A/N with some warnings (May, 2016; updated January, 2019)
*It's a rather slow-paced story. Also, updates are inhumanly slow, but this story is definitely not abandoned.
*Luffy is more mature, stronger and darker. He can be very ruthless and brutal to those he deems his enemies. He also doesn't shy from killing, but his core personality is still there. Actually, he became a pretty complex character due to his different past. And because of that, the other characters experience changes too.
*There will be many family/nakamaship moments.
*There is no romance in this story, but there will be platonic affection display (hugging, touching, kissing, sleeping together, etc) no matter the character gender. I'm pretty sure all relationship among Straw Hats will be deeper and more emotional. Just sayin'.
*The story is following canon storyline, but this is definitely not canon rehash. While some things stay the same, I try my best to put my own spin on the arcs.
And with that, I hope you'll decide to give this story a shot and enjoy it! :)
A/N (October, 2021)
I'm open for any type of opinion in the comments (likes, dislikes, speculations, questions, etc). I'll appreciate constructive criticism that might help me improve. Just please no telling me that my English sucks. I KNOW it sometimes sucks, comes with territory of not having English as my first language. I'm trying my best, give me a break.
I also appreciate when people write a reason why they decide to drop the story. I'm just curious like that.
Disclaimer: I don't own One Piece
English is not my first language.
Chapter rewritten on August 23, 2020, betaed by The Patient One.
Chapter 1. Homecoming
It was a beautiful day.
Mt. Colubo trees were ancient, timeless as their limbs seemingly grew all the way up to the sky, branches reaching up, grasping at thin air towards the sun. Occasional openings in their crowns allowed plenty of light to filter through and cast a warm luminescence over the ground.
All sorts of sprouts and medleys of flowers claimed sunlit spots in between roots; gnarled, twisted things that dipped into and out of the soil, wrinkled with age, yet their roughness had been worn down by the soft greenness of moss that had slowly made them home.
A cacophony of wild sounds added life to the forest and filled it with constant ambient. Birds twittered, chirping and trilling in various melodies. Small rodents scampered through the foliage, though it was drowned out by the greater beasts prowling and bellowing in the distance. The wind blew through the forest, rustling the leaves in the gentle breeze and bringing a salty taste of the ocean with it.
Exceptionally nice day.
Ace's lip curled up into a snarl and he punched the training dummy.
Rage soared inside with all the power of a wildfire, ready to ignite anything that he came in contact with. Every gust of wind, every cheery bird, the baby blue sky, and the sun itself—destroy all of it. Because Ace was alone with no one to share the beauty of this day.
Four years. It had been four years since Sabo died, Luffy disappeared, and the injustice of this world came crashing down on his head.
Blood hummed in his veins as anger took over, an untapped hatred boiling in his stomach. Pain blazed up Ace's arm as his fist connected with its target.
It was his fault. All of it!
He should have stopped Sabo from leaving, he should have never agreed to work for that bastard, he should have run from Bluejam, he should have tried to return home faster after the fire, he should have—
The wood creaked and splintered under his knuckles.
Ace roared, an amalgamation of grief and rage and helplessness, and plowed the dummy clean off its support and into the far tree.
Sabo died. Murdered by someone so powerful that they could kill a child in front of thousands and go unpunished. No amount of denials or broken dummies could change that. Even now Ace still grieved his brother's death, but at least he knew what happened with him.
Luffy's disappearance was different. Ace woke up every morning with the harrowing knowledge that his little brother might still be somewhere out there, maybe dead, maybe alive. No one knew.
Voices, dark and unwelcome, sometimes whispered into his ear that Luffy was living a happy life now, away from him, that the little rubber ball of energy didn't need him anymore and was better without him. Other times, same voices, enraged and desperate, hissed at the back of his mind, spreading guilt like acid through his veins, conjuring millions of scenarios of what could have befallen his brother, each one worse than the last.
But Ace tried. Even now he still went to the Grey Terminal and Goa Kingdom almost every day to search for clues. Four years, numerous sleepless nights, thousands of conversations, missing person flyers, breaking into various offices for the smallest hints of information, and the only thing Ace could find was the straw hat in the heaps of trash. Luffy's straw hat. The thing that the boy seemed to treasure the most, the thing he always carried with him—abandoned, forsaken.
From that day, the hope that Ace still held on to so stubbornly started to diminish with yet another dead-end in his search for a missing boy.
Ace deflated, going from eruptive fury to crushing hopelessness. Against his will, he felt tears spring into his eyes and he sneered. No wonder everyone left him. He was weak. Useless. Pathetic.
