath out of his chest. Three months. Three months before anyone would even realize anything was wrong. Ace could dimly hear Thatch saying something. He was too busy panicking.
His breathing quickened. Three months. Three months in a cage. He couldn't take it. He couldn't. He wouldn't be able to. Ace was dimly aware of his breathing speeding up, fast approaching hyperventilation. Three months. No sunlight no wind no freedom. No way out.
Of course there's a way out! Of course of course of course there's a way-
"Ace!" Thatch snapped insistently, shoving into Ace's shoulder. His voice was urgent. "Ace I need you to breathe. I need you to calm down. Listen to me. You're fine. You're fine." Ace realized his breathing was no more than gasping pants, and he was already going lightheaded from lack of oxygen. Ace's attention snapped to him, his eyes wide.
"Have you any idea why a raven is like a-"
"Ace shut the fuck up!" Thatch nearly snarled, and Ace flinched. Thatch's face and voice softened. "I know this isn't according to plan and believe me, I understand that you're freaking out, but you need to calm down. Panicking won't help us. I need you to keep it together. We'll only be able to get out of this if you can keep a cool head. I need you with me on this because I sure as hell can't do it alone. Breathe. Keep it together. You're fine." Ace forced his breathing to normalize at least slightly, taking in several gasping, heaving lungfuls of the autumn air. It'd probably be the last time he'd get to taste it for a while. He clenched his eyes shut, forcing the thought away.
"Good, that's good," Thatch said supportively. "Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. You're fine. You're going to be fine. We're both going to be fine. Inhale. Exhale." Ace followed Thatch's rhythm, his breathing finally normalizing. They were nearing the house. Ace wordlessly helped Thatch up the stairs, taking them one at a time. Monocle – Van Augur – grumbled and Ace shot him a venomous glare, nearly animalistic in its pure detestation. Thatch hissed, his face growing tight with pain, as he stumbled slightly on the last step, his weight falling heavily on Ace. It snapped Ace back from his rage, and he murmured an apology, propping Thatch up with his shoulder.
Keep it together, Ace. We can't afford to lose it now. Especially not now. You need to be levelheaded if you want to make it out of this. Thatch needs your help. So stuff the panic attacks. Ace closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. You're fine. You're fine. Put away all the fear and focus. Start paying attention so you can turn this around. Ace swallowed thickly, closing his eyes for a moment and shoving all fear, anger, and despair away. He couldn't be that right now. He needed more Hatter.
The inside of the house was just as Ace remembered. Teach and his lackeys hadn't moved any of the furniture, though Ace could see some things – probably the belongings and equipment of Teach's crew – in bags leaning against the wall in the living room area. They were led through the living room quickly, passed fleetingly through the kitchen, and finally stopped in the dining room. Teach turned back to face them, Ace regarding him dispassionately.
"Disarm the bombs on the table," Teach ordered. Ace blinked slowly at him.
"Why?" he asked, no inflection in his voice. He saw Thatch glance at him worriedly from the corner of his eye. Teach approached and Ace didn't flinch back or cringe. He slapped Ace hard, his whole head turning with the force of it. 84.2 ft lbs, Hatter supplied instantly.
"You don't get to ask questions." Ace smiled up at him frigidly.
"Oh. I didn't realize this was such a focal point of your plan that you couldn't answer the question." Teach moved but Ace held up his hands placatingly. "Here, allow me." His voice took on a different tone, mimicking Teach's. "'You're also not allowed to be a cocky piece of shit,' right? And then you'll couple it with some kind of physical attack, all in all merely attempting to assert your dominance against me, a figure of previous authority over you, in an attempt to convince both of us that you're now in charge, the alpha male if you will. You do your genetic heritage proud." Ace didn't know why he was egging Teach on, antagonizing him. In all honesty, it was a really shitty idea. But it was the only form of rebellion he had left. He couldn't actually retaliate for fear of further injury to Thatch. It's some kind of coping mechanism, Hatter murmured. Dealing with this is too much right now so you're trying to downplay the situation's severity by mocking it. You don't want to think about the fact that Teach has outmaneuvered you for nearly two and a half years.
