It was cold and dark when Portgas D. Ace was admitted.
The doctors and nurse attending the ward fussed about, bandaging his arms and scolding him until one came and whisked him inside a room, tugging him under the bed covers and wishing him goodnight. Even from where he laid he heard the unmistakeable sound of the door being locked.
He found it was cold.
He glanced about the room, meeting stacks of books piled at the corner and empty cupboard nobody must have used for years and a desk that seemed as lonely as him, shoved at the end of the room like that. Abandoned.
Ace blinked and crawled away from the bed, canting his head around the dark room before he padded down the floor and trying for the door that clicked under his soft hand, slightly surprised that the lady didn't lock it like the many other nurses he had seen do. Or maybe the door was old and broken. Too old and broken to be locked. With a firm nod, Ace walked down the corridor quietly, not wanting anybody to notice him wandering about. Grandpa always got mad at him for that. But Ace needed to see him. Needed to find him. Before the dark thoughts came again.
Soon after he rounded the corner, he heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps behind him. He turned and felt a warmth nestle in his chest, puffing the bad thoughts away. He had always like the smiling face of little Luffy. But he recognised something else inside the black pools of his eyes. It was something sad, something like deep melancholy.
"I'm glad I found you! I thought they were taking you away forever."
"Stupid. I've told you I won't leave. Not like the others." Ace heard himself mutter, sneaking bandaged arms around Luffy, feeling him relax in his embrace and subsequently the tension from his own shoulders ebbed away too.
He never liked seeing Luffy like this. He has been wandering around for a long time, looking for friends and companions. Someone that would be there for him and Ace promised he would be that person. No matter what those bandages around his wrist were constantly screaming.
Ace would be there.
And if that meant ignoring everything his Grandpa said and taught him, he would do so. He would ignore those annoying Doctors too and their insistence that Ace was out of his mind.
But Ace knew he wasn't seeing things. It was Luffy right there in his arms. It was Luffy, and he was real. So real. Ace hugged Luffy tighter until he slowly let go.
"So where have you been this time?" Ace asked after some time they waded through the empty corridors. Ace canted his head several times, but never caught glimpses of anyone or anything. No lies. No silent footsteps echoing from other wards.
"What do you mean? I've been here all along." Luffy asked and titled his head as though he was deep in thought, but then he nodded, confirming what he said with a thick frown. "Yeah, I've been here waiting for you all along."
Despite what Luffy said, Ace was sure he sneaked into Grandpa's compartment again. Rode with them on the way to hospital and followed them all the way to this ward. It was crazy. But Luffy was crazy. If Ace had learned anything by being with Luffy, it's how unpredictable and illogical he was. But Ace knew best that Luffy would do anything from keeping himself lonely-free.
Even if it meant facing death.
Ace honestly doesn't want to know who lies on the other side that Luffy is so desperately, so keen to meet again. Whoever it is, Ace had deep hatred for that person. Dying like that on Luffy is unforgivable.
But Ace was glad. Super glad he met him then. He honestly doesn't want to think about what would have happened if Luffy went ahead and jumped down that building.
He tightened his hand on Luffy, who looked back at him owlishly but smiled anyway and swung their hands back and froth. Ace sighed and threw him a wane smile. He really doesn't want to think back on it. Back at what he would have done too, if he hadn't met Luffy at that time.
"I think the roof is left open. Should we go watch the stars?"
"No." Ace shook his head with a frown. "No roofs for you."
Luffy had the nerve to throw his head back and laugh. "It'll be fine. They won't catch us. I won't be too loud. Promise."
Ace shook his head still. Half annoyed that Luffy never understood that roofs and him were a bad combination. It bubbled memories up in his mind he spent a large deal forgetting about. When Luffy started to pout and his face saddened, Ace relented but not in the way Luffy liked— he always said he looked like an old man if he does that. Ace frowned but tugged his hand lightly, moving to round the corner. "How about we raid the kitchen instead?"
Luffy's face lightened, much more than before and Ace was sure he was thinking about the large amount of meat he'd get his hands on. Ace stifled a laugh when Luffy crawled inside the fridge and threw whatever wasn't meat or edible in his standard away. Ace watched amused, sitting at the counter and sipping from the cola that Luffy threw away too, wondering a little bit, how hungry Luffy must have been. But just a little bit. It didn't take long for Ace finish up the coke and join Luffy to eat a fair share of meat before Luffy had the chance to inhale it all up.
Luffy glanced at him surprised, perhaps not expecting company near the fridge and Ace snorted at the absurdity of his expression, whacking him over the head. "I'm hungry. What else are you wanting me to eat?"
Luffy pointed at a stray loaf of bread near some spread cheese and Ace made a face, wrinkled his nose in distaste whilst Luffy broke into an ecstatic smile that Ace could only barely mirror.
Maybe it was his half annoyed expression that Luffy always found funny, or maybe Luffy noticed his half smile and laughed brighter, lighter than before and extra bright for Ace too. Ace wasn't sure. Well, not completely sure. He never really knew with Luffy. But Ace heard him laugh that endearing Shi Shi Shi Shi again that Ace hated so much.
But Ace couldn't help smiled fondly too. Whether that was because of the flicking warmth burning inside his chest, or Luffy's funny head that was meat streaked and had sauce dripping down his chin with his hair sprinkled with cheese, he'd rather not think about. He pictured this moment as a memory instead, filing it in a special place inside his mind and cherished it, knowing already that these small moments wouldn't last. But he didn't dwell on it and stuffed his face with another piece of meat.
Forget with what everybody else thought. Ace was going to live his life the way he wanted.
Even if it meant including Luffy in his life, and making his grandpa and the doctors bent mad.
Ace simply didn't care.
Ace woke up to meet a very angry Grandpa. He was furious. Livid. Raging for blood. Ace watched him confused despite blurriness of his vision. He didn't understand why he was angry nor did he particularly care. But he was pretty sure he'd be in the receiving end if they didn't placate the old man soon.
With a yawn, Ace rubbed the sleepiness away from his eyes, slowly blinking to watch his Grandpa again. The Doctors were trying their best to keep him away from him, and Ace couldn't help but be confused. But since it was Grandpa, a tight hug and a soft spoken I love you would cast all bad spells away and he'd be happy again, at least enough to be throwing Ace in the air in roaring laughter. Ace knew how much these words made Grandpa happy, although he didn't understand why. Ace always thought they were meaningless words.
He slowly rose and threw the covers away only to noticed he was tangled in chords, tubes and what not. Ace blinked and glanced around, watched the beeping machinery in the room connected to him.
"What?" Ace almost didn't recognised his own voice. It was hoarse, so rasped, so deep. He swallowed only to realise how parched his throat was. A nurse slowly pushed him back down and rose the covers up. A glass of water in her hand she didn't hesitate giving him. In a matter of seconds his Grandfather was hovering above him, gently ruffling his hair and muttering that it'd be okay. That he was alright. Ace didn't understand. He was okay. At least, as far as he knew. But he couldn't trust his own judgement. Not with how distraught everything was.
"What happened?" Ace asked, it was way better than assuming anyway. But when something flickered across Grandpa's face, Ace couldn't help but frown. Maybe he was better off not knowing. The last time Grandpa looked so stricken, he had almost killed him. Ace remembered vaguely that Grandpa had blasted Dadan's kitchen up and set their house on fire. How that was possible, Ace had absolutely no idea. But he remembered hating his Grandpa's absurd will to prepare a festive feast to celebrate Father's day. And Ace hated his fate to turn him out to be the only one catching carbon monoxide poisoning whilst the others got away with simply smoke inhalation.
So Ace liked to think it was only natural and fully acceptable to fist his covers in his hand and raise it to his face, chuting away from his Grandpa. But not too damn far away apparently. His Grandpa still managed to ruffle his hair and grin all too wide. Ace couldn't help but think that there was still something wrong with it.
"Don't you worry. Grandpa got everything under control. I'll find that punk that did this to you."
Ace didn't understand. He did this himself, didn't he? But perhaps that didn't exactly matter. Maybe Grandpa didn't need to know things he wouldn't understand anyway. He looked across the room, ignoring the chatter among the adults and looked for a familiar pair of owlish eyes that he couldn't find. "Nee, Grandpa? Where's Luffy?"
The chatter halted.
Ace saw the adults give another confused glances and caught Grandpa glancing at him uneasily. But even form that flighty glance, Ace could see the conflicting emotions bubbling inside his onyx orbs before his Grandpa shifted his glance and moved to glare at the Doctors. "I thought you said his head was alright."
"His head should be alright. Although he might be slightly concussed, the moment of impact hadn't been severe enough to cause him major head injuries nor to have affected his mentality in any way. He was lucky, you might even say." one of the Doctors said, looking at his clipboard before glancing at Grandpa. "Are you sure the name Luffy doesn't sound familiar to you?"
"Of course it does!" Grandpa's eyes narrowed for a moment. Ace could see the worry and hesitation forming in his eyes afterwards. "But Ace couldn't have known Luffy."
"Of course, I know Luffy!" Ace corrected and frowned at Grandpa's weird choice of words, turning to look at the elder with narrow eyes. "Why wouldn't I know my friend?"
Something flashed across Grandpa's face too fast for Ace to discern, but he still liked to think it was a strange mix of pain and exasperation—strange, just like his Grandpa. When the elder moved to rub his hand across his face, sighing deeply so much it seemed to drain the life of him, Ace thought he couldn't be far off with his deduction. But he listened quietly, despite the confusion his Grandpa's words arose in his mind.
"I know it pains you, Ace. But you need to stop. It's time to let go. He isn't here anymore. Luffy is. . .gone. "
Ace stared. Was the old man becoming senile? He shook his head. That couldn't be it. Maybe he had just forgotten. But how could he forget his own Grandchild? Ace fisted the covers tighter in his hand, now determined to make his Grandpa remember the tiny boy with his funny hat. "What are you talking about? Luffy didn't leave. You even saw him the other day. Can't you remember? you even threw a fit because he ate your sandwich."
The confusion in Ace couldn't be topped anymore by Grandpa's pained expression. Was he feeling sad? Was he upset? For all Ace knew, the elder didn't hit Luffy too hard to feel apologetic. He never did after all. Besides, Luffy had only gotten a bruise and a couple of scratches from struggling. It wasn't all that bad. Ace had taken care of him after all, bandaging him up and all. "I know you two had your disagreements Grandpa but you shouldn't say he doesn't live with us. It's rude. It's mean. And he's gonna cry again if he hears you say that. I definitely don't want to deal with that."
A crying Luffy, was a heartbreaking Luffy. Not to mention that once he started bailing his eyes out he wouldn't stop. He won't shut up and it always got super annoying. Especially when Ace starts to feel like he wanted to join him in his misery. Ace glanced up when he noticed that the adults quieted down and observed him with contemplating glances.
"What?" Ace barked out and throws them a challenging look. "I'm not dreaming this up."
Ace honestly didn't like they way they are looking at him. So worried. Saddened. Confused.
"I'll show you." Ace gritted his teeth and threw the covers away, plucking the tubes away from him, and the nurse next to him panicked and grabbed him to keep him still, shouting over the shoulders some rubbish Ace couldn't careless about. "I'll get Luffy and show you that he exists! I'll definitely show you so let me go!"
Ace kicked and punched at anybody that dared to get in his way as he wrung himself out of their grasp and fought to get out of the bed but he didn't get far. One punch, packed with love, from Grandpa sent him immobilised on the bed, howling in pain. He snarled and glared, clutching his head tightly. "Damn you Gramps! Just let me go!"
"Calm down, Ace. You can show me your imaginary Luffy after your injuries healed! Until then you're bedridden, is that clear?"
"Luffy isn't imaginary! I wasn't dreaming!" Ace voice was closed to hysteric. "He was here! We raided the kitchen last night!"
"LAST NIGHT YOU WERE UNCONSCIOUS, YOU STUPID BRAT!" A voice roared and the door banged the door open, and Dadan barged into the room in big strides, speaking heatedly despite that Grandpa was still inside the room, and would probably intimidate her into a pulp for the harsh words she was throwing at him. "What's the matter with you? stirring up such a commotion! You should be grateful that they even bothered to fix you up. Can you even begin to fathom how much trouble you have caused them? Caused us? You should be kissing our feet in gratitude that we even bothered to save someone like you! A useless, selfish brat like you!"
"Dadan!" Grandpa's voice was firm and stoic but never once did he refute her words. "This is not the time to be lecturing him. He just woke up."
Ace didn't know what to think. His thoughts were a matter of snippet fluttering out of his reach. And he blinked against the rising headache throbbing against his eyes. Completely sure that Grandpa and Dadan and much like anyone else in this room was bonkers. Of course did Ace raided the kitchen together with Luffy, how can they assume anything otherwise? Ace certainly had the memories so it must have happened. It must be true.
He didn't particularly care that Dadan was mad out of her wits. She always was. Whenever he gild the blade to his wrist, she never cared enough to stop him. Ace trailed his fingers down his arm in remembrance, fingers sliding to his wrist, feeling the. . . .soft flesh?
Ace blinked and looked down. Where were his bandages? Where were his scars?
Just what happened?
What on earth did I do?
"What did you do? I tell you what you did!" Dadan was nearing him again, and Ace noticed he must have said it out loud. From the corner of his eyes he saw the Doctors cowering away from her. "You've never listened to me!"
"What? I never listened?" Ace juggled that idea into his head. Frowning, when he found nothing to prove that ridiculous accusation. Of course, he listened. He had always listened. Had always bought food from the supermarket whenever she shouted. Cleaned his room whenever she forced him to. Even cooked whenever she was (apparently) too tired to do so. His feature darkened into a scowl. "What are you talking about, you barbarous hag! I did listen to you!"
