Ace groaned, laying out on his bed and squeezing his eyes shut. He hated dealing with teenagers, despite only being 23 years old. This was why he hated being a TA. Reluctantly he sat up and stretched, feeling the scar tissue on his lower abdomen tighten slightly. He had to finish marking the labs the students handed in yesterday. He stood and sat at his desk, picking up the pile of finished papers and his red pen. But his eyes kept slipping shut. Ace really missed his narcolepsy medication, but to get the medication here he would need proper ID, and not just the fakes he had used to get into university.
He gave up, standing and leaving the room. He had a few hours before a high school group arrived to use the labs. Might as well help the chemistry professor set up. The old man was due to retire soon. He knocked on the door, the grey haired old man opening it and smiling at his assistant teacher. "Hello, Ace."
"Hey Dan." Ace looked around the room, "Did you need any help setting up?"
Mr. Daniels looked over his shoulder at the empty lab benches, "That would be appreciated, Ace. Thank you."
Ace nodded, "It's no problem," Mr. Daniels stepped aside to allow the young man to enter the classroom. Ace headed to the supply closet and began to pull out baskets and place them on each bench. "I had nothing better to do."
"Does that mean you've finished marking the labs?" Mr. Daniels smirked, adjusting his glasses.
Ace laughed sheepishly, "Not quite yet."
Mr. Daniels tisked, taking materials out of the baskets after Ace put them down. Ace brought the remaining baskets back to the closet. "I suppose I can't blame you though. I was quite wild in my youth."
"You?" Ace snorted, leaning against one of the benches. "I doubt that."
"Who knows, Mr. Portgas," Dan smiled. "With all the tattoos you've got who would think you were a graduate student with degrees in physics and chemistry?"
Ace shrugged, "When Haruta found out I was smart she threw a fit. She also stopped trying to kick me off the ship."
"And who is this Haruta?"
"An old friend." Ace answered.
"A friend who tries to push you off a ship? Where would you get a ship?"
Ace shrugged, "We liked sailing. And this place isn't more than four blocks from the beach."
"Ah," Mr. Daniels took the explanation and continued setting up the stations. Ace smiled at the memory and began flipping through the lab's instructions. "Mr. Portgas," Mr. Daniels said, catching Ace's attention. "I heard you picked a topic for your thesis."
"Oh, Yeah. Human flight." Ace closed the instruction booklet and tossed it on the table. "I was thinking about doing something with physics, and the idea of flying is pretty cool, right?"
Mr. Daniels nodded, "I suppose it is. I do know a thing or two about physics, but you are quite superior to me in that field. I wish you luck."
"Thanks," Ace grinned. "If anything, this will give me an excuse to watch the Iron Man movies for ideas."
"Those movies are fiction," Mr. Daniels countered, "And you would need a lot of energy and force to lift a human off the ground."
"I've got firepower," Ace smiled widely, and Mr. Daniels couldn't understand why.
"Again, I wish you luck." He looked over the room, "And thank you for your help. I don't believe I will be needing you until later this afternoon."
Ace nodded at Mr. Daniels as he left, walking to the coffee shop and dosing himself up on caffeine to keep him awake through the lab. He really hated working with teenagers.
Ace stood at the entrance to the building as he waited for the bus to arrive. He held a clipboard and tapped his pen against it repeatedly. Ten minutes later, the school bus pulled up and teenagers started spilling out. Their teacher came last, walking up to Ace, "Are you Mr. Daniels?"
"No, but I'm here to take you to him. I'm Mr. Portgas, his assistant." Ace held out a hand, shaking the high school teacher's hand.
"Thank you, I'm Tyson Grey." He turned to the students, "I need you to quiet down and listen to Mr. Portgas!"
Gradually the students quieted, several of them glancing curiously to the raggedly dressed man with a lab coat on. "Alright," Ace started. "Nice to meet you all. Since the professor you're working with is setting up last minute materials for your lab, he sent me to get you all. Now, as we walk through the building I have to warn you not to touch anything. This is a university lab, so there will be dangerous chemicals around. Again, do not touch anything or you will be asked to leave."