Shut up Hatter.
Before Teach could make any kind of move or attack against his previous mocking, Ace carefully leaned Thatch against a wall ("Can you stand on your own?" "Yes, Ace, I'm not a damn baby. I can stand on my own.") and crouched to survey his little pyrotechnics show on the underside of the furniture. He hummed thoughtfully.
"…I won't be able to remove them without setting them off, but I can desensitize them so they won't go off," he said, grudgingly looking up at Teach for approval. Teach looked displeased, but nodded. They stared at each other silently for a moment, nothing in Ace's face but cold removal, before Ace slowly extended his shackled hands, making his silent request. Van Augur opened his mouth to protest but Ace cut him off. "I'm not going to blow us all to kingdom come just because you felt threatened by me using my hands. These bombs will kill devil fruit users as well. Nobody in this room would survive." This opportunity was poking itself at Ace, and he was doing his best to capitalize on it. Maybe there would be some kind of chance for him to-
Teach glanced at Van Augur. "Keep a tab on Thatch." Van Augur still looked uncomfortable, but didn't hesitate to draw a gun and aim it steadily at Thatch's head. Ace did his best to not visually show his disappointment. Teach was being very careful about this. It was as if he knew exactly what Ace's thought process was, as if he could read in his face that Ace had been desperately planning some kind of revolt. It was downright unsettling. Teach new everything about Ace's thought process. That took observation. And damn sharp intelligence. Far, far more intelligence than Ace had ever attributed Teach. And he'd done it all while so perfectly disguising his true nature that Ace was left fumbling for any information that still might hold true about him.
But despite this, as Teach drew the small handcuff key from his pocket Ace's eyes fixed on it with sharp interest. He might not know everything about Teach, but he didn't necessarily need to. Just enough to kick his ass. And kicking his ass would undoubtedly be easier with the use of his devil fruit. Teach saw the way his eyes latched on the key and he grinned.
"You want it, don't you? You can practically taste escape. If it weren't for Thatch you could probably bust out right now." You should leave Thatch.
SHUT THE FUCK UP QUEEN.
What? We're all going to die someday. And he deserves it too. Not that there's anyone who truly doesn't deserve it for something. And besides, as far as off with your headings go, this one would be painless. Humane. It'd be over in a second, he wouldn't even feel it-
Ace blinked hard once, fighting to snap himself out of it. He hadn't even been in captivity an hour yet and he was already relapsing? He couldn't do this. Not now. Not again. So he shut it down, blocked out the voices, tried to bring himself back to this present. Not real it's not real they're not real don't listen they don't know anything it's not real it's not real it's not real. Ace turned cold eyes to Teach. "Freedom's never free. You just happened to find one of the few things I'm not willing to sacrifice for it." Teach smirked victoriously, bending to undo the handcuffs.
"Find? Please, Ace, give me more credit than that. I've been planning this for a very, very long time. I know exactly what I'm doing" then you know I'm going to feed you your brains you pigfuck- Ace slammed his eyelids closed again, clamping his teeth on his tongue hard enough that he tasted blood to keep back the grin "and I know exactly how to manipulate you. I'm not the bumbling idiot you had me painted as." The key clicked home in the left cuff, the band falling open. He didn't move to open the other. Ace raised his eyebrows, feigning innocence.
"What, I don't get both hands?" Teach smiled at him, straightening.
"I'm not that moronic, Ace. Like hell you're getting to use your devil fruit with high explosives around. You're capable of full dexterity with your right hand still in the cuff." He'd figured Teach wouldn't give him both hands but it was still disappointing. After another moment's silent stare down, Ace turned back to the bombs, setting to work.