"No, you've never, you damned brat!" she screeched back, her deep voice nowhere recognisable as her vocal tone fluctuated to an unusually high-pitch sound, screeching into Ace's ears and quaking avalanches of throbs pulsating into Ace's head. He groaned. "I told you to say away from that horrendous life-style! Told you to stay away from those people! Those hooligans! But never do you listen to me, you brat! And see what you got from it!"
Ace stared at Dadan, rubbed his eyes and stared back at her, but no—no other head was growing on her body. His eyes were alright. Head properly functioning.
I knew it wasn't me that's crazy. It's Dadan that has some screws loose.
But Dadan only gnashed her teeth at his silence. But before another rage-led spewing fit could ensue, another voice spoke up.
"Dadan, not now. Ace needs to rest."
It was Grandpa, speaking with an amount of firmness that sounded strange coming from him, but Ace could hear the curiosity mounting underneath each word. Grandpa obviously wanted to continue this conversation and Ace didn't see why not.
"No need. I'm fine."
"I'm not." Ace rose his arms and wriggled his fingers. "I'm fine. I don't feel pain."
"How can this be?" Grandpa muttered, watching the Doctors squabble about, unravelling Ace's bandages, reaching across his back and legs in haste. But indeed, just like Ace said. He was fine.
No injuries. No burns. No surgery scars.
"This shouldn't be possible...?" one of the Doctors muttered in awe. But Ace didn't entirely get what the deal was about. He pulled the covers to himself. Not liking at all the way they stared him and his exposed skin. He wasn't a research project nor a test object. He hoped the scowl he gave them made as much clear and Ace relaxed slightly when they tensed and looked away from him.
A nurse stared at him fairly sceptical. "I knew something was off from the moment you trashed on the bed. No normal patient could move like that after surgery. Regardless of how many weeks you've slept through."
Ace just scowled again and that just shut her up. He smiled satisfied. Maybe he should do that more often. . . .
"That's my Grandson!" Grandfather barked a laugh and patted Ace back. "Now that you're healed we might as well take you back home!"
A Doctor cleared his throat. Ace was surprised he hadn't notice him before. He looked a lot younger than the other doctors. "I'd like to make a couple of tests first. To be sure he's completely healed, of course." he added when Grandpa started to frown. But before the old man could agree, Dadan intercepted.
"He'll come for check ups. That should be enough." She gave the Doctor a glare and he nodded, secretly smirking, and the moment Dadan moved toward the door, it widened. But when she halted on the door way, Ace was surprised to note that the smirk was gone and replaced by a cold expression on the Doctor's face. Ace was fairly suspicious but before he could dwell on it, Dadan spoke. "I'll get the front door and the car ready for you."
The door slammed shut.
"You have five to ten minutes to look him over." Grandpa muttered and left the room as well with a firm bang. Ace blinked and glanced around. Now it was only him and the Doctors that were quick set up new machinery across the room and dismantle the previous ones with speed Ace difficulty keeping up with.
"This will sting, Portgas-ya." Ace turns to see a younger Doctor slowly nearing him with a thick needle or was that syringe? Ace frowned but it soon turn out to be a blink when he felt himself growing heavy. Weary.
When did he—?
Before he slumped and succumbed to deep sleep a second time, Ace caught a glimpse of the Doctor's sharp smirk and dangerous twinkling eyes.
"You're under my care now."
"What did you do to him—!?"
Ace shifted, turned, twisted.
Hot. Too hot.
"The procedures went out of hand, it seems. Worry not—"
Ace rolled over with effort. The sheets were sticky. Too heavy. He moaned and fought the sheets away from him. But it came back. And engulfed his whole. He stretched his head, taking in a sharp breath. The covers were sticky. Hot. Trapping him in place. Taking his breath away.
"—You gave him too much!"
Ace moaned. So hot. So sticky.
"—It's just some medication. He'll just sleep awhile longer."
Cold hands touched his forehead and Ace fought against it. Turned his face away. Whining under his breath and pushed the sheets away. Turning, twisting.
"—Can you even call this sleeping!?"
The sheets came off and cool air wafted his cheeks. Cold. So cold.
But he liked it.
Until he started to shiver.
"Would you would do something…!"
Something pierced his skin.
Ace moaned. Felt heavy. Felt limp.
But the cold went away.
It was comfortable.
Ace turned his head and fell asleep.
Ace was sure that Doctor—no, that Surgeon Law—done it on purpose. Injected that stuff in him that had him asleep for three days extra and bedridden for two. For safety precautions, he said with that awful smirk. Ace muttered curses under his breath. That mutt did it on purpose. Absolutely on purpose. And the lady in front of him wasn't helping his cause. Ace glared. Hard. "And why am I here still?"
As far as Ace knew he could have left when he first woke. And that was five days ago.
"As I said; it's for safety precaution. I have answered this question for the last twenty minutes. I've had enough." Kalifa said with the same fierceness, adjusting her glasses as a sign of finality and turned back to her papers. Ace snorted and crossed, leaning back against the many, plushy pillows the nurses had taken the pain to arrange this morning and glared at her.
"That's because you keep giving me the same answer." Ace retorted right back. "I want to know why I'm here, not the benefits."
Kalifa rose her head, the glasses were barely covering up the burning fire sizzling inside her eyes as she stressed for the last time, pen snapping in two. "Safety. Precaution. That's all you need to know."
"I'm not satisfied." Ace glared. She glared right back. At least until she lowered her papers onto the table and glanced left and right across the room. Ace interest perked up and he leaned closer to her, offering his ear when she whispered:
"Garp-san will fill you in."
Ace sank in his bed dejectedly. "You got my hopes up for nothing."
Kalifa smirked, just like the way that Law did before, and Ace knew that there was more to it. Knew it was related to his unreasonable overstay at the hospital. Knew it was related to Law over-injecting that stuff to him. Knew it was related to why Kalifa was tight-lipped and stingy with information. And he hated to know that the information was just out of his reach. Ace hit his head against the headboard, asking for the umpteenth time. "And just why am I here still?"
"I just told you; precautionary measurements."Kalifa was seething. Despite her cool demeanour, Ace knew inside she was seething. The papers in her hands were crinkled and her jaw was set tight. Ace waited for her to rage, knowing she'd be ready to palaver everything he wanted to hear but Kalifa kept her mouth shut in a taunt line, apologising and muttering instead that she let her anger get the better of her. Ace watched annoyed but fascinated when her facial expression became frigid.
"So you won't tell me anything?"
She didn't even give him a glance. Nor even a sign of attentiveness. She wasn't even listening to him anymore. Ace asked again, and then again. But Kalifa ignored him. But if she thought Ace would let the matter drop just because of that then she was greatly mistaken. If Ace had one thing going for him then it was his tenacity. Once Ace set his eyes on an objective then he will definitely achieve it. Be it at the cost of a broken leg or a severe concussion. It didn't matter. Ace will get his information no matter that. And Kalifa was on her way to experience it first hand.
"Is that so? Yeah?" Ace said challengingly, kicking the blankets away. Kalifa was still not responding, but that was fine. Ace saw her secretly glancing at him. But that didn't stop him either. Without further ado, Ace walked passed the floor scattered game consoles towards the open window.
By the time Kalifa realised his intention, the frigidity melted away from her expression and was replaced by pure horror. She jumped up from her chair, bolted toward him, stretched her arms out to catch him, to reach him-
But it was too late.
And after a moment there was a crack! Doctors and nurses rushed out of the hospital to aid him. Bystanders rushed towards him to gawk in unmasked fascination, and all the while Kalifa kept her position by the window, frozen by horror at the sight in front of her, but most of all the thought of Garp's reaction shook her to the core.
I was meant to protect him.
She lowered her arms and cursed Ace's inquisitive nature. Now, they had to tell him. Kalifa thought as she gazed bemused at the photographers gathering from afar. But not if she could change that. Kalifa turned and ran out of the room, phone in hand, already dialling herself out of this mess.
I just hope I won't lose my job.
Ace woke up to a foul mood and severe a pain on his arm. It was broken. Casted up. Probably by Law. Ace made a face and banged the door shut. It wasn't like he didn't expected that. On the contrary, the young Surgeon and his armies of Doctors were the only ones that were treating him. Ace really wanted to know why, and he couldn't help but smirk, knowing that he will get his answers now.
It was a matter of time until the news reach Grandpa and knowing him he would barge
head first in here, violently inquiring about the depth of Ace's insanity. Just perfect for Ace to question his Grandpa's motives as well.
Ace banged another door shut. What was that old man even thinking, ordering the hospital's personnel to keep watch on him around the clock and not even bothering to explain why?
But what annoyed him the most was that all the while Ace was stuck in his prison, Luffy never bothered to show up. Not even once.
(He's sick of you.)
A slick voice muttered and Ace snarled in response, looking down through another door, meeting surprised and confused glances but no owlish eyes. No straw hat. No Luffy. Ace banged the door shut and tried the next door.
Where could he be? Ace already tried the kitchen. The common room. The toilets. Ace could only think that Luffy got lost somewhere in the wards. Maybe he sidetracked, saw someone he knew at the hospital and spent the entire week Ace was caged inside that hospital room catching up, all the while forgetting about Ace. Now it wasn't like he was jealous or needy, but he'd just like to be aware so he didn't need to worry.
Because Luffy always made him worry.
The voice snickered.
(He found better friends.)
Ace frowned and opened the next door and banged it close, getting increasingly annoyed and frustrated with his lack of findings. He called Luffy's name again. Ignoring the frantic calls of the nurses behind him and gave them his signature scowl whenever they dared to touch him and haul him back.
"Luffy!" Ace called, trying for the next door when a thought struck him.
What if he fell asleep inside the compartment again?
That wouldn't be the first time. That idiot had a habit to sneak inside it whenever Grandpa drove Ace across the city. With increasing alarm Ace ran, down the stairs, down the halls towards the car park only to realise that his Grandpa's car wasn't there. Ace whirled around towards the only nurse that managed to keep up with his frantic speed, asking, "When is Grandpa coming?"
"Why...?" The nurse caught her breath, hair undone and her tiny hat askew. It took a while for the redness to recede but her face regained her normal complexity at last. "In half an hour, of course. Now if you'd follow me back to your room. You need to get ready. You'll have visitors."
"Visitors? Is it. . .?" Ace heart hammered hard in his chest. "Is it Luffy?"
The nurse stared at him confused before she slowly shook her head. "No, not friends. It's the police."
Ace glanced at her confused but let her drag him back to his room, where the nurse rummaged through the bag Dadan brought several days ago, throwing out jeans and complementary shirts. "Choose, quickly." she ordered, opening the door wide open for her to step through. "Surgeon Law-san wants to have another look at you before they come."
"Why is the police coming here?" As far as Ace knew he hadn't done anything bad- at least nothing that requires police attention. What could they possible want from him?
She halted, turning to look at him surprised before something akin to understanding flitted through her expression. She answered his question, giving him a sympathising smile and slowly closed the door behind her.
"Garp-san will tell you."
Ace's face darkened. To hell with his Grandpa. To hell with that nurse. To hell with everybody. Why couldn't they just answer his question?
Ace glared at his clothes. Glared at his bed. Glared at the room he was confined in for no reason. His gaze shifted towards the windows, now drilled shut and sealed with bars. His stare turned longingly at the freedom that awaited him outside his these walls. But then it was replaced by surprised. A familiar car drove passed towards the hospital entrance.
No doubt that was his Grandpa's car. Ace twisted his head to the clock. Indeed, he was early. Too early. His Grandpa usually had the tendency to arrive late whenever possible. Ace bit his lip and gazed towards the door. But he made up his mind and strode forwards, praying silently that no-one guarded it.
He was lucky. The hallway was empty. That alone sky-rocketed Ace's interest. Since Ace woke up the first time, his Grandpa made sure to hire somebody to keep watch around the clock. Usually it was Kalifa but Ace hadn't seen her since he jumped from the window. He shrugged. He didn't need to be babysit anybody. He was fifteen already old enough to take care of himself.
Ace sneaked passed the nurses and the Doctors down to the first floor. He saw his Grandpa talking at the reception, typically barking a laugh until strange men came up to him. With rising confusion Ace watched them walk off, heading inside an elevator. Ace sneaked closer, making sure to hide behind people, pots and carts. He ignored the pointed fingers from children and strange looks an elderly lady gave him as Ace peeked at the elevator's number. It stopped at the seventh floor. Ace eyebrows rose sceptically. His own room was stationed on the fourth floor. It didn't seem like his Grandpa to mix up rooms or floors.
Ace punched the bottom and waited for the elevator to descend.
He wouldn't be Portgas D. Ace if he didn't get to the bottom of this.
Ace was struck to find his Grandpa together in a room with his previous supervisor Kalifa, the long-nose named, Kaku, and the pigeon carrying Boss, Rob Lucci. There were also two more people Ace had never seen before. A man that sat on his seat like he owned the place, two thick cigars stuck out from his mouth and a woman in glasses standing right behind him. Both of them faced his Grandpa that sat right across them. Ace squinted through a narrow gap, frowning from his position behind the door. Who were they?
Kalifa moved then, handing his Grandpa a newspaper before she resumed her position on the couch, where the Pigeon Boss and Long Nose sat. Even from where Ace was, he could see the tiredness wash over his Grandpa's eyes in a flash before it was replaced by irritation and amusement, reading out loud:"Hospital not carefully constructed; a patient fell out of a window unsupervised. . . ."
Kaku chuckled. "From a newspaper article that could have been titled; 'Bombing suspect attempted suicide out of guilty feelings, this is surprisingly reassuring. Don't you think?"
Lucci replied monotonously, not even sparing Kalifa so much as a glance, eyes firmly kept on the newspaper. "Having no article publicised at all would be reassuring."
Kalifa only adjusted her glasses. Her cheeks tinting slightly red. "That's not the problem, I believe."
"That's right!" The man smoking the two cigar threw a leg on the table, stirring all the attention on him. "The problem is, why I have been denied to fulfil my duty all this time." He glared at Garp through sharp eyes. "We both know that brat is healed already. And it is in my jurisdiction that I take full custody of this case and see it through—regardless of what an acute pain it actually is. So let us interview him already and be done with it."