Distant speaking startled the teen out of his self-loathing, venomous trip to the darkest corners of his mind. He pricked his ears. The wind carried another fragment of the voice, but it was too far and too quiet, the words spoken eluded Ace.
He furrowed his brow. After a moment of staring at the direction of the voice, he walked towards it. Someone was on the cliff, Ace realized, the place that held a special place in his heart. Three of them had loved to spend time there and the spot where he exchanged sake cups with his brothers was nearby.
A minute later, Ace reached the forest line. As he stepped over it and into an open field, he shielded his eyes from the sudden blast of wind.
A person was standing on the cliff, facing the sea.
Ace's anger returned tenfold. How dare someone trespass into this place?! The nerve of them to be here all nonchalant when Luffy and Sabo—
Cutting off that thought, Ace stomped towards the person, teeth grinding and expression of sheer contempt and malice. "What are you doing here?!" he demanded.
The trespasser flinched before his shoulders hunched defensively. The wind ruffled the strands of black hair, the sight that whispered to Ace's deepest instincts, but he bulldozed right through them.
Fingers reached to grab the stranger, ready to pound onto the new target, bloody knuckles itching. "Who the hell are—?!"
The trespasser turned around suddenly and snarled.
Hand awkwardly hanging frozen mid-air, Ace stumbled a step back, feeling like he was just sucker-punched. Because that, the person in front of him… The air got stolen from his lungs and his heart might as well have stopped beating, it sure felt that way.
Black hair, black eyes, a small scar arching under the left one. The face that haunted Ace's nightmares—accusing, blaming, hating—as often as its memory brightened his waking hours—happy, smiling, admiring.
A faint, "Luffy…" passed his numb lips. Ace didn't even recognize his own voice, it sounded so breathless.
The boy didn't answer. His glare while steady seemed unfocused, glazed eyes staring directly at Ace, but at the same time straight through him. His neck was bandaged, with more protruding from under his shirt.
For an excruciatingly long moment, Ace couldn't comprehend. He blinked once, twice, then blinked again, trying to make sense of his life right now.
His little brother was back.
Ace sucked in a breath as if only now remembering that his body required oxygen to function.
His little brother was back!
His chest swelled, elated, alive, needy—
"Don't touch me!"
Ace's mind screeched to a halt, Luffy's scream and the violent jerk from his reaching hands dispelling the emotions like a knife through his heart.
"Luffy?" he called, quiet and uncertain. "Luffy, what…" His confusion and desperation gave way to frustration that rapidly spread throughout his veins and his hot temper got the better of him. "What the hell, Luffy?! Where have you—" The remaining words caught like hooks in his throat when he saw his little brother's expression change in reaction to his raised voice.
Luffy all but scrambled away from him in fear. In absolute, overwhelming, all-consuming terror. The same feeling took over Ace's mind when his brother flung himself in the direction of the cliff.
The wind picked up. A sudden, fierce gale that sent Luffy staggering backward and away from the cliff. It allowed Ace to catch up. In a rush of panic, he grabbed his little brother, trapping him in his embrace before the kid could plunge into the yawning depths of the ocean.
"No!" the boy shrieked in a flurry of rubber limbs. "Don't touch me! Let me go!"
A stray elbow struck Ace's stomach. He wheezed, but his hold didn't waver.
"No! Don't—" Luffy's struggles started to slow down as the surge of adrenaline finally ran out. "D-Don't…" He went limp with a raw, broken sound. "Please…"
Ace didn't move. Couldn't. His mind was erratic, uncooperative. Breathing shaky, the blood thundering through his temples, drowning out his thoughts as his heart pounded and pounded and pounded like it was about to burst in his chest.
He didn't know how long he just sat there, dazed and lost and scared, until he finally shook himself, because Luffy was not moving and he was hurt and so small and so light and, oh god, he was burning and nonononono he couldn't lose him, not now, not when he just got him back…
Ace scooped Luffy into his trembling arms and took off.
The room was small, stuffy even, but now it felt almost uncomfortably large. Dimly lit, darkness curling in all corners, crawling along the walls, clinging to the ceiling. Shafts of light burst through the only window, catching on the dust particles suspended in the air, and warmed the floorboards as a bright square in the middle of the room.
Ace sat on the side, shoulders hunched, legs drawn to his chest, arms crossed on top of his knees, and face half-hidden behind them. Dull black eyes stared at one spot almost unblinking.
Luffy rested on the mattress, head turned slightly towards the stream of sunshine, soft glow illuminating his face. Eyes closed, chest rising and falling steadily—he looked so peaceful now.