It was time consuming and delicate, his full attention fixed on the explosives. He moved from one to the next, carefully tinkering with each. Through careful manipulation of the mechanism that made these bombs so fragile Ace was able to remove the firing pin. The explosive wouldn't go off unless the compound inside was exposed to air, and the firing pin was the piece of it that would have punctured the protective shell around the explosive to let in that air. Now nothing short of the bomb's shell being manually shattered would trigger an explosion, and that would take a great deal of force. Ace sat back on his heels, taking a deep breath. The menial work had helped clear his head a bit.
"Yes. Nothing short of a direct blow will set them off now. The furniture can be moved safely." Ace stood carefully, wiping his hands on his pants. Teach grinned.
"Perfect. Now, refasten the left handcuff." Ace did as told, scowling, and stepped back to Thatch's side. Teach pulled out a chair at each end of the table. "Why don't you two sit down." He didn't say it like a question. Ace didn't like this set up at all. He glanced nervously between the table, the two indicated chairs, and Teach. He swallowed, helping Thatch hobble over to one of the chairs. He sat heavily, relief appearing clear on his face at being off his feet, no weight resting on his shattered ankle. Ace strode cautiously over to the other chair, slowly sitting down and gazing warily at Teach.
"Perfect. Now we're going to have this discussion like the mature adults we are." Teach strode around the table, stopping before Ace and bending down to look him in the eye. "Why doesn't my devil fruit work?" Ace stared up at him, silent. Teach smiled coldly. "Don't make me repeat myself."
"I heard you. I'm just not going to answer," Ace said, voice determined, glaring up at Teach. Teach grinned at him for a moment longer before looking up and nodding to Van Augur. Augur exited the room, returning a moment later with a long length of rope.
"Last chance, Ace," Teach said. Ace could hear in his voice that he already knew the answer.
"Fuck off," Ace said, glare still firm.
Augur rounded the table, uncoiling the rope. It was rough, coarse, and Augur tied it tight enough to dig against his skin, but Ace didn't struggle. He didn't fear this. No matter what Teach did, it couldn't possibly compare to what he'd suffered before. It remained to be seen exactly how cruel Teach could be, but he couldn't possibly compare to the cold, inhuman dispassion of Edward Hare.
"Do you know what pain is, Ace?" Ace gave a short bark of laughter.
"You can't teach me anything about pain, Marshall D. Teach." Ace was still glaring at Teach, no fear tinting his gaze. Teach merely grinned back.
"Perfect! Then you'll know exactly how much this will hurt." He turned his head towards the door. "Doc Q! Burgess!" A moment later, the wheezing doctor appeared, shortly tailed by the hulking goliath. Shoulders – Burgess – still looked out of it, his eyes still hazy with the sedative Ace had hit him with, but he was conscious and seemingly able to follow orders. "Burgess, Thatch's hands, please." Burgess wordlessly approached Thatch who snarled up at him, and seized Thatch's forearms, slamming them to the surface of the table. Ace didn't like where this was going. "Augur?"
"Got it." Augur was already moving to Thatch's side and he grabbed his hands, forcing them to lay splayed, palm down, on the table. Ace could see the muscles in Thatch's arms working as he tried to struggle, but with their combined strength he couldn't even twitch. Teach was smiling as if he had the whole world on a plate.
"And finally, Doc Q, if you'll give us a demonstration. I think Ace will feel much more talkative." Doc Q approached the table, and from an inside pocket withdrew something from his coat.
A pair of pliers.
Ace's eyes widened and he saw Thatch go pale. Before Ace could say a word, Doc Q had already begun. He wedged the pincers of the pliers under Thatch's right thumbnail, and slowly began twisting.
It didn't take long for Thatch to start screaming.
Ace couldn't tear his gaze away, his eyes fixated on the grisly process. It seemed to take an eternity to separate the nail from the nail bed, and with one final yank Doc Q ripped it entirely from Thatch's hand. Thatch was left gasping, head bowed, body shaking with pain. Teach turned a bored gaze from Thatch back to Ace.