"I have never denied you to take action. As far as I know, I have called you in today, yes?" his Grandfather was surprisingly calm and serious. Ace blinked. By know he had expected him to throw his head back and laugh, commenting how gutsy that man was actually being to treat Grandpa like that.
"That Law refused my entry several times! It was under your commission, was it not?" something dark flashing across the man's eyes before he turned away for a moment, snorting at nothing and threw his leg off the table, sitting up and leaning forward, hands knitted together in front of his nose as though he meant serious business. Ace brows rose, sending a quick glance to his Grandpa.
Doesn't that man even know who he's dealing with? Acting like this in front of Grandpa. . . .
"The Surgeon of Death isn't under my command and you're well aware of that. If he has denied your entry it was because he saw so fit, Smoker. This hospital is under his jurisdiction, not mine."
Smoker kept his eyes fixed on Grandpa. "As if you didn't have a hand in it."
"So where is he?" The woman behind him opened her mouth for the first time, bringing them back on topic. "You approved of our visit, did you not? So where is Ace-kun?"
"You'll meet him eventually- and that's after Law checked him over during the next twenty minutes." Kalifa gazed on her watch before glancing at them. "We planned to spend this time to recollect on that event as well as to reflect on your findings. You haven't been exactly forthcoming with information, I recall."
"Only because I didn't have to be." Smoker retorted right back. "In fact, the only think I have to do right now is interview that brat and be on my way."
"Smoker, we're talking about my Grandson." Grandpa's voice was quiet but it drove chills under Ace's back, and he wondered how the others managed to stay calm. This was worse than his Grandpa's bursts of warm anger. This was menacing instead. Cold. Ace didn't like it. It didn't sound like his Grandpa. It sounded like that law-enforcer in him that Ace never liked. But why was Grandpa talking about him?
The freckled boy turned to look at Smoker. It seemed his Grandpa somehow managed to make him relent because he titled his head as though he weighted his thoughts into pros and cons. But not much it seemed. Smoker leaned back, blew ringlets of smoke into the air as he mulled it over, arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Well, if you're talking about the fine that awaits you, worry not. The brat's punishment wasn't passed due to inaccuracies in witness testimonies. He may have been found on the highway, there wasn't a single camera that recorded the accident. As you probably know, the few snippets that people have seen weren't enough to forge an insightful perspective of the event. There's no hard evidence that identifies him as the initiator of the crash—and now that the brat is awake, he's an amnesic with no recollection of the car crash. And it doesn't help that the other offender—Burgess—is still in intensive care."
"Car crash?" Ace muttered and furrowed his brows in thought. He remembered a highway, speeding cars and a voice crying into his ears in laughter.
"Come on Ace! I want to show you an awesome place!"
Ace halted, held a hand in front of his mouth at the onslaught of distant memories, swallowing thickly, ridding the acidic taste at the back of his throat. But it was lodged in his throat, burning him, suffocating him.
"Let me take you!"
Ace clutched his chest, struggled to breath, felt nauseous with each sharp turn of his head, rid each and every painful distant echo off his mind. It was a lie. It could only be a lie. Luffy was barely twelve and so small, how could he even stretch his head enough to see the windscreen? Not to mention press the gas peddle at the same time? As far as Ace knew Luffy had no clue what shifting gears meant. Let alone be able to recognise the road signs. How could anybody even think that Luffy could drive a car? Ace would never allow him to sit anywhere near the front seats. Grandpa and the others must be definitely mistaken. There mere thought that Luffy was. . . .
Bloody images flooded his mind and he saw a familiar crooked grin, red streaked teeth, wide dead eyes and-
Ace shuddered, shut his eyes tight, fought against the rising burn, the welling dryness of his throat that choked his breath. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
What did I do? Why did I let him?
Ace bit his lips, quieting his whimpers down. Men didn't cry.
Ace dared to near the door again, red eyes peeking through the small gap between door and the frame. Mind craving to know where his friend was. But instead his finding answers he only saw a mixture of annoyance and disbelief scattered across Kaku's and Kalifa's faces. Except the pigeon carrying boss, his was like always completely stoic. He saw Kalifa's hands tightened as she quietly muttered words under her breath that Ace guessed to be her catchphrase. "How insolent."
Ace rubbed his eyes, annoyed at their lack of care. Luffy was gone. How could they not care? Ace rose to his feet, struggling to reach up to the door.
A hand stopped him.
Ace trailed the hand on his arm to its rightful owner only to meet an ugly, knowing smirk that he hated so much.
"Law." Ace wheezed out, turning fully towards him, not caring about how tear-streaked his face was. "I wanna know where Luffy is."
The hopeful glint in Ace eyes was crushed completely when the Surgeon of Death only place a finger on his lips and titled slightly his head towards the door.
Why won't anybody tell me?
Ace was ready to throw a fit. Ready to smash anything and everything in his way.
"You might find out if you keep on listening, Portgas-ya."
Ace looked away from his clenching fist and gazed up, staring at the Surgeon's stoic expression before he returned his eyes towards the room in front of him.
I might find out?
He saw his Grandpa shook his head dismissively, and Ace was relieved to see the fire rekindle inside his old man's onyx eyes. The police in him was gone. "Forget the fine. I'm more worried about how the others have taken it."
"You mean the Whitebeards?" Smoker snorted yet again, propping his head on his fist. "Like anybody else would, I guess. They take the brat to be a traitor. Not surprisingly, really. The brat was the only one that did not attend. But you already know that, don't you?"
Grap was silent for a moment until he nodded at last. "Of course, I do. How about you start filling me in the details that I'm not yet aware of?"
"I will for five thousand bucks."
Ace's eyes widened. So much?
It seemed he wasn't the only one surprised by the amount as the woman behind smoker spluttered indignantly. "But Smoker-san. . ."
"What?" he spared her a glance. "Business doesn't come easy. You should know that, Tashigi."
"But we don't sell information- we keep them." She shook her head in disbelief, face expression completely aghast. Ace wondered about that. Why would they sell information? weren't they all working together?
Garp held up a hand. "About you'd make it for free?"
"How about I'd make it for ten grand?" Smoker retorted readily. "It's not in my policy to admit information to others. Regardless whether you're my superior or not. So how about we'd make it painful for both of us?"
"Five grand, yeah?" Grandpa repeated, contemplating. "And that's for all the information I want? Without a catch?"
"There are no strings attached. Absolutely none. My work may be pricey but it's honest."
"That's to be expected from the White Hunter." Lucci spoke up after remaining silent for a while. "I've heard about your sources before. Despite being quick, detailed and accurate, you're quite stingy to share. What makes you do so now? Pity? Your honour? Your sense of responsibility?" Lucci snorted but kept his eyes out of emotion. "We both now that's not true."
"It's for my sense of justice." Smoker glared at him before he glanced back at Grandfather. "Will you pay up now or am I wasting my time here?"
"Here's the five grand. Now get down to it." Ace watched his Grandpa get out his check book, scribbling on a note and tearing it out, sliding it across the table to Smoker. Ace brows furrowed. Why would the old man pay up so much money for information?
Smoker took it and glanced it over before placing it inside his chest pocket. "Alright. Go on Tashigi. Give it to him."
The woman gave him an uncertain look but came forward nonetheless, pulling out an enclosed envelop from her bag that she handed over to Grandpa. He readily took it in his hand, carefully opening it, sliding out a neatly stapled stack of paper out with his fingers, and glanced it over. He nodded and slid it back inside, putting the envelop away in his pocket, and getting up to his feet. The others did too.
Ace eyes widened at their motion to leave. Just. Like. That.
This can't be.
He glanced back to that Surgeon, heart hammering in his chest when he saw him marching down the hall. His mind raced in seconds, thoughts fleeing and entering his mind when his eyes trailed Law's back into the distant, until it finally clicked.
He dares to leave. . .
Ace glared. Bored holes into the back of Law's head, and before Ace had the chance to roar profanities at him, the Surgeon turned. Law's eyes landed on him lazily, almost disinterested hadn't it been for that ugly smirk. It kept widening. Ace fists trembled and he gritted his teeth, glaring with the intensity of a blasting sun as he seethed of anger. Of pure rage. Wanting no more than tear that Law apart, because he dared.
The door opened form behind him, but Ace cared not. Because that Law dared to lie.
Ace stomped forward, steps heavy of threatening doom.
His arm be dammed-
His life be dammed-
His pride be dammed-
If Ace didn't pummel him-
Didn't beat him for raising his hopes-
For misleading him-
For making him believe that they would tell him-
I'll kill him.
I'll make him pay.
Ace heard distant shouts but he ignored them all, racing straight at Law and his ugly smirk that Ace will definitely punch off.
His arm be dammed-
His life be dammed-
Ace felt himself flinging down. Head on fire; of love; of pain. He was near the brink of receiving another concussion.
His vision blurred. The floor collided on him.
But Ace could still see him. See that Law was still standing there, looking at him with that ugly- knowing- smirk.
And the anger rose once more.
Ace struggled against the prying hands, keeping him still, suppressing him, confining him-
He roared, cursed and kicked.
His broken arm hurt. Burned of pain.
It hurt hurt hurt hurt-
He gritted his teeth, pulling his arm back and punched, hearing crunches against his fist.
And then it dawned on him.
That Luffy. . . .
. . .wasn't coming back.
Ace stopped. Suddenly frozen. The struggles receded into soft tugging until Kalifa and Kaku were able to drag him away. Back into his room. Back to his confinement. The distant shouts were muffled to his ears, lulling the rage in Smoker's heated snarls at Law's stoicism as they drew Ace away. But not so managed to dull Grap's obnoxious laughter at Ace accomplishment to trail them this far undetected. His stealth takes after mine!
But Ace felt hollow, shallow, numb and dumb.
Why haven't I realised this sooner?
Luffy wasn't coming back.
(He's sick of you)
Ace woke up with drilling silence in his ears. He glanced around the dark room, around his confinement with double locked windows and watched over doors. Seeing no Luffy yet again.
Waited until the sun rose and flitted its golden rays passed the silhouettes. Waited until Rob Lucci came in with a nurse, pushing a cart with full of delicious food that made him feel unbelievably sick.
Ace threw the covers over his head and waited. Ignored the nurse's constant probes to eat and scowled at her for trying to get the blanket away from him. Lucci sat silently across the room with shaded eyes, staring into the wall before him, glaring at Ace every now and then for refusing to follow instructions. But Ace ignored him too, thinking if he stayed under the blankets for too long,
they would eventual leave him out of boredom.
But they didn't.
Ace hid his disappointment and glared at them. Still waiting for his idiotic friend to appear. It had been, what? Almost two weeks now since he last met him.
Ace needed to see him.
To make sure that he was fine.
That Law was lying. That Ace was mistaken.
And so Ace waited, sighing when his stomach grumbled. Loudly. One of Lucci's brows twitched but other than that did nothing. No indignation to eat. No worries. No scornful looks.
Maybe. . .maybe he doesn't really care either. Ace thought and looked up, tracing with his eyes the yellow patches and cracks on the ceiling for the thousandth time. Trying to erase thoughts of hunger which he managed to do until the golden rays changed to hues of pink and red and not long the sky darkened to pitch blue—then Ace decided it was enough.
He scampered passed the blankets, tangling up in them and crashing on the floor in his anger. He pushed his face off the floor, glaring at Lucci's light smirk and raised eyebrow and stomped into the bathroom because Ace had enough.
Luffy obviously wasn't coming by.
(Obviously he won't come by.
It's a waste of time to be with you, anyway.)
Ace snorted and slammed the door shut, immediately opening up the cupboards in search for a trusty weapon that he didn't find despite wrecking up the place, wringing drawers open and slamming them shut, repeatedly. Not at all caring that Lucci was metres away and could hear every havoc he rose. But Ace did not care. Because Luffy wasn't here.
(Luffy doesn't need you.
Just kill yourself already.)
"Shut up." Ace snarled, annoyed he couldn't find even a pack of razors. Frustrated with his lack of options, Ace whirled and grabbed the mirror, pushed it off the hinges and smashed it on the ground, watching it shattered and stomped on the shards that reflected him, cursing loudly at himself because Luffy wasn't here to make it stop.
So he grabbed a couple of shards and pierced it through his flesh, keen on making it stop himself. Because Law was lying. Luffy wouldn't leave him. Ace drew the deep lines over and over the rising blood, digging a little bit deeper each time the dark thoughts came again. Because Luffy didn't leave him.
(If he didn't leave you, why isn't he here?
Why isn't he with you?)
"Shut up!" his arm roared of pain, withered in agony under the sharp blade but Ace held still and made his arm roar louder, slashed a little longer, a little deeper, a little quicker—until the shards are spluttered of blood and his arm smeared red—until Ace completely stilled and saw his reflection—bloody, bloody reflection. He glanced around, finding the bathroom as empty as before, no sunny smiles, no goofy laughter.
Luffy was absolutely not here.
(He's gone. Forever.
Isn't that obvious by now?)
Ace couldn't think of anything to refute him. Couldn't accuse him of lying. Not when that stupid voice spoke the truth. Because why wasn't Luffy here.
Luffy, who promised to stay with him.
"From now on I'll be your reason to live, Ace!"
"Liar." it rolled over his tongue easily as though it waited for Ace to say it all along. Slowly he sat down, glancing at the tiles with empty eyes, finding solace in his dark thoughts that strangely comforted him. Because Luffy had lied to him.
Of course, Luffy wouldn't be here.
"He isn't going to stay. Not for someone like me." Ace muttered. The splitters that dug into his palm drew blood on its own and Ace glanced down. Glanced down on his arm. His bloodied, damaged arm and smiled. I did that.
Slowly he traced the cuts that were still overflowing, dirtying his clothes and Ace was sure he'd get a tongue lashing but he did not care. Because it was his. Because he did this.