As soon as Ace had burst in the hut, terror-stricken and out of breath screams for help making everyone's hearts shudder, Dadan almost inhaled her cigarette as her gaze zeroed on the lifeless body in the teen's arms. And then they were all moving, the whole gang in an uproar.
Ace's hands were shaking, he remembered, so badly that he couldn't even help Magra and Dogra to inspect Luffy's condition and change bandages.
He was such a waste of space.
One of Ace's hands clenched into a fist, another around the rim of Luffy's hat, straw groaning under his fingertips. His chest felt hollow, but his throat constricted with too many emotions. Before any of that could spill outwards, he pressed his forehead against his knees, fingers sinking into his hair and scraping across his scalp.
Most of Luffy's wounds were already healed and scarred over. Except one—a huge gash going down the left side of Luffy's neck. The cut had been carefully stitched and in a stage of healing, but its existence alone might as well have been a neon sign of what exactly Luffy went through.
He should have died. It should have been lethal, no way a normal person could have survived something like this.
A multitude of other scars peppered Luffy's shoulders, back, chest, hips, and thighs. All over. Tiny round dots of taut and rugged skin, a few shades lighter than the rest of Luffy's body. Long, whisper-thin lines, overlapping and crisscrossing, a written memoir of devastating pain and unimaginable horrors. And a large mark in the center of Luffy's back, a distinct shape burnt into his flesh.
Under normal circumstances, his little brother rarely scarred, if at all.
Ace knew that Luffy got the scar under his eye before he ate the devil fruit. After that, his rubber body made it almost impossible to scar unless it was a very serious wound or made with something which hurt despite his power.
A chill slid down Ace's spine at that realization.
He didn't even twitch despite missing Dadan entering the room.
Dadan frowned down at the teen. Her gaze flicked to obviously untouched food on a tray and the tired lines on her face deepened. "Ace," she called again.
Dadan glanced at the youngest of her brats, still and pale, unnaturally so. Her chest tightened. It only grew in intensity when she looked back at Ace. "Dammit, you brat," she bit out, hitting the kid's head with a pillow. She almost smirked when he spluttered. "Take a rest. You haven't slept yet, have you?"
Ace yanked the pillow of her grasp and glared.
This time, Dadan let the smirk show.
If Ace could glare any bit angrier after that, his eyeballs would have exploded.
The woman was not intimidated in the slightest. She knew her boys. "It'll be no help to Luffy if you pass out before he even wakes up." Ace's attention immediately shot to his brother, and Dadan watched how the fight seeped out of his rigid shoulders, how the fury drained from his young features and exhaustion settled in.
The teen threw the pillow on the floor, collapsing on it right after with an indignant scoff of, "Fine."
Dadan picked the abandoned tray with cold food and left the room.
Ace stared at Luffy, trying to etch every line of his tranquil expression into his consciousness until sleep finally claimed him.
Ace woke to the rustling of fabrics. As he pushed his face deeper into the pillow, he groaned, irritated.
A barely audible gasp at the side sent a jolt through his brain. A memory of the situation at hand smashed his waking mind with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He jerked from where he was laying, wide awake now, and was able to catch a movement at the corner of his eye. A glance to the empty bedding on the mattress confirmed his suspicion.
Luffy was awake. A tiny figure curled in the dark edge of the room, arms covering his head protectively.
"Luffy," Ace whispered, feeling winded all of a sudden as if his lungs couldn't draw enough air. He crawled closer, hand rising to touch the boy, to make sure he was truly there, but it didn't even manage to make halfway before Luffy was pressing against the wall, as far from the potential contact as possible. Delirious fear made his pupils dilate, but his lips were pulled into a snarl, muscles tense, ready to lash out. Like a cornered beast.
Ace froze. Cautiously, he retreated his arm. "It's me, Luffy," he said, words flowing out with weathered tenderness. "Ace. Your brother."
"Go away!" the boy screamed, teeth bared aggressively, but his whole frame shook uncontrollably. "I'm not—not falling for this! Not—not again…" his voice trailed off into a whisper. "You-You're not real, go away… Ace would never come for me…"
The words sounded so damning in the silence that followed.
Ace made a choked pained sound that he didn't recognize from his vocal cords. "I'm sorry, I—" Must have been guilt wrapping around his neck, suffocating him. Or maybe his heart breaking, shattering into little but dust, down to gritty, worthless specks of dirt.