He looked around the small crowd, smiling as he saw students muttering and a few nodding. Most of them looked impatient. "You hear that?" Mr. Grey said loudly, catching the attention of all the students.
"Good," Ace gestured towards the doors. "Follow me." Ace led them through the building and into the lab room. "Everyone grab a coat and safety goggles," He instructed, pointing at both. "I don't want to hear any complaints. It's safety."
Despite Ace's order, groans came from the teenagers as they crowded around and grabbed at the coats. Ace stood back, watching the onslaught with amusement. Mr. Grey joined him, watching as the students managed to get their safety equipment and shuffled to the lab benches. He laughed softly.
"You think this is amusing?" Mr. Grey asked from beside him, amusement also present in his expression.
"It reminds me of dinner on the Moby Dick," Ace said. "Especially when it was Thatch's turn to cook."
"Where I used to live," He explained. "It was sorta like a dorm, but we all took turns cooking and it was first come first serve. Thatch was the best cook." He trailed off, a distant expression on his face.
"That's interesting," Mr. Grey said. "Where was this?"
"Far away," Ace replied. "But that's not really important." He left the teacher and walked up to the front, where Mr. Daniels was starting to relay instructions to the young group.
"Ah, Ace. Excellent. Now, there isn't enough hydrogen peroxide. Would you be willing to retrieve some?"
"Sure, Dan," Ace left, glad to be doing something useful. He had sat in the small coffee shop on campus for three hours earlier, watching the news on the small television propped up on the wall.
He found the large supply closet, used to supply all of the building's labs, and fumbled around with his keys for a minute. He found the right one, and started to unlock the door when he realized it was already unlocked. Hesitantly, Ace pushed open the door, keeping quiet. The light was on, and in a room with several light sensitive chemicals, it was almost taboo in the building.
He slipped inside, keeping a sharp gaze out for the intruder. He paused, glancing at the floor and picking up a mangled paperclip. This meant the intruder wasn't supposed to be in there. Ace pocketed the makeshift lock pick and strode forward, seeing a shadow near the end of the long room.
"Hey!" He called, and the shadow flinched and vanished. Ace darted forward, pivoting suddenly and catching a glimpse of a person. Ace jumped forward, grapping the intruder's collar and yanking him into the middle of the room. "What do you think you're doing in here?" Ace demanded.
He examined his captive. He looked to be about seventeen, with messy black hair and blond roots. "Let me go," He demanded, struggling and reaching back to claw at Ace's hand.
Ace sighed, "Are you part of the group doing the lab?" The kid didn't answer, having given up on freeing himself from Ace's hand and had curled his hands protectively around his midsection. Ace followed the gesture with his eyes and saw several unusually shaped bulges. Ace grabbed the kid's shirt and lifted it slightly, revealing bottles. "What the hell are you doing with those?"
The kid stayed silent, glowering at the floor. "Nothin'," He muttered after Ace's grip tightened.
"Then put them back," Ace released the kid, who stumbled forward and glared. He made no move. "Now," Ace growled, crossing his arms. "If you return them, I won't report you."
The kid's glare never left his face as he started shuffling towards a shelf, pulling the bottles from the waistband of his jeans and started returning them to their proper shelves. He turned back to Ace when he finished, still not meeting his eyes. Ace grabbed a couple bottles of hydrogen peroxide and shoved them in one of his lab coat's oversized pockets. Then he grabbed the teenager's arm and pulled him from the supply room. Ace turned off the lights and locked the door before marching the kid back towards the lab.
"What's your name?" Ace asked.
The kid didn't answer. "None of your business," He muttered.
"Alright, fine." Ace said. "Why did you try to steal those chemicals?"
"None of your business," Ace got the same answer.
Ace ran his free hand through his hair. "So I'm going to assume you're involved in something not very legal." The kid's eyes widened and he looked around the empty hall before they settled on the floor again. "So I'm right," Ace said.
"Shut the hell up," The kid ground out through clenched teeth, his hands curling into fists. "You don't know anything."
"Maybe I don't. But maybe I do. You can never know until you understand the other person." Ace smiled. "I won't tell anyone, but that's because I don't know you."