"Maybe. . .maybe I can wear bandages again." Ace murmured as he craved as smiling face and a sad face into the back of his hand, wondering what Luffy might say to that the next time he'd see him.
(. . .if you see him.)
"If I see him," Ace corrected and rose his hand, marvelling his artwork, "Maybe it'd be healed already."
(Maybe you'd be dead already.)
Ace craved the lines of the smile a little deeper, sharper, so it looked like that hateful smirk that told him truth.
(That surgeon was right.
You were waiting for nothing.)
"Nothing, huh?" Ace whispered, glanced at the unhappy face that looked so happy to him. " . . .Maybe you're right about that."
By the time he cleaned his wounds and wrapped his cuts up like the many times he had done before, the Pigeon Boss was already long gone. Ace was glad that nobody was instructed to watch him at nights. It was just the windows and doors they bothered to lock and barricade. But it gave him enough time to clean up the mess in the bathroom and keep a few shards that he hid between the narrow gap between the drawer's foot and the wall.
But when Law came in for his regular check up in the morning, Ace met him with a blank stare and made no motion to hide his bandaged arm.
He shifted in his bed, sitting upright, hearing under the shuffle, thuds of comic books hitting the ground that Coby and Helmeppo brought each day to keep him occupied. He straightened out the bed cover, adjusting the pillows behind his back whilst Law glanced at his bandaged arms with confusion but he made no motion to ask, so Ace didn't bother answering. He wouldn't have anyway. Silently and swiftly Law went through the procedure that simply a nurse could do, checking blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate and all the other insignificant things Ace could care less about—that was, until Law grabbed his freshly bandaged arm despite Ace's effort to pull back.
The surgeon's eyes were expressionless as he unravelled the poorly wrapped up bandage. Ace was sure he was expecting bruises or minor cuts and couldn't help the smirk that widened when Law's eyes narrowed, clear lines of disapproval written across the length of his face.
Ace couldn't help but snort in response, wringing his arm out of Law's grip and ignored the hissing burn of his arm, eyes stubbornly fixed at the sealed windows, at the clouds and treetops he could see from behind the tight bars, effectively ignoring Law and his gaze that weighted on Ace heavily. "You shouldn't be doing this."
"Don't tell me what to do." Ace muttered, lowering his eyes to his arm, running a finger along his tender flesh, feeling fresh scabs prod under his fingertips. It didn't hurt as much as it yesterday and even then it only hurt as much as a hard shove. Nothing major. Nothing large. Ace crooked his head back, glaring at Law through stormy eyes. "I have every right to mar my skin."
Law remained silent but there was a tiny amount of annoyance flitting passed the dark shade of his eyes before it disappeared behind invisible metal bars. His apathetic expression melted away under the influence of a little smile before he whistled appreciatively under his breath, "You're insane."
"I have been told." Ace spoke slowly, frowning at the other's amusement, quiet sure that Law's behaviour is categorised as unconventional and in other people's opinion potentially sickening.
But Ace liked it and smiled back with mean eyes, finding the amusement in the irony of a doctor's inability to straighten out the problems in his own head. He stretched his arm out, ready for it to be properly treated under soaked swabs but Law only lowered it and shook his head, gazing him with stern eyes.
"Before I'd like to know how you've managed to shred your arm like that. Sharp objects are strictly prohibited and seized by the hospital personnel upon entry. Not to mention that medical equipments are safely stored and impossible to obtain by patients."
"I've thought something like that was the reason when I have only been given a plastic spoon to eat my meals." Ace rose a brow at him. "How do you expected me to eat any meat with those plastic things? they just break."
Law flat out ignored him. "Garp made it specifically clear that razors and knifes should be kept from you and I ordered for that. So how did you?"
Ace pursed his lips into a taunt line. They would notice the missing mirror anyway, not to mention the glass shards lying inside the bin.
Maybe that wasn't my smartest move. . .
Under Law's persistent stare, Ace pointed to the bathroom. "What in there, do you think, could I have shattered into shards?"
Silently, Law regarded Ace as the information sunk in. "I haven't pegged you for the desperate type."
"It's a coping mechanism, of course it's desperate. It's used in desperate times." Ace gave him a look. "Jeez, I haven't pegged you for the dumb type either."
"It's seems that you're quiet dumb. Let me guess: you have just jammed the shard straight into your arm without much thinking, didn't you? I bet there are splinters stuck in your wounds that you don't even know about." Law retorted with such a tightness, Ace felt confused at the brewing anger in his eyes.
Is he offended?
Before Ace could ask, Law grabbed his elbow and yanked him on his feet, pulled him out of the door, completely disregarding Ace and his struggles to find his footing, failing time and time again to kick the blanket from his feet off and dragged it across the polished floor, stumbled over it and came several times close to bang his head against the doors. But as far as Ace knew Law didn't notice or even cared that he rammed his patient straight into a cart full of medical supplies when they rounded a corner. Law was far too absorbed in his incessant mumble as his brows were knitted in annoyance.
"What would you have done if it irritated your skin? Cut your muscles? Your arteries? you'd bleed internally—perhaps just a little but enough to build up pressure and tear your tissues apart. I can guarantee you, you'd be howling in pain. Your Grandpa will set the blame on me. Complain and threat me until you're stabilised without an amputated arm. Do you think it's easy to deal with melodramatic people? I don't have the stamina nor the desire to deal with that persistent side of Garp. So do me a favour and steer cleat out of troubles, yeah? Portgas-ya, you're listening?"
At last he turned around, staring at a fuming Ace, his clothes reeking of antiseptics and anti-bacterial stenches. Law frowned and took a closer look. "Didn't I just tell you to steer out of trouble?"
"Whose fault is it that I collided with a bloody cart?" Ace narrowed his eyes, held the drenched spot on his shirt away as far as he could. It so cold and so slimy that Ace wanted to gag right there and then.
But Law's face was apathetic when he opened up a door, calling for a nurse to get Ace a gown before he marched over to his army of Doctors that were under his command. Ace heard something about preparing X-ray and keeping their eyes on Ace when Law disappeared momentary behind a glass door.
Ace glanced around the room quietly. It was an examination room packed with medical equipments Ace had never seen before which meant something since Ace practically lived in the hospital for the vast majority of his life. Because his Grandpa was insistent of Ace's insanity ever since he first played with a lighter in his first year of primary schooling and found he rather liked burning himself.
After minutes of silent waiting as the Doctors squabbled about to set up the equipments with such speed Ace grew long since used to. He closed his eyes and listened to the familiar beating of the mechanical equipments, waiting for Law to come and finally treat his wounds before someone barges into his unoccupied room and deems him as missing, notifying the hospital personnel to hunt him down and imprison him before his Grandpa randomly pops up for a visit.
Ace smiled, imagining the fiery reaction of his Grandpa.
Wouldn't actually be that bad. . . .
When Ace marched back into his roam, clad in a gown that had extra long sleeves, he didn't expect his Grandpa to sleep on his bed. Nor did he expect to find a stack of paper dangling at the tips of his fingertips, envelop long discarded on the floor. With twitching eyebrows, Ace grabbed the envelop and flicked it over. No name. His eyes lingered on the stack and Ace moved to carefully guide it out of his Grandpa's clutches. It was surprisingly easy despite his Grandpa being a light sleeper. After warily keeping his eyes on him for a full minute, Ace was convinced his Grandpa was fast asleep.
He sat down on the armchair cross-legged, placing the papers on his lap, flicking through one by one. With each thin printed word his eyes traced, his brows sunk deeper and deeper until he was reading each word quietly to himself when his mind stopped comprehending and everything appeared to be blur of convoluted, nonsensical words that drifted right from right ear to the next. Ace's eyes roamed frustratingly over the papers and not a single thing made sense. "What is this?"
"Seems like you have found it. Figures with Garp's carelessness."
Ace jumped at the sudden voice of a stranger. He turned seeing a man smoking two cigars stepping into a room with the women in glasses closing the door behind them.
"Although," the man continued when he neared the bed, staring at Grandpa's snoring face with twitching eyebrows, before he sated at Ace with calculating eyes. "I'm not surprised at this development. In fact, this makes things easier for me."
"I don't know what you're talking about. But you should be quiet if you don't want Grandpa to wake up. He's a light sleeper." Ace said, flicking back to the first page and got up, carrying the stack of paper under his arm as he marched to the door, beckoning them with a flick of a hand. "Follow me."
Smoker grumbled under his breath but followed him without much ado, letting himself be guided to the common room. It was always empty at this time. There was only specific times it could be used. Ace didn't exactly know why but he knew it was probably a silly reason like the one Law used to justify his cause to only distributed plastic spoons to patients.
"By the way, what happened to your hand, Ace-kun?" Tashigi asked as she righten her glasses "I know that one of them was casted up, but why is the other one now bandaged too?"
Ace looked at her in surprised before he gazed up in his hand, the one he ingrained the smiley faces on. He raised it, twisting and turning his bandaged arm for them to look at, whilst trying his best to look sheepish. "My hand is pretty much messed up. I got upset earlier and punched the mirror in my room, you know?"
Tashigi's turned blank and behind her Smoker only shut his eyes briefly, stuffing his hands inside his pocket and tipped his chin to the couch, motioning for Ace to sit down whilst he stood. "Let's get this started, shall we?"
"But before I liked to know what exactly makes you think I'm a bomber." Ace gave them a look. "Just because I didn't go to that ceremony?"
Smoker regarded him a crooked eyebrow, drawling monotonously, "Listen brat, I'll ask the questions. Your job is just to answer."
"I refuse." Ace replied and leaned back, folded one leg above the other, elbow set against the armrest and a fist propped against his chin. "The only reason I decided to speak to you is to get answer. Grandpa won't say anything. Everybody else is too scared of Grandpa to tell me anything. So I thought you would—you don't care about Grandpa."
Something flashed across Smoker's eyes and Tashigi glanced at him uneasily.
Taking that to be a positive sign, Ace continued. "Besides, I don't understand these pages. It doesn't make sense to me at all. Who's Whitebeard? What ceremony? Why does everybody care whether I went or not? And why does that even matter?"
Smoker became deathly silent. Ace waited patiently, thinking that the elder needed time to gather his thoughts when he realised Tashigi's eyes were flicking at him in rising concern.
"What's wrong?" Ace asked, frowning at her lack of answers when she was suddenly occupied to stare at something behind her. Ace canted his head and saw a familiar figure hovering at the door frame.
"Didn't I say not to question him without my presence?" he walked into the room, glaring at Smoker who didn't even turn to face him, eyes till fastened on Ace with furrowed brows.
Ace ignored him and frowned at his Grandpa. "I wanted to talk to them without your presence. You never tell me anything."
"I gave you that envelop, did I not?" Garp answered dismissively, never even taking his eyes off Smoker and Tashigi, who was pushing her glasses further up her nose.
"Did not. I took it off you when you were napping, you senile old man." Ace muttered, effectively steeling his Grandfather's attention and angering him as Ace found himself howling in pain under Garp's fist.
"Should you be hitting his head?" Tashigi asks slowly, voice barely above a whisper when she stared at Ace. "Isn't it damaged?"
Ace frowned at her, then at Grandpa whose expression became suddenly guarded and tad bit serious when he expressed that Ace's head was always damaged which supposedly explained his insanity.
Ace snored, as if.
"I'm not insane." Ace muttered for the umpteenth time and massaged his head—was it broken? could a head be broken? "I'm like any other fifteen year old should be."
Ace didn't notice the change first. But when the room became so silent Ace could even hear himself breathing, he glanced up and saw Grandpa's and Smoker's apathetic faces and Tashigi's sad one.
"What?" he asked and asked again much louder when the silence and their gazes became very oppressive all of a sudden. "What's going on?"
Smoker turned to him when Garp chose to keep his silence. "So you think you're fifteen, huh?"
"I don't think, I am." Ace answered with rising confusion. "Just what's the problem with my age?"
"Nothing. Except the fact that—"
"Don't tell him." Garp suddenly spoke up and Ace could see the many wrinkles on his forehead as his face appeared seemingly conflicted. "At least not now. Information he receives too quickly can push him into shock—if that happens how many years do you think he'll be set back in then?"
"So you want him to believe that he's still fifteen? To prevent him of going into shock?" Smoker challenged and took a drag from his cigars, perfectly balancing between his fingers. "What can a five years difference do to him?"
A five years difference? Ace gazed at his Grandpa and Smoker in confusion. "Do you mean to say I'm ten?"
When both adults chose to remain silence, Ace took another guess, speaking slowly and unsure as the number sounded so weird to his ears. ". . . .Twenty?"
Smoker took another drag and shrugged. "What do you think?"
"Ten." Ace found that number much more believable than twenty. It meant that he was an adult and free of Grandpa's grasp—but here he was, unable to even escape a hospital room, much less the hospital itself.
Grandpa turned to Smoker with clouded eyes. "See? I told you'll set him back. This happens when you don't listen to me."
Smoker only glowered at him in return. "Shouldn't you be grateful that I made it clear to him? I know you've been dying to tell him anyway. Did Law make you take an oath that you won't tell him anything?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Garp looked away pointedly, whistling under his breath as he shoved his hands inside his pockets, slowly marching away to Ace's side. "That loser over there is joking with you, Ace. You're fifteen. There's no way you could be twenty and you know that."
"Twenty, huh?" Ace muttered and drove his hands through his head, thinking deeply. Twenty.
Twenty. . .
Twenty. . .
Twent. . .
Ace winced and clutched his head, seeing bury faces in a packed room. Coloured banners. Festive arrangement. Too many people. Too many shouts of praise. Too many hands reaching out to him, patting his back and wishing him luck and happiness. For what though?
Ace shut his eyes, fishing the memory from his subconscious mind, knowing it was still there. Still in reach.
Ace cried out, crouched down, gripped his hair tightly, shut his eyes tight and he heard ringing of laughter and singing loud enough to split his head and he wished he could rip his ears apart only to make it finally stop.