Ace took a deep breath to glue himself back into some semblance of the big brother he was supposed to be. This wasn't about him. Sabo left Luffy in his care. Luffy was more important. "I—Luffy, I have something for you." He turned and grabbed the straw hat.
It should help, right? Ace hoped it would help.
He lifted the hat and Luffy instantly pushed harder against the wall. "No, please, don't…" he pleaded, voice cracking. "Plea—" The boy's breath hitched the moment the straw hat delicately landed on his head.
Ace kneeled where he stood and buried his face in his hands.
Seconds ticked by. Minutes. No one moved. Silence blanketed the dark room, caressed two brothers sitting next to each other, yet, at the same time, so far, far apart.
Luffy reached for the hat. Slowly, gingerly, his fingers curled around the rim. With a murmur, "Shanks…" his grasp tightened, chin quivering. "Ace?"
Ace's head whipped up to look at his little brother with a reply, "I'm here, Luffy," already leaving his mouth.
The boy bit down on his lip and pulled his hat down, holding it now for all he was worth. "You're real?"
"Yeah." Maybe Ace could make this work, help his brother somehow, useless as he was. "You're safe, Luffy. No one is going to hurt you."
Luffy let out a whimper; the noise so wounded, so profoundly awful that Ace wanted nothing else but to stuff his fists against his ears to make it stop.
He didn't. He deserved to hear it. All of it.
Luffy slammed into his brother, rubbery limbs wrapping around his waist. It was so unexpected, that Ace couldn't catch himself in time, losing balance and falling on his behind.
"Ace, I'm sorry! I'll never do that again! I'm sorry! Don't make me return to that place. Please, Ace! I don't want to go back. Don't—don't send me back, please… Please, Ace, don't send me back…"
The sudden pleas stunned him. His heart was beating what felt like a million times a minute and his body numbed.
"I don't like that place… They said bad things about me and—and they said nobody will come for me! Not you, not Sabo, not Grandpa… and you never came! But—but I'm not angry! Just please don't make me go back… Please…" The sobs spilled out of Luffy so quickly, he couldn't quite catch his breath. It took him several seconds to find his voice again. "They made me do things, Ace. Things I didn't like to do… Please, Ace, let me stay here. I-I'll be good, I'll listen to you, I won't eat a lot, I won't cry anymore, just… Don't send me back, Ace… Please…" Luffy's blubber quieted into incoherent weeping, a few discernible 'please' still slipping through.
Ace felt raw, like every layer of skin had been peeled off and his innards bared to the elements. Every strangled sob, every tiny 'please'—it hurt. It left gaping, bleeding wounds on the surface of his vile existence, on his worthless soul.
Ace forced his arms up, two pointless things that couldn't even help in protecting what was important, and put them around the trembling boy. "I'd never…" He had to pause, to collect himself enough to continue speaking. "I'd never make you go where you don't want to. Never." He spat the word with vehemence. "You'll stay here with me and you can do whatever you want and eat however much you want."
Luffy didn't respond.
"You hear me, little brother?"
This time, the teen felt Luffy nod, sniffling into his shirt. "S-Sorry…"
Ace's hold on his brother grew stronger and more desperate, to the point that he wasn't sure if it was for Luffy's sake anymore. He needed it equally as much. "You don't have to be sorry for anything," Ace whispered, the younger boy's black hair soft as it sifted between his fingers. "This is your home. I'm your big brother, no one is going to hurt you here."
"Thanks, Ace. I—" Luffy's voice broke. He snuggled closer. "I missed you and Sabo so much…"
Ace's heart skipped a beat. Luffy didn't know that Sabo had died. There was no way that he could tell the news now. Not while his brother was in this kind of state.
The teen picked up the straw hat that had fallen on the floor and placed the hat on the boy's head again. "We missed you too, Luffy."
They lapsed into content silence, basking in each other's presence. Ace had no intention of removing Luffy from his lap anytime soon. If they ended up sitting like that for the next week or so, he wouldn't mind it at all.
The peace was broken by a rumble of Ace's stomach as it obnoxiously demanded food. Not even a second after, he heard an agreeable growl coming from Luffy.
Ace felt the boy tensing, but he couldn't smother the short bark of laughter in time.
Luffy visibly relaxed and huffed into his chest that sounded suspiciously like a fragment of a giggle. At this very moment, it was the most beautiful sound in the world. Happiness flowed through Ace, warming his skin like the rays of the summer sun. Nothing like an open, rambunctious laugh he so loved and yearned to hear again, but it was a start.
Ace got one of his brothers back.
It was a beautiful day.
Next Chapter: Free as the Pirate King
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