The kid seemed surprised at Ace's answer, "So… You're not going to report me?"
Ace shook his head, "Believe it or not kid, I did that kind of stuff when I was younger."
"It's not kid," The boy said. "It's Conrad."
"Well then, Conrad," Ace released his hold and held out his hand, "My name is Ace."
He stopped in front of the lab door, pushing it open. He led Conrad in, pointing to an empty stool. "Mr. Finn," Mr. Grey said harshly. "Where were you?"
"I got lost," Conrad didn't have his sharp tone anymore, reverting to a sheepish teenager. Ace was impressed with his acting skills. "Sorry."
Ace handed the bottles to Mr. Daniels, "I found him in the hall. No harm done."
Mr. Grey grimaced, but nodded.
Ace led the students from the lab to the main doors after they had finished their lab, keeping an eye on Conrad, in case the teenager tried to sneak off again. Mr. Grey did a roll call, and students started filing onto the bus. Conrad walked up to him, "Um… Thanks. For not… You know…"
Ace put a hand on Conrad's shoulder, "I don't know what you've gotten yourself into, kid. But I speak from experience when I say get out."
"Nothing good can come of it. You watch friends you care about die, you constantly worry about your family, and you face death. Now I'm not so well versed with the underground here, but it's probably close to what I was involved in back home." Ace grimaced, taking a deep breath. "I'm serious."
Conrad swallowed hard, "Don't get involved with me," He said harshly. "It's like you said. You'd only end up dead. You may have given it up, but you don't know me, so you can't judge." He turned sharply and headed for the bus, climbing up the steps and disappearing from Ace's sight.
The young man ran a hand over his face, sighing. "I haven't given it up," He said to empty air. "I was torn away from it." He rolled his shoulders, where his Whitebeard insignia was tattooed onto his back.
"Thank you so much for the day," He heard Mr. Grey say to Mr. Daniels.
"Oh, it was my pleasure," Mr. Daniels replied. "I hope some of your students have taken an interest in chemistry."
"I'm sure some of them did," Mr. Grey said reassuringly. "Again, thank you for your time."
"It was no trouble at all. Have a safe trip." Mr. Grey finally boarded the bus and Mr. Daniels and Ace watched it leave the parking lot. As soon as it turned onto the main road, Mr. Daniels slumped in relief, "Thank god, they're gone."
Ace laughed, "Were they that much of a hassle?"
"Not the kids," Mr. Daniel groaned, "The teacher. He kept getting in my way. Is it possible for someone to be that annoying?"
"I've met a few," Ace said.
"I find that hard to believe," Mr. Daniels said. "But I need your help in cleaning up."
"You know," Ace said, "I had a sudden urge to mark labs. I should probably go get started on those… Ow! Okay! Fine!" Mr. Daniels grabbed Ace by the ear and started dragging him back up the steps. "Let go!"
Mr. Daniels released him and Ace trudged through the halls after him. They cleaned the lab in under half an hour, a record when students were involved, and Ace hung up his coat. Before he closed his locker, he remembered the lock pick the boy had used to get into the supply room. He drew it out of his lab coat pocket and examined it. It was really well made, despite being a paper clip. The kid, Conrad, had talent.
He slipped it into the pocket of his jeans and closed the door, leaving the building. He didn't live on campus, but in the apartment complex next to it. Being a TA had its advantages, one being he got paid. It had taken him a while to figure out the money system, going from beris to dollars, but Ace was smart. He figured it out. Everything in this world was a shock to him, from the extremely advanced technology to the lack of pirates.
At least they made decent movies about them. Ace had a collection, lined up neatly below the television that came with the apartment.
He arrived, unlocking the door and sinking into his bed. He still had that stack of papers on his desk he had to finish by Friday, but that was three days away. He could afford to relax tonight. He reached over and turned on his TV, sliding the disk of Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest into the crappy DVD player and hitting play. It was only four in the afternoon, but Ace fell asleep watching the movie.