Dots filled his vision and Ace could barely hear the worried shouts of Tashigi calling for a Doctor, could barely notice Garp sitting next to him and checking him over, could barely see the unreasonable guilt forming in Smoker's eyes as he drove his hand through his own hair. And yet Ace did—he did he did he did— but yet he—
Happy Birthday to your twentieth!
"You'll like my present the most, Ace! I bought you a—"
Ace breaths were too shallow. Too irregular. He gazed at Garp through unfocused eyes as his he was holstered up and brought down to lay down on the couch, but Ace still managed to stress each word that fell pass his lips relentlessly. "Somebody brought me a car—that car—"
"Come on, Ace! I want to show you some awesome place!"
There was that ringing again. That ringing of hollow laughter. Almost resembling the shallow echoes of chuckles that clung on the darkness, full of non-existent joys.
". . . .just so you know, I'll drive. Just in case."
"Grandpa, do you think I did—?" Ace's orbs moved wildly in its socket, searching for Garp's face that he couldn't find—it was blurry, so blurry and yet— "Do you think I did, Grandpa?"
Ace could still see that face. That blood drenched face—he couldn't see his Grandpa but he could see that familiar face with that crooked grin, those red streaked teeth, those wide dead—dead, dead, dead—eyes of Luffy.
"Do you think I did, Grandpa? Did I hurt Luffy? Is he like that because of that car?"
The Doctor came rushing on but even then Ace held tight onto Garp's coat, tears dripped into his mouth, snot falling freely but he still asked—still saw that bloody image of. . . "Do you think I did, Grandpa?Is Luffy because of me, Grand—?"
He heard hushes and someone gently rocking his shoulder but Ace still mumbled even as a needle pierced his skin, voicing out his distorted thoughts until it became slurs and incomprehensible mumbles that he himself even didn't understand but he felt strangely calm and tired. Ace closed his eyes, staring straight at a crooked grin, red streaked teeth and wide dead eyes that greeted him.
Sleep came to him and welcomed him as a nightmare that Ace couldn't wake up from.
Ace was silent. His room was silent. The ward was silent.
He spent his time staring holes at the ceiling.
He spent his time ignoring Kalifa and her glares that were prompting him to eat.
Ignored Long Nose attempts to get him talking.
The nurses that were trying to get him eating.
To get him moving out of his damned bed.
To get that damned blanket off his body.
To get him talking. To eat. To sleep.
But Ace stared holes at the ceiling.
Ignored each person that spoke to him. Supposedly cared for him. Supposedly watched over him.
His arms were throbbing at his sides. Bandaged to the degree not even excuses of punching mirrors, falling against a cart full of antiseptics and anti-bacterial flasks, allergic reaction to certain medical fabrics, could bail him out.
Law noticed. But didn't say a word. Just bandaged it up with that sickening—ugly—knowing—smirk that Ace couldn't careless about. Not anymore. Not that he did ever. But Ace couldn't remember if that was true. Couldn't think of a time when he did.
So when when Ace started playing with his wounds out of boredom and the red liquid kept seeping out of his wraps, staining his clothes and the sheets, Law didn't as much as snorted.
"Moderate yourself, will you?"
"I wouldn't need to if you'd just tell me where to cut."
The conversation ended there. More or less. Because Ace could never be sure. Neither of them relented. Kept their silence. And that was it.
Nothing more, nothing less.
It was apathetic—Ace liked to think. Apathetic in general. Their faces. Their voices. The words they speak. And Ace tired to mirror that. Always tried to mirror that. So then it would seem less that Ace really cared. Really cared of their lack of care. Really cared about apathy. Really cared about the lack of Luffy.
So he stared holes at the ceiling.
Didn't eat. Didn't sleep.
And the days went on.
Even his Grandpa—that tried to force-feed him whenever he stopped by for a rare visit—didn't annoy Ace anymore. He barely cared—No,Ace didn't care.
"Ace-san, are you even listening?" the nurse stressed, clutching the clipboard closed to her chest.
Ace didn't as much as glance at her. Kept his eyes on the ceiling. On the dirty stains and the deep cracks. Ace ignored her until her face reddened, fed up, vexed, so near to throttle him.
And Ace wished she did.
But she only gave up and left, locking the door behind her.
But Ace stared at the ceiling.
Just stared holes at the ceiling.
Didn't eat. Didn't sleep.
And the days went on.
On and on and on.
It was pouring. Drenching him to his bones when just stepped a foot out of the building. His chinos and shirt were soaked through despite the jacket he wore. Ace cursed, thought whether to turn back and crash at Marco's for the night when he saw owlish eyes peering at him under a wet hood, sitting on the floor near the front door of the tiny flat he just walked out off. A smile bloomed on the face before him and a Shi Shi Shi Shi rung loudly at Ace's ears.
". . . .Luffy?" Ace blinked and stepped closer before he crouched down in front his little brother, whose grin widened as he fished his hand from his pocket, raising a set of car keys that Ace was sure didn't belong to either of them.
Before he could finish, Luffy already grabbed his arm and drug him out to the pouring rain. "Come on, Ace! I want to show you some awesome place!"
"What—?" Ace resisted, dug his feet onto the ground but Luffy kept pulling.
"Let me take you!"
"No! Knowing you, you'll take me who knows where and get us lost. I need to be somewhere tomorrow. Let's play 'getting lost' another day."
"I know where that place is! We won't get lost this time so LET'S GO!"
Ace watched amused at Luffy's effort to tow him along when they both long since stopped moving. It was only Luffy that was still pulling Ace's hand with all his might until he suddenly stopped and looked at Ace exasperatedly. "Don't you trust me, Ace?"
Luffy's vacant eyes bored holes into him and he could see the pout forming already at Ace prolonged silence until Ace finally gave in and smiled."Sure I do. But just so you know, I'll drive. Just in case."
"Yaaay!" Luffy threw on another ecstatic smile until it faded and he stilled, slowly turning around, staring at his older brother with troubled eyes.
"Oh and Ace? I think I forgot to tell you something really important. . ."
The machines were ringing, beeping chaotically into his ears. Too loud. Too noisy. And way too many Nurses fussing about him. The army of Doctors came but Ace saw no Law. No ugly smirk. But he thought he heard someone say his breathing rate was too high. His heart beat too quick. Too poignant—Ace thought it was springing out of his chest. It hurt.
But then it was quiet.
When he opened his eyes the next time he saw a man with a strange pineapple on his head.
Bizarre. Ace thought and closed his eyes but found he couldn't fall asleep. Upon opening his eyes again, the figure was still there and Ace tried to rub his eyes but found he couldn't move. His hands were too heavy to be lifted. To be felt.
Ace moaned as the light kept burning his eye lids. He closed them again, slowly opening his eyes, adjusting them to the to the bright blinding light. It took a while before he could recognise that strange thing as a person.
"Who're you?" his voice was rasped, so deep, and Ace wondered how long he has slept this time.
"Don't you recognise me? I'm Marco," the reply was relaxed, as though he expected that kind of response and Ace shifted in his seat, tried to get a better look at the person in front of him. "I heard that you got set back five years this time. Figures you can't remember me. You've only met me when you were eighteen."
Ace blinked at the chunks of information thrown at him and only held onto one piece of information at a time. "You're Marco?"
"Yeah, that's me." He shrugged and leaned back on his chair, adjusting his crutches in his arms as he gave Ace a contemplated look. "Anything else you want to ask?"
Ace shook his head and glanced at the ceilings. "There's no point. You won't tell me the truth anyway. Nobody does."
Marco regarded him silently before he said, "I've been in and out of this hospital for follow-ups recently. Every time I came by I heard of this rascal that's making nurses' lives difficult and upsetting Doctors left and right. He didn't carry out their instructions. Didn't eat. Didn't even sleep.
At first I thought it's funny that there's a strange guy like that but now knowing that it's you, I'm actually concerned. What's happening with you?"
"You're breaking the rule." Ace turned to him with furrowed brows. "You can't ask these things. You're supposed to be apathetic. Pretend to care and shrug your shoulders at whether I do. You can't ask me these things."
Marco's half-lidded eyes widened for a moment before they narrowed. "Who told you this?"
Ace gave him a pointed look. "It's the rule of this hospital. But since you're actually concerned about my well being, I guess I have to smile and tell you 'I'm alright' and that 'You shouldn't worry' because then you have to believe me and shut up about it—because that's the rule of this society."
Ace lifted his head, trying to shift his body upright without the use of his hands, breathing heavily out of his nose when he finally managed to sit up, leaning against the stack of pillows the nurses always bothered fluff for him. He saw Marco glance at his bandages with furrowed brows, deeply thinking, and Ace was already opening his mouth to tell him his usual excuses when Marco gazed at him, eyes weighting heavily on him.
"I didn't believe it when they said you were unstable and insane. But you really are, aren't you?"
"I've always been like this. Always. Grandpa always said I was insane."
"I never believed it. In fact, I still don't." Marco shifted and gave Ace a definite look. "If that crazy Law is having negative effects on you, you can speak up about it. Messing you up like this is unacceptable."
"The one messing me up is myself." Ace muttered and glanced at his arms, his bloodied, messed up arms. "I've always messed up myself. So you can only say that I'm insane. Grandpa wasn't lying when he said there was something wrong with me. There's always been something wrong with me."
"You were fine when we were friends. There was never anything wrong with you."
"That's because Luffy was with me. He always made me feel better." Ace glanced up, finding a pair of indifferent eyes looking at him and frowned. "What?"
Marco didn't reply but kept his strange silence and Ace fisted the sheets under his fists, his voice shook with pent up anger and frustration as he spoke. "Why are you looking at me like this? Why is everybody always looking at me like this? Do you think I'm crazytoo? That Luffy is nothing but my imagination?"
Marco's half-lidded eyes widened a little but Ace didn't let him speak, too blind by the hot feeling churning in his chest to care listening to whatever excuses Marco was ready to dish out to him. It was probably another stupid Your Grandpa will tell you—or—You don't need to know yet—or—or—
"What?" Ace's mind froze. The words died on his tongue and he only turned to stare at Marco with wide, uncomprehending eyes. "What?"
"I said," Marco spoke slowly, "If I were to say yes, what would you do?"
"What would I do?" Ace echoed, mind drawing to a blank. If Marco thought he was crazy—if Marco looked at him like he was crazy—what would he do?Marco was still looking at him expectantly and Ace thought he had ash in his mouth when he slowly said, "Nothing. I would do nothing."
Because everyone else already thought he was crazy.
Everybody else thought he was insane.
Why would Marco make a difference?
"And if I say no? No, I don't think you're crazy?" Marco continued, his voice surprisingly empty and hollow. "What would you do then?"
"Nothing." Ace repeated, still trying to wrap his head around this concept. Because it didn't matter.
What Marco thought didn't matter.
What everybody else thought didn't matter, because—
"I don't understand. I don't understand this at all." Ace's orbs shook wildly in its socket, pulse speeding up, machinery beeping frantically inside his room, and Ace saw dots sweeping to his vision, patters of bright colours, irregularly twirling into weird shapes—into a sphere, a circle, a thin and thick rectangles, slimming down until it became a head, a torso and limbs and—and—was that Luffy?
"Ace, do you think you're crazy?" Marco's voice was strangely distant and Ace looked around and couldn't see him anymore. It was dark, so dark. But he could still see Luffy standing across the room. The rim of his straw hat covered his expressive eyes that Ace could still somehow see.
"Y-yeah. I'm crazy. I'm absolutely bonkers."Ace rasped out, voice slightly shaking. He swallowed and felt a chill creep down his shoulders, watching Luffy dark hooded eyes, watching him slowly near him, mouthing words that froze Ace all over.
"I said; I'll be your reason to live."
"I said; We don't need anybody else."
Ace couldn't breathe.
He couldn't comprehend the dark expression on Luffy's face. The small hand he placed on Ace's shoulder.
Couldn't comprehended the scared whisper of—"Don't die on me, Ace."
Couldn't comprehend the sad whispers of—"Don't leave me yet, Ace."
But Ace could comprehend something. That the grief stricken expression in Luffy's face and the sadness hidden in each of his words felt as real as the constriction in his chest. As real as his lungs crying out to breathe.
But before Ace could do something—anything—he passed out. Slowly becoming conscious to the beeping sound of machinery that faded out before, and to the hands that were connecting him to tubes and cold materials that Ace couldn't exactly feel but they were lulling him to sleep that came much, much easier to him. But the small hand on his shoulder remained. The space next to him sunk in.
Ace felt warm. So warm. And before he knew it, he was already dreaming about tomorrow. About the stupid smiling facethat he'd might see tomorrow. About the annoying but endearing Shi Shi Shi Shi that he'd might hear tomorrow.
Because Luffy was next to him.
Because Luffy wasn't leaving him.
Because Luffy isn't sick of him.
"Ace? I think I forgot to tell you something really important. . ."
Ace turned and strained his ears, trying to catch the whispered words that dampened under the thuds of heavy rain that fell past Luffy's lips, who didn't quiet look at him, too busy shuffling his feet on the dirty ground, staining his shoes with mud the more he played with it.
"What is it?" Ace asked and nudged his arm, trying to make his younger brother look at him, but Luffy only rose his eyes, staring at the dark with hollowed empty eyes. ". . . .Luffy?"
"I think I let someone follow me."
Ace furrowed his brows, wondering who it was that had the nerve to stalk his younger brother when heavy rapid footsteps resounded under the heavy rain.
Ace canted his head back to see, catching glimpses of shadows nearing them from a distance, before redirecting his gaze down to the incessant tugging on his arm. Luffy was trying his best to steer Ace away from the road toward the few bushes and trees planted along the sidewalk.
"It's okay, Ace! I'll take care of it. You just go and hide."
