Luffy kicked out again at the bastard behind him trying to choke him into submission, grinning wickedly when he was rewarded with a pained grunt. He'd show these jerks not to mess with him! He wasn't some weak little kid anymore, in fact he'd gotten a lot stronger since Ace had left. No way he'd lose to some stupid bastards just because they managed to sneak up on him!
Or so he thought until he felt the press of something cold against his body. Something that had Luffy’s legs give out on him as he choked for air. Eyes widened in sudden panic he tried to thrash as whatever the cold thing was got attached to his wrist but he could barely move. He coughed and choked as the cord around his neck tightened panic filling him as black spots crowded his vision. Luffy felt like he was drowning, drowning on dry land. This, he realized, was what being really choked felt like, and he didn't like it. Not one bit. But unlike the last time he nearly drowned, Ace wasn't there to help, and for the first time in six months, Luffy was