He awoke later to the title screen playing over and over again. It took a few minutes for his mind to clear away the fog, but he sat up and glared at the clock, the green blinking numbers showing 1:14am. Ace turned off his television and rolled over, intent on getting more sleep. But a loud bang shook the sleep from his brain as he shot up, instantly on the defensive.
Nothing had been disturbed in his apartment, so Ace assumed that the noise had come from outside. He went to the window and unlatched it, the rusty metal hinge squeaking loudly in protest as he forced the window up. He leaned out, squinting into the darkness. He could see several figures in the alley below him, and one of them was considerably smaller than the others. Then, Conrad's voice floated up. "I can get it! Just… Give me tonight! Please!"
It was then Ace realized the loud bang he had heard was a gunshot. He should have recognized it right away. "I don' think so, brat," One of the older men laughed. Ace carefully climbed out onto the window sill, the fire escape a few feet to his right. He jumped, landing silently in the metal. "You had enough time. Boss wants it tonight."
Ace watched Conrad take a step back, the three brutes starting to advance. Now seemed like a good time as any to interfere. He slammed his foot against the ladder, making it rattle noisily. The four people below him looked up at the sudden interruption. Ace hit it again, and the rusty ladder shuttered again before dropping. It extended fully, one end hitting one of the large brutes, who had been gazing up stupidly.
"DAMN!" He swore, grabbing his mouth. He aimed his gun upwards and shot wildly, missing Ace entirely. Not that it would have made any difference. He hit the top of the ladder, breaking the metal holding it in place. Conrad jumped back as it crashed to the ground.
"Who the hell is there?" Another brute demanded, and Ace snorted.
"Well it's me, obviously." Ace taunted. Another shot was fired, and Ace ducked as the bullet went over his head and embedded it in the bricks behind him. "You're a lousy shot."
"Come down here," The final brute ordered, his gun aimed at the dark figure above them.
Conrad stared up at the figure, recognizing the voice. "Damn it!" He swore, "I told you not to interfere! You might get killed!"
"Aww," Ace leapt down, landing in a crouch, "You care about my safety."
"Shut up," Conrad snapped. "I just don't want to deal with a body."
"It's going to take a lot more than a gun to kill me, kid," Ace said, straightening. He glared, his features visible now that he was closer. All three brutes cocked their guns, pointing them at Ace. In turn, Ace pointed a finger in their direction.
They laughed, "You think pointing at us is going to help?" The second one asked.
"Well," Ace looked down at his finger. "It's more effective than a gun."
"You're insane," Conrad said, backing away from him. "If you have a death wish, that's fine. But leave me out of it."
"I don't have a death wish," Ace replied, a feral grin snaking its way over his face. "The opposite, in fact. I've survived this much, I'm not going to let something as pathetic as a gun take me down."
"Yer an idiot," The first one, the one Ace had hit with the ladder, said. He pointed his gun and shot. Ace didn't move, and the bullet passed cleanly through his forehead. The brute started laughing as Ace's body fell.
"No!" Conrad exclaimed, leaning over Ace. "You killed him!"
"He was asking for it."
Conrad stood, his fists clenched at his sides. He opened his mouth to speak, but Ace's voice interrupted him, "Damn. Haven't been shot in a while."
All four turned to stare incredulously at the dead man, who was sitting up. There was no trace of a wound on his forehead, where they had all watched the bullet hit. Ace stood, pointing at them again. "Alright. That was your shot. My turn."
A small, red, flaming ball seemed to appear from nowhere and hurtled itself at the first brute, who yelped and tried to duck. It grazed his arm, the sleeve immediately catching fire. "Sorry about that," Ace looked sheepish. "I'm out of practice." He aimed at the middle man and fired again, this one hit his stomach, sending the man flying to the mouth of the alley. He looked at the third. "If you want, you can run. But I never want to see your faces here again." He made a fist and held it up menacingly, the appendage catching fire and lighting up the dark space. His glare could be clearly seen.
"Let's get out of here," The third brute said, tugging at his companion's arm. They took off, leaving their last member to stumble to his feet and limp after them.
Conrad stared, his mouth agape. "Wha… Who the hell are you?!"
Ace looked over at the teenager, "I'm Portgas D. Ace. A pirate."