Ace snorted, shrugged him off with ease and fixed his gaze ahead, staring straight ahead into the distance, even when Luffy tried to push him back with both hands with futile efforts. They both knew Luffy was a toothpick compared Ace's hard bones and muscles. So when the footsteps grew nearer and Ace could hear the faint hums of rumbling motors, he pushed the still babbling Luffy aside with a firm grip on his upper arm, steering him behind him and out of harm's reach, wondering who it was this time that Luffy bothered to steal a quantum of meat from and its entity that caused that person to bring out an entire army in retaliation. But the longer they stood, the more panicked Luffy got. Ace was surprised to see him wringing out of his grip and trashing from behind him with such desperation clinging to his voice.
"I can handle it, Ace! Just go! I'll be fine! I promise! And I'll show you that place too later! So if you'd just—!"
Ace yanked him back in place, glaring at Luffy for his over-the-top behaviour. It wasn't like they've never gotten into fights. They have both gotten their fair amount of scars, bruises and broken bones over the course of their life. If you'd ask Ace, knocking others out was as natural as breathing. And Luffy should know that. Besides— "The last time I let you handle a fight you came back with a black eye and a broken arm. Whoever it is this time, I'll kick that person's ass—I'm seriously getting sick of these street fights."
"You don't understand, Ace! You don't stand a chance!" Luffy shouted before he whirled around, probably listening to the sounds of rumbling motors. His eyes widened considerably before they quickly landed back on Ace, scanning his face with an unspoken question that Ace easily answered with a nod of his head.
"I know. But it doesn't matter, Luffy. They can surround us by the hundreds and I'll still pave a way for you to escape. My fists are sharp and deadly and you know that." Ace spoke softly despite the heavy rain and the threatening doom of spilling blood."It really doesn't matter how many they are."
"I said I'll take care of it! I'm strong enough to handle this and you know that!"
"I'm not going to run away and leave you behind, Luffy. I've told you before, didn't I? I'd rather die then let anyone harm you. Anyway," Ace crossed his arms and gave him a look of disapproval. "You should really stop picking fights about meat. I can't keep going to the police and argue for your case. I'm seriously running out of ideas to justify your causes."
"This is not a fight about meat but the legacy we were left behind!"
Before Ace could even react heavy metal cracked against his skull, flash lights beamed into his eyes whilst he crashed against the muddied floor, seeing seeping red spluttered on grey pavement and stars twinkling in front of his eyes. Luffy was screaming amidst the confusion trembling inside Ace's mind, he glanced up, gazing passed the shadows soaking him down into his unconscious and tried to raise himself off the ground and noticed the blood dripping down his shirt.
There was a bloodied pole next to him. And roughly eleven—or was it fifteen?—bastards ganging up on Luffy who managed to hold his own, four already knocked out in his fit of rage. Ace sat up and drove a finger through his hair and—yup, it was sticky and red and Ace was sure he would have to bribe Law again into cleaning that mess up before Old Man Garp will have a fit about having raised good-for-nothing delinquents than well-respected police officers that they supposedly should have been.
He snorted, stifling a groan and pulled up to his feet, grabbing the pole and winded it back, resting the length on his shoulder as he neared those hooligans that were out for Luffy's blood and completely and cowardly disregarding his presence.
There's no way I'd let them get away with that.
It didn't take long for Ace to knock out eight of them. Six were lying around Luffy's feet, who was currently lunging a jaw breaking punch at one of them. Three of them were still around, hesitating to attack and Ace took the time to wipe his chin with the back of his hand, thoughts finally clearing up enough to notice that there were in fact twenty-one retards that actually dared to take them on and thought they'd get away with it unharmed.
Ace moved to get this pointless fight over and done with when he saw Luffy frozen in his spot, looking at particular direction. Ace crooked his head back, from the shadows of a building a burly man crept out with a laugh under his breath that ran his blood cold.
". . . .Zehahahahaha!"
Ace woke up to hear persistent blares that sounded straight into the sensitive spot of his ear, throbbing so loud, it triggered avalanches of pangs hammering inside his head. Ace opened his eyes slowly and glared at the dark through bleary eyes, swiping across the room in search of that annoying sound. But he didn't have an alarm. His phone was out cold on the table. The TV plugged off. And not to mention that—
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Ace scowled, there was it again. He redirected his eyes at the door and threw his blankets off, stomping along the cold floor with spiteful words already dripping from his tongue, fully prepare to give an earful at whoever dared to rouse him from his sleep.
Ace swung the door open and blinked at the empty hallway, not exactly surprised to see that no one was there but rather at the that it actually opened. Although, it took a moment for Ace to understand why—and when he did—Ace wondered whether he was hallucinating—whether his mind was conjuring up images that were closed to being absolutely absurd. Because Ace was sure that since his failed window-escapade, it was under Kaku's direct supervision to look (or barricade the door if necessary) every night. Though, Ace never understood why. It wasn't like he was trying to run away or escape from the hospital.
The very essence of even trying was ludicrous, not to mention that there was absolutely nothing to escape from. As long as Grandpa was dead convinced that Ace was crazy, he was doomed to spend the rest of his life here, confined in this stupid little room. But at this point, it was undeniable that Ace felt more and more each day like a bird cooped inside in a cage, and not even drowning inside a fantasy world illustrated in the stack of comics he hoarded at the side of the wall could muffle the tiny voice of boredom echoing at the back of his mind. The tiny voice that screamed of the freedom that was robbed of him, but what freedom? The world outside was like the dull world inside his mind. Confining. Suffocating. Not to mention a total annoyance.
With a soft sigh, Ace closed the door behind him with a soft click and marched back to his bed, eyes lingering on the barbed window and the little stars shining through the dark. He shook his head, lightly drifting absurd and stupid thoughts away until they grew so persistent not even the pillow he threw over his head could drown it out. Ace muffled a frustrated groan, contemplating for the first time whether his head was broken—could a head even be broken?
Maybe it broke when I fell out of the window. . .
But wasn't a fractured arm and a minor concussion all he got? Ace frowned, thinking back and only recalled Law saying that he was lucky to have his fall cushioned by the many little bushes planted under his window or else it could have been so much worse. But Ace didn't particularly mind. His life was practically dangling on a thread anyway.
It wasn't like he had to live.
It's just that he was.
Deep in thought, Ace stared at his bandages around his arm—the one that was covered in scabs and scars whenever he cut, and throbbed at his side whenever he slept—trailing a finger along the creases around the wrap, slowly untangling it and pulling it away until he could marvel at the colour contrast, marvel at the little crimson spots peeking out from the pink flesh that emerged from the scabs and scars that were already fading into his skin.
Ace smiled and moved to trace the faces craved at the back of his hand when his hand was suddenly snatched away from him.
Ace could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a pair of owlish eyes inspecting his arm with furrowed brows and highly concentrated eyes, tracing the injuries with his cool forefinger. He tugged his arm back but Luffy wouldn't let go, grabbed onto Ace's arm with both hands and pushed it closer to his face to inspect it. Ace looked away, gazed at the yellow stained, deeply cracked ceiling and tried his best not to look at the wide despaired eyes that move to fasten on his face.
"Oh this? I wouldn't worry about that. Out of anger, I just broke the mirror in the bathroom, slipped and crashed into the shards." Ace spoke softly, eyes lingering on the barbed window before he turned to face Luffy, gently unlocking his arm out of his tight grip. "It's nothing to be concerned about. It will heal in no time."
Ace halted, hesitated for a moment before he blinked, acting a little taken aback before he rose his eyes to meet Luffy, finding that his arms were stubbornly crossed against his chest and a pout formed with the ceases of his lips to show his displeasure, despite the amount of seriousness shining in the dark pools of Luffy's eyes that Ace remembered to have always hated. A scowl formed almost automatically when Ace turned to Luffy, glaring at him challengingly. "How so?"
"You were always a shitty liar, Ace." Luffy pointed out, echoing the same line Ace always enjoyed to mouth off at Luffy whenever he failed to pull off a lie and poke fun at his poor ability to deceive others, and for a moment Ace wondered whether Luffy was just using this situation as an opportunity to get back at him for poking fun at him for all those times—but wasn't Luffy aware that Ace always liked his considerable foolish honesty?
"You're getting worse, aren't you?"
The voice from Luffy halted Ace's thoughts midway, freezing him in place and Ace didn't even try to hide it this time. Didn't even make a sound when Luffy asked yet again, nudging him repeatedly to get a word of confirmation past his lips. But Ace remained silent. Even when Luffy turned to eye him in obvious accusation. "Why're you so quiet? don't you trust me anymore?"
"What?" Ace whirled his head back to face him, eyes wide with incomprehension, staring at the raw hurt and bitter anger flashing in Luffy's eyes and the little trembles of his lower lip before he bit it and gritted his teeth, stilling the quivers with brute force.
"I wasn't there when that bad voice came. I couldn't keep you from cutting. Even though I was meant to make it stop. I didn't make the bad thoughts go 'way." Luffy fisted the covers from Ace's bed and looked away, straw hat shadowing his eyes as he said, "You. . .you don't need me anymore, do you? Because I wasn't there when it came. Because I couldn't be your reason to live, Ace. I couldn't make the bad thoughts go 'way."
"Are you stupid?" the words left Ace's mouth before he could stop, his hand surged forward, whacking Luffy over the head. "Idiot, what do you take me for? I have absolutely no intention to die and leave a crybaby like you behind."
"Really? You're not mad?" There was a hopeful glint in Luffy's eyes underneath the heavy scepticism covering his dark orbs.
Ace snorted and rolled his eyes but couldn't help the widening smile as he nodded his head and his lips twitched into a threatening smirk. ". . .Or do you think I'm a liar?"
Luffy quickly shook his head and laughed that annoying but familiar Shi Shi Shi Shi that made Ace smile brighter. He ruffled through Luffy's hair with his hurt hand until the younger boy rose his eyes to stare at Ace curiously, "But what about that time you jumped out of the window? Or that time when you haven't eaten and refused to sleep for so many days, weren't you thinking of leaving then?"
Ace blinked, mind racing, trying to come up with many logical explanations as possible as to how Luffy knew. Ace was sure he hadn't seen him when whilst he jumped down that window. Did that mean he heard it from those rumours Marco spoke about? But Luffy shouldn't have been at the hospital. Or was it that. . .? Ace snapped his back at Luffy when pictures of a bloodied crooked grin, red streaked teeth and wide dead eyes flooded his mind.
"I will tell you about that. Just answer my question first."
"But Luffy—" Ace shook his head, reaching up with his bad hand to touch his own head, furrowing his brows at Luffy and the nonsensical illustrations picturing in his mind. Because how could that even be?
Luffy was fine. Unhurt. Free of injuries—
Or was he not?
Ace leaned forward, seizing Luffy's arms and head, pulling his collar back as far as to strangle Luffy just to peek at his tanned skin and whatever spot his hands could reach, looking for injuries—cuts, burns, even scars—because Luffy was supposed to be fine. Luffy shouldn't be injured. Luffy shouldn't be at the hospital. Luffy shouldn't have all that blood on him that his mind imagined—why did it even imagine that?
Maybe my head is really broken.
Luffy laughed, wiggling his fingers into front of him and jumping about like a monkey after Ace let him go, just for good measure to show the elder how fine he actually was. "I'm fine! See? I can still do a handstand! Look! Look!"
Ace rolled his eyes and managed to grab a fist of Luffy's shirt, hurling back on the bed. "Really, how did you know I was here? That I was supposedly getting worse when you didn't even know where I was?"
There it was again. Shi Shi Shi Shi. "I'm always watching you, Ace! That's why I know you were getting worse," the dark pools of Luffy's had a blue tinged to them that Ace never saw before. But he knew what it meant. Knew what Luffy was implying.
"Oh no," Ace said softly, liking how firm and definite it sounded like despite the warm echoes of his voice. "How could you even think that? I was just striking against Grandpa. You know, how tight-lipped he is. Never telling me anything."
Luffy smiled, played the rim of his straw hat, saying just as softly, "You know it's to keep you from getting crazy. Grandpa knows how emotional you can get."
Ace leaped to catch Luffy in a choke hold, cutting off his oxygen supply just until little wheezes and struggles was all heard from Luffy, relenting his grip only when Luffy nodded against his chest and squeaked out strings of apologies. Because Ace didn't get emotional. Ace wasn't emotional. Not the slightest bit.
He watched Luffy catch his breath and struggle on to his feet whilst Ace chuted up, sat on his pillows, legs tucked in under his chin to keep it save from the jumping Luffy, hopped higher and higher on his bed until his head almost touched the ceilings. Ace smiled, shifted a little to sit comfortable under the quirks of the bed.
"Say Luffy, why are you coming now?" Ace heard himself speak, Luffy slowing down to a complete stop when he noticed Ace's drab grey eyes looking at him. "I've been here for roughly three months now. But you only came to visit me now. Couldn't you have come sooner?"
"I was looking for you this entire time—well, not all the time because sometimes I fell asleep in between, and other times I'd even forget where I ended and had to start again." Listening to Luffy's sheepish laugh warmed his heart. Ace smiled and nodded, not bothering to comment at his stupidity since it was a part of the little oddities that shaped Luffy for who he was—a lovable idiot. "But it was still very difficult to find you! Grandpa likes to hide you from me. And nobody wanted to tell me where you were. I was searching every door in every ward one by one until I finally found yours."
Luffy was hopping on the bed again, higher and higher until he almost came close to hitting the ceiling. Ace's heart leaped up to his chest and he reached out, tugging Luffy back down, keeping him next to him where he was sound and safe. Luffy laugh. But Ace didn't find that funny at all. He glared at the still giggling Luffy but asked anyway. "So that's how you found me. But how did you know I was at the hospital?"
"Oh, you don't know yet?"
"Know what?" Ace asked, tilting his head towards Luffy, watching the realisation flash in his wide eyes before Luffy turned away, fixing his gaze at the yellow stains and deeply cracked ceiling.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do. You started this conversation." Ace gritted his teeth and grabbed Luffy's collar, hating how Luffy twitched his mouth and puckered his lips to whistle a strange tune, eyes wandering to the barred window. "Knock it off!"