"So, now that you've had a nice taste of the possibilities, why isn't my devil fruit working?" Ace stared at him, wide-eyed. Thatch's screams still echoed in his head. He cast his eyes to the table, weighing his options. This was non-lethal. Truly. Thatch couldn't possibly die from this. But Ace didn't know if he was strong enough to endure the screaming for that long. And once this was over, what would Teach move to next? Ace didn't doubt that he had other, equally and even more horrifying things planned.
Teach was smart enough to know Ace wouldn't submit to physical torture. He was smart enough to know Thatch wouldn't either.
But the true genius lay in knowing Ace couldn't endure guilt.
"Tick tock, Ace. Five more seconds to answer." Ace's eyes snapped off the table back to Teach.
"Don't you dare," Thatch choked, voice tight with agony. "Don't you fucking dare tell him because of this." Ace froze, eyes wide with indecision. "I can deal with this, Ace. I can. Let me."
…But not for three months he can't.
"Doc Q. Just keep going until I tell you to stop." The process began again, this time with Thatch's right forefinger. Thatch can deal with it. The screaming started again as Doc Q twisted the pliers, beginning the process of tearing the nail away. Ace's jaw was clenched so hard he thought it would break. Thatch can deal with it. It seemed to take even longer this time, finally ending in a gruesome ripping noise. Thatch can deal with it. Doc Q gave slight respite between this nail and the next, waiting so the pain would be fresher. When he started again, Ace couldn't take any more, bowing his head and clenching his eyes shut.
Teach grabbed a fistful of his hair, dragging it up so he faced Thatch again.
"Come on, Ace. Don't be such a bitch. The least you can do is watch, seeing as you're the one torturing him." Ace's eyes widened, the sound of another nail ripping off punctuating Teach's words. Teach noticed his reaction and continued. "You are the one responsible, after all." Thatch seemed about to say something, but Doc Q started on the next finger. "You can make this stop at any time. But you're letting it continue. You're willfully letting it continue. You might as well be the one holding the pliers." Teach's words seemed to bleed into his ears and through Teach's grip on his hair. "You're doing this to him. You're making him suffer. This is your fault. And if it goes on longer it will only continue to be your fault." Ace felt everything crashing around him and nothing existed except Teach's voice and Thatch's screams. Teach grinned, conscious of his victory.
"How can you torture your best friend like this?"
And Ace broke.
"Stop it! Please, just stop!" Ace could feel tears building in his eyes but couldn't care less if they fell or not. Teach's grin didn't falter.
"Those aren't the words I'm looking for, Ace. Answer the question." Doc Q, finished with Thatch's right hand, turned to the left.
It didn't matter. It didn't matter if he got the real one. That was nothing compared to Thatch. The fruit was entirely meaningless when compared to the echoing screams of his best friend. Ace could feel the tears hot on his face, the only apology he could possibly offer now without extending Thatch's suffering. And when Thatch met his eyes, behind all the agony Ace could see Thatch already understood. It was another twist of the knife to Ace. Because Thatch always understood. Even when Ace didn't deserve it, even when he made bad decisions, Thatch was always there with compassion and Ace couldn't stand to have Thatch's voice, so suited for laughter, broken with screaming.
"It's fake! Please, just stop it! The devil fruit's fake!"
(Dear lord I hate the end of this chapter. It just…ends really, really weirdly and suddenly. Welp. Shit happens. You win some you lose some. It's almost 4 in the morning so I'll count the fact that I even finished this a win. Hope you liked some part of this chapter, and if not maybe the next one will be more to your taste. And…yeah. I'm off to bed.
Oh, just a little note: Kyykhynen (I spelled that wrong and I apologize) kind of kickstarted this chapter by drawing a little mini thing for Bleeding Out and citing it as one of her favorite stories, so shout out to her! I don't think this is quite what she was looking for when she asked for an update. XD Sorry I'm so mean to Thatch. And Ace. And everyone. But mostly Thatch.
Well…I guess I'll see you again if/when I update something. Hopefully I will during Spring Break, and if not it'll happen at my earliest possible convenience. Well, adieu et bon soir!