"~I said, I don't know what you're taking about~"
"Don't you start now too. . . ." Ace muttered, felt the heat crawl up to his face but he restrained himself from punching that annoying expression away from Luffy, and shook him instead until Ace was sure he'd feel nauseous. "I'm already hating everybody in this hospital for this. But I swear Luffy if you keep stuff away from me too then—"
"B-but—I can't tell you!" Luffy finally managed to get out when Ace stopped shaking him. "You'll get another emotional attack if you know, Ace! Besides—"
His eyebrow twitched. "Didn't we just make it clear that I don't get emotional, much less have emotional attacks. Just what do you take me for? What does everybody take me for?!"
"Ace, listen. I've heard what Marco said. You're already five years back if I tell you now, you might get set back ten years—"
"I don't get this! I don't get any of this!" Ace's mind completely crashed. This was absolutely nonsense. Illogical. Absurd. Improbable. Ludicrous. "What kind of person gets set back in years? Is this some kind of joke?! Are you in this with Grandpa and the police!?Are youhavingfun laughing about this!?"
Luffy could barely utter a word when a pillow was flung at his face. He ducked but another one followed, hitting him square across the face. He rubbed his nose."Ow! Ace listen. . .Ow! Hey! I said. . . .Ow!Stooop it!"
Ace didn't listen and threw at Luffy at whatever he grabbed his hands on- his many pillows, the notebook on the floor, pencils in his drawers, the lamp on the table and the comic books strewn across the floor, hurling and hurtling whatever he could in his anger. In his tantrum. In his madness. In his anger. In his bitter rage.
Because throwing whatever at Luffy wasn't as painful as his own fists.
Was much better than meeting Luffy with his fists.
Much, much better than hurting him with his own fists.
The room was in total chaos when his anger deflated. Ace dropped the console he was about to throw on the floor, swiped his eyes across the room for his friend that he found buried under comics and his bed cover. Drained of energy, Ace dragged his feet to him, grabbed a handful of comics that he moved away from him, throwing the duvet off Luffy until he found his friend at last, blearily opening his eyes, awakening from his slumber and Ace smiled. It was only Luffy who could sleep under the havoc he rose.
"You're okay now?" Luffy yawned, rubbing his eyes and Ace smiled sheepishly.
"Yeah, sorry about that."
"It's okay. I know you'd get like this. You've been getting like this a lot lately."
"Yeah, I'm sorry."
"I said, it's okay." Luffy frowned at Ace until he realised that the elder wasn't looking at him but the scratches on his arms. "It's okay. They don't hurt. I got worse from Grandpa."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just, you know, confused. I don't understand and nobody tries to explain. I'm getting sick of it."
". . . .Sorry. I thought not telling you was good. That it stops you from getting crazy. But I think it made it worse." Luffy bit his bottom lip. "Your head got worse because of it. I know Ace always likes to know things. Because Ace wants to be smart like that. But this time I thought it was me who knows better. But I was wrong."
"Nah, you were right." Ace lips twitched into a smile and he shook his head. "Not telling me was good. I might have gone really crazy if you told me. I mean, I'm already actinglike this."
"No, Iwas wrong.I was just like them. Hiding things from you and thinking I know better. But Ace knows best. It's your head, anyway. If you wanna know I tell you. All of it."
Ace smiled. Really smiled. "I'm glad you're like this, Luffy. It's because of you that I can keep being sane. That I can keep going. Because it's you that has my back. I'm glad that you're my reason to live."
Luffy's bottom lip jutted out, quivering a little when Luffy said, "Ace are you. . .?"
"Nah, I'm not dying. I'm just glad." Ace tugged Luffy into his arms, circling his arms around his waist, placing his chin on Luffy's small shoulders, breathing in the strange wilderness emanating off Luffy's scent and listened to his own heart beat. . . .
Ace face scrunched up into a scowl when he thought—wait. . .my own?
Ace pushed Luffy back, placing his ear on his chest as he waited to hear the familiar thud of a heartbeat that never resounded.
How could this even be?
Luffy watched curiously as Ace floundered with his arm, placing his middle and forefinger on the younger's wrist but nothing throbbed under his fingertips. Nichts. Nada. Niente. Rien.
"How?" Ace's eyes bulged, staring at Luffy who looked just as confused as him.
"What is it, Ace?"
"How are you alive!?"
Luffy's eyes widened, looking across the room for shelter when Ace gave into another emotional tantrum, scampering away from his place and tried his best to dive under the tables when Ace caught his leg and dragged him away, closer and closer towards him.
"How, Luffy! How, could you be?! I'm going crazy! I'm absolutely going crazy!"
"Wait! Acccceeee! Let me explain!" he held onto the table leg for his dear life. "I can really explain! I have a heart! It's not with me! But it's in my body!"
"Are you a spirit or what?" Ace snorted and pulled tighter, moving the table toward him but not Luffy. Ace honestly doesn't want to know how he managed to grab the side of his bed now. Did that idiot stretch his arms or what? "Luffy! Let go!"
"No, you'll hit me with your hurt arms!" Luffy whined, crying out. "Stooop it! Ace, let gooo! I told you I can explaaaain!"
"Explain now!" was all Ace said when he let go, watching Luffy crash down from the force of their pulling, landing at the other side of his bed. "Why is your heart not beating?"
Luffy jumped up to his feet, not even groaning as he bubbled. "It's because I'm not really here! I don't really understand it myself but I'm something like a mystery."
"I'm serious! it's true! I can show you my body! It's in room 3309!"
Thoughts whisked inside Ace's head, but he only grabbed what he could, thinking if he tries to grab a hold of the situation his head might explode. "I'm staring at a ghost. I'm seeing a bloody ghost. Luffy, the ghost. All this time I have been seeing a—"
"No! Acccceeee! I'm real! I'm alive! I'm not a ghost—though I'd like to see one. . .but I'm real!"
Ace heard him not. "My head is broken! I'm seeing things! It's like Grandpa said! I'm mental! I'm bonkers! I'm crazy! Absolutely crazy! Luffy is a. . . .!"
"HERE! Luffy is HERE! I'm here and I'm as real as it gets! I'm ALIVE and NOT a cool GHOST! you're NOT seeing things but I'm actually HERE! ACE I'm HERE. I'M ALIVE AND I'M HE—Umpf!"
"I get it! Don't shout into my ear like that!" Ace gritted through his teeth, extra hardening his grip on Luffy's mouth for a moment for emphasis before he let go and wedged a finger in his ear. Who could have know that Luffy could scream so loud?
"But I'm here, Ace. I'm real and—"
"—I get it, Luffy."
"—you're not crazy. Don't listen to Grandpa or what anybody else says. You're not crazy. Not bonkers. And definitely not a lunatic—"
"I said, I get it! I'm fine. But I don't understand this, though." Although Ace's face was indifferent face, his stricken feelings shimmered through his orbs. "Just why are you like this? What happened to you?"
"Dunno." Luffy shrugged, dug his pinky inside his nostril, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. "But I think Nami said something about being stuck in time."
"Stuck in time?" Ace echoed, every visible line of his face masked with disbelief.
Luffy shrugged again, wiped his finger off his shirt. "I don't get but it sounds cool."
"It sounds absurd." Ace countered and crossed his arms, not really expecting an answer when he said, "Can it get anymore bizarre?"
But Luffy's brows furrowed at that and Ace was surprised to find Luffy actually thinking about that, eventually his eyes brightened and he nodded. "Yeah, it can! Nami also said that Ace is stuck inside his head."
"I said that Ace—"
"What?" Luffy clamped his mouth shut when Ace livid eyes fixed on him."That's even worse than you telling me I'm crazy! That's like you telling me I'm lunatic."
"But Ace I only said that—"
"I'm not stuck in my head. I didn't set my age back, either. I don't do any of that! I'm okay!"
"If you say so." Luffy hummed and kicked his legs back and forth. "But it's true though."
"Luffy. . ." Ace warned, but knowing Luffy he'd ignore it anyway. He didn't disappoint.
"It is true! I'll prove it to you." Luffy glanced at Ace with all the solemnity he could summon as he asked, "How old are you?"
Ace snorted and crossed his arms, defiantly, pointedly looking away. "Age doesn't prove anything. You're going to be like the others and say I'm twenty when I know I'm fifteen."
"Okay! So I need an other example. . ." Luffy mumbled, not really listening to Ace, gazing at the dark through narrowed eyes as he was once again deep in thought. Ace felt a throb at his temple but he quieted down and let the younger think as much as he needed. Until Luffy snapped a finger as he came up with something.
"What is it?" Ace muttered, already bracing himself.
"Ace, what is your last memory?"
"My last memory?" Ace parroted and thought, coming to realised that he did not know which memories was the last one. "I don't know actually."
"Then what do you remember?"
"I remember the time we raided the kitchen together."
Luffy smiled. "That was when I was ten and you thirteen."
Ace blinked but then smiled. "What about the one Grandpa hit you so bad you had to be hospitalised."
Luffy brows furrowed, leaning closer as he breathed out, "Which one? There had been many."
Ace hid a smile and he shifted in his seat. "You know, when the cat was stuck at our neighbour's roof. Grandpa thought you trying to kill yourself when you were only trying to get it down."
Luffy shuddered in discomfort, face contorting in dislike. "I think, I was eight and you twelve."
"Shouldn't it be eleven?" Ace smirked at the bad maths but it soften soon enough to a smile. Ace played with the hem of his shirt, daring to ask, "And what about that time when were walking through the rain?" Ace glanced up. "You know, that time when you were waiting from me and those people showed up, trying to do us in. How old were we then?"
Luffy regarded him silently. "You remember that?"
"Sort of yeah," Ace tilted his head, curiously. "What about it?"
"Nothing except it happened when I was sixteen and you nineteen, Ace." Luffy regarded him strangely. "I thought you were fifteen, how can you even remember that?"
"I don't know, Luffy. But doesn't that mean, my head is fine?" Ace smiled but there was no joy. "I disproved your point. I'm not mentally de-aged."
"Hmm, about this. Do you know, Markus?"
Ace frowned, thinking back. "The pineapple-man?"
"What do you know about him?"
"Nothing much. Except he's on crutches and he got me a bad headache."
"He was your best-friend—and you got him on crutches with your explosions."
Luffy nodded. "Playing with fire was your hobby."
"Oh," so Marco got unlucky with my experiments. Ace knew that he always had a strange attraction to fire. He shook his head and recalled words of bombs and Whitebeard's large company project. ". . . .And what about the Whitebeard Corporation thing?"
"You used to work there. Started out around two years ago. I think you were. . .eighteen?"
"Yeah, eighteen." Ace nodded at the maths, brows furrowed. "I used to work?"
"Beats me how you did it." Luffy's clueless wide eyes stared back at him. "I always thought you and work don't fit together. Just like I don't fit together with it."
"That's what I thought too just now." Ace muttered, stifling a yawn, crawling back to his covers. "Come on, let's sleep. This whole thing made me tired."
"You mean confused." Luffy retorted back cheekily but still snuggled under the covers and Ace was tempted, very tempted to kick him off the bed right then and there. But he was too tired to do so. Ace pulled the duvet up to his chin and turned over, much more tired than he initially expected. He felt so weary as though his body was made of lead that dragged him down, down, down, down—
Ace was halfway to dreamland when the cover move and the sunken space next to him ease up slowly, blearily he opened one eye but only saw darkness and felt a breath fan his face when Luffy voice faded into the darkness.
"Come visit me tomorrow, okay? Room 3309. It's been lonely lately, so don't forget, Ace."
"You can't forget, Ace."
Ace woke up with a blaring headache and burning eyes. Almost automatically his hurt hand moved to grab his duvet to cover his eyes from the sun's hot rays when he realised he couldn't move it. No, he could feel it. Panicked, Ace forced his eyes opened, momentarily blinded and disoriented by the light and strange blurs of colours that melted his surroundings to greyish-white and blotches to greenish-crimson until it faded away and Ace could recognise his room. His bed. His covers. His Grandpa that tightly clasped his hurt hand in his own.
He raised his head slightly, shifting his body upwards enough to bolster up against his pillows, breathing out deeply when he was done, completely winded, tired. Ace took in a deep breath and sat up, finding his strength was almost leaving him—what was wrong with him?
He scratched his head with his hand that somehow felt so light. Ace blinked and looked down. The cast was removed. Didn't Law told him it would stay for another two weeks? Ace frowned, turning his arm in front of him. It looked like it was fine. Perhaps it healed quicker than expected. Quicker than Law expected. Ace snickered at Law's impaired sense of judgement without a hint of amusement. But rather some strange kind of satisfaction he couldn't put a finger where it came from.
Carefully, slipping away from his Grandpa's grip, Ace trudged along the floor, creaking the door open under his hold of the doorknob and walked around the hospital in search of Luffy's room that supposedly was the other side of the hospital. Ace snorted, now that it was day time and his mind sharp and fully functioning, the absurdity of yesterday night's happenings didn't escape him. His rational mind was screaming at Ace for having mistaken his dream for reality. There was noway Luffy could come out of nowhere. There was nowhere for his heart not to be beating. Noway for suddenly disappearing into the darkness.
Where could he be disappearing off to anyway?
If Luffy only returned to his room, surely he could visit him today too. There was no need for Ace to chase him down. It wasn't like they were playing cat and mouse. Hide and seek. Pointless looking was only a waste of time.
Ace counted the numbers. Counting up to a hundred and then another set of zeros. Walking up and down the stairs, rounding corners and padding down long hall ways, listening to the beeps of different rooms, some steady; some frantic. Ace saw cursing Doctors and the whirls of nurses that flitted and scattered every where, from room to room. And yet none uttered a word to him. Not one glanced at him. No-one noticed him.
Strange, Ace thought, looking around, normally they would be ushering back to his room or call Rob Lucci to haul him back to his confinement—to his little but suffocating room.
Ace rounded a corner, now completely sure to have entered the counting range of three thousand three hundred. His gaze swiped across the wide hallway, catching glimpses of silver letterings craved into the walls in bold, cursive writing.Intensive Care.
Ace threw a suspicious around him, slightly wondering why Luffy would be here. He was fine. He wasn't hurt. There were no injuries on him yesterday. His knitted brows drew down at the illogicality and Ace cursed at his inability to figure out why an unhurt Luffy would even be admitted to a hospital room—why, he would be sleeping here if he was fine.
Maybe Grandpa is keeping him here too, Ace thought, listening to the beats of his echoing footsteps that crept back to his ears and muffled the quiet halls, stilling looking out for the number 3309. The number that would supposedly be Luffy's room.
When he finally reached the end of the hall, Ace stared blankly ahead. Stared right at the door that was openly lying to him. Because Ace was sure his own eyes weren't lying to him. But just in case he trailed each number again. Just to be safe. Just to make sure he was seeing correctly. That he was too careless. Too deep in thought. Messed up his counting somehow. Made a mistake that confused his head.
Ace turned around and stared at the adjacent doors. His young mind still baffled to a still stop. He whirled back, jogging down the hallway to read the numbers again, counting forwards slowly. Out loud. Carefully. Yet again.
He stepped passed the room 3304.
Then room 3306.
And then it was that lying door.
It was the last door.
With the number 3308.
Ace returned to his room with a headache. A headache so strong not even kneading his temple could ease up.
Where was Luffy?
Ace entire thoughts spiralled out of control, heading to every direction to somehow explain these illogical sequences of events. But he gave up soon after. What was the point to understand something that was too absurd to even consider. Ace snorted and kicked the absent dirt on the ground, shoving his head deep inside his pocket.
Luffy probably forgot his room number.
Mixed them up in his stupid head.
Ace sighed, walked aimlessly back to his confinement, cracked the door open as silent as he could as he trudged on in his misery.
I only wanted to see Luffy for awhile.
Ace sighed and pulled his covers up, only desiring to crawl under his bedsheets and block the entire world out. It was only Luffy he wanted. Wanted to speak to. Wanted to laugh with. Have fun with.
But Luffy wasn't here.
Ace sighed and tugged again on the ends of his cover and then again. Harder. But it still didn't budge. Ace glared at it. Glared at its resistance to move. Until he noticed his Grandpa was sleeping on it, clutching the cover so tight it fisted in his hand. Ace frowned, absolutely sure that if it were to be his hand instead of that cloth, it would be completely crushed under the pressure of Grandpa's dangerous fist.
Glancing once more across the room, Ace retreated back, slowly closed the door behind him.
There was nothing for him here.
It was the first time since a long, long time Ace noticed how clear the sky was. How beautiful it would be to just let go. Feeling the wind graze his skin as he crashes against the soft clouds. How beautiful it would be for him to swim across the blueness.
How beautiful it would be just to let go.
Ace sighed, shifted in his seat as he dangled his feet, leaning forward just enough to see the small sized cars driving along the street, the mini-sized people walking across the zebra cross, leaving shops or hurrying across the roads.
Ace leaned forward just enough to see the world flying by below him, flying without him.
So happy without him.
Ace sighed. Lost in thought. So deep in thought he hadn't heard the creaking sound of the door, clicking sounds thudding across the ground to join him.
"Why am I not surprised to see you here?" It was a voice strangely familiar to him. Ace canted his head, not surprised to see Marco nearing him, either.
"Are you my stalker now? Or did Grandpa tell you to keep an eye on me?" Ace asked, gazing back to the busy street stories below him and felt the morning breeze wafting his face. "I'm fine by myself. So you can just go back wherever you came from."
Marco only cracked a smile, leaned his crutches against the wall, slowly slouched down to sit on the floor close to Ace and at the same time not. "Just so you know, I'm been coming here since I've been hospitalised. Made time pass, you see."
Ace gazed back to the streets, didn't try to dwell on the idea that Marco might be lonely—that not having many visitors was taking a toll on him too—if he was missing an idiot too.
"Watching the busy streets made me remember the usual hectic days that used to wait for me out there. It made staying in the hospital much more bearable. Especially when you were prohibited from moving around during the first week."
Ace smiled knowingly, thinking back to the obsessive nurses and their strangled cries, commanding him to stay on bed. He canted his head back and rose a brow. "And that because of your leg?"
"Yeah. They called it tibia fracture, yoi. Fancy way to say I got a broken leg to be honest. A bit foreign too."
"It's foreign." Ace frowned, wondering whether Marco was trying to make him laugh with dead jokes.
"Doesn't matter. It could have been worse."
"Good. Because I'm not going to apologise." Ace muttered, glancing at Marco curiously when his eyes hardened and his voice became poignantly sharp.
"Apologise for what exactly?"
"Burning you." Ace replied without a beat, wondering why Marco's face became extremely hardened for a moment. Did he harbour ill feelings still? Ace didn't judge him to be a person that held on to grudges. "Luffy said you were like that because of me. Because you came in contact with one of my explosions."
"What?" Marco's sharp eyes fell on him. "What did Luffy say exactly?"
Ace eye brows twitched at Marco's strange tone. It was too tight, too constricted as though he was summing his entire will power not to lash out. Not to physically attack. Not to mention the way he pronounced Luffy's name. Ace fisted his hands, quite sure that Marco thought Luffy was just a figment of his imagination, just like the others did.
And here I though he had nothing to do with Grandpa.
"Nothing that warrants your interest. Just keep your mouth shut about that. Before I go and sear it shut." the words tumbled out his mouth before he could stop it—before he could realise what he said. Ace turned to Marco, who looked just surprised as him.
"Is that you, man?" Marco asked after awhile and Ace could still recognise the tiny speck of hope shimmering in the depths of his onyx's eyes. And with rising bitterness surging in his chest, Ace knew it wasn't him that Marco was speaking to. He was speaking to the elder Ace. To that twenty year old Ace that everyone knew. The twenty year old him that Ace had never gotten a chance to meet.
"If it would be, what would you do?" Ace asked instead, watching the hope diminish in a fraction of a second and the cold exterior of Marco's face return, still watching him through narrowed eyes.
"I would question him. And his real intentions." he answered without a second, gaze swiping across the bust streets before he locked his stern eyes back with Ace. "You might act like you know but it's glaringly obvious that you don't. So listen to my words and don't speak of explosions and burnings lightly. In fact, don't speak of them at all. Not to anyone. It would be troublesome if your lack of knowledge would undo you."
Ace brows knitted harshly. "Why are you talking about?"
"Ace, if anyone else would have listened—someone who didn't know about your mental age and amnesia—they would have testified to Smoker to have heard you confess. It would be enough to lock you up behind bars."
"Is this about me being a suspect of this bombing case?" Ace asked with rising interest. "The one that blasted up this major project of Whitebeard Inc.? Where I have supposedly been working at?"
"Supposedly?" Marco stared at him for seconds. "Who told you this? If you were fifteen you shouldn't be remembering any of that."
"I don't remember. I just read some files. Luffy told me some parts too."
"Luffy told you a lot of things, didn't he?" Marco asked sceptically, still pronouncing his friend's name with that weird accent that had Ace brows sinking further. "How come nobody has been able to meet him yet?"
Ace scowled at his hidden implication. "I'm not seeing him in my mind. He came yesterday night. He told me lot of things that I'm not understanding yet."
Marco nodded, still sceptical. "And he said you worked at Whitebeard Inc.?"
Ace nodded, trying to fish out the details from the depths of his mind. "For two years only. I was eighteen."
Marco was still sceptical. "Anything else?"
"Nothing. Except that it was me that got you in crutches."
"It wasn't you. At least I'd like to think it wasn't you. If it was you then. . . ." he shook his head, a tired look in his eyes as he mumbled. "I don't want to think about what would happen if it was you. . ."
Ace frowned, not understanding what the big deal was. To him it was a minor matter. A burn will heal. The pain will fade away—
"Ace, it won't just go away." Marco muttered as though he could read his thoughts, and perhaps in away he could. It wasn't particularly hard to trace Ace's line of thoughts. It was predictable unlike the sudden stunts Luffy pulled out of nowhere. "I was lucky enough to get away with only a broken bone compared to those that were crushed under the pillars and fire. Compared to those that have lost their lives under the fire."
"People. . . .have died?" Ace started off slowly and hesitant, ". . . Why?"
"When explosions go off just that tend to happen, you know." Marco mumbled, tracing a finger up and down his casted leg. "Intentionally robbing the lives of my dear brothers and sisters. . . .it's not something I can easily forgive—if I would ever forgive, that's it."
Ace swallowed, gripped the fabric of his shirt as he asked, "And if it was me? If I say it was me. . .would you push me off this building?" Ace glanced up, glancing at Marco's hardened eyes. "Would you push me off this building without a second thought? Would you take my life in an instant? As compensation?"
"No," Marco spoke slowly. "No, I wouldn't push you off. I would fry you alive in a coal pit. Rip your skin apart with a needle, spray acid on your flesh and tear your entire entrails out through your nose with nothing but a hook and string. I would make suffer so much pain I, myself, would be dehumanised as a person."
Ace started long at Marco until his lips twitched up into a smile that echoed no laughter. "Good. Because falling off wouldn't be satisfactory at all."
Marco's eyes widened a little when Ace shifted in his seat, pulling his legs up to stand on the railing with nothing to hold onto but his own balance.
"Hey—" Marco started, trying to stand up as quick as possible when his hand couldn't reach Ace, couldn't tug his shirt, couldn't sit him back down.
Ace ignored him, glad that Marco wasn't close enough to drag him down. He smiled at the wind that pushed him slightly unbalanced. Ace felt never so much liberated. Never felt so much lighter. It was like the wind was carrying him. To the heavens. To the earth. To his downfall.
So this is what it means to be hanging on a tight line.
Ace turned on his heels, slowly stepping along the railing backward with his eyes gazed straight at Marco, daring him to come closer and get him down. Ace was enjoying this. He wanted to enjoy it a moment longer.
"You know," Ace started slowly, dropping his gaze just enough to see the red and yellow cars driving by below him. "Sometimes I wish I was a bird, free and light. The wind could just take—take me up or down—it doesn't matter where. I'd be happy either way. Because I'd see Luffy either way."
"Luffy isn't in heaven. Neither is he in hell, Ace."
"No," Ace agreed, ignoring the increasing nervousness in Marco's expressions. "Because Luffy's in my head. Because he meets me in my sleep and leaves me when I wake. Because nobody sees him and deems me as insane. Because I—"
"Ace, that's okay. That's enough. Get down before people will think you're really going to jump—"
"Let them think exactly that. They should be expecting this from me anyway. To them—to those people—I'm already insane."
"You're acting like this because you're scared, aren't you? Just like them, you are scared too," Ace interrupted. "You scared of the headlines in tomorrow's newspapers if I jump. You're scared of Grandpa—Grandpa, who will go mad. Sacred for your siblings that will be affected. Scared of the events that will follow my death."
"What are you even talking about!?" Marco tried to grab a him but Ace was still so far, even though he was so close. He gritted his teeth. "It doesn't matter if they think you're mad! Why would listen to those people who don't know anything? don't even know you but the you they have heard from others!?" the realisation dawned on Marco and he reached out—to grab Ace—to pull him away—to keep him away. But Ace only walked back a couple of steps, firmly holding his balance against the rushing wind that was trying to knock him over.
"You're scared." Ace repeated, quieter than before. "You're scared that the newspaper will read 'Bombing suspect committed suicide out of guilty feelings' just like Grandpa is. Just like Pigeon Boss Lucci is. Just like Long Nose Kaku and supervisor Kalifa are. You're scared just like the rest of them."
"You're scared. But I'm not." Ace continued. Still not listening. "Too bad I'm not. My life was always dangling on a thread. Always. This makes no different. Jumping or not. Flying or not. Meeting Luffy or not. I'm not scared. I'm not scared at all. There's no reason for me to be." Ace laughed quietly, enjoying the sheer look of terror crossing Marco's face when he realised the gravity of Ace's words.
"Why would there be a reason for me to be scared?" Ace whispered anyway, letting them sink into Marco's head in hopes he understood that there was nothing binding Ace to life. Nothing binding him to exist. Nothing binding him to stay here. In this place. In this hospital. In this room. This confinement. This cage.
He had lost his reason to live. And in a way, Ace couldn't have felt any freer than the moment his feet tilted off the railing.
Couldn't have felt any freer than the wind pushing against him. Carrying him. Holding him.
Couldn't have felt any freer than witnessing the sheet lock of terror quadrupling on Marco's face.
Because for the first time—
For the first time Ace could remember—
He didn't listen—
He ignored all warnings. Rushed headlong into this. And he couldn't have felt any freer than taking his life into his own hand.
Couldn't have felt any freer than disobeying what was expected of him.
Couldn't have felt any freer than setting out a path for himself.
Ace grabbed the window sill two stories below. He didn't think he'd actually make it. Didn't think he was strong enough to make it. But whoever his twenty year old self was, he was illogical, improbable and crazy just like Luffy. Ace let go and landed with both feet planted on a balcony below that he didn't think belong to any patient, but with his two hands cupped around his mouth he shouted to the stunned Marco his final words.
"I'm going to find out everything myself! I don't need you! I don't need Grandpa!And I certainly don't need anyone else! You can all just screw yourselves to hell!"
If there was any recognition flickering in Marco's eyes this time, Ace sure as hell didn't see it when he jumped his way down, bit by bit, crawling like a monkey from window to window, holding onto to edges and sills until he reached the emergency staircase, jumped over and hopped down the last steps until he climbed over the locked fence till his feet touched the ground.
This will be his new beginning.
Where Ace will grab his freedom.
He took a deep breath and felt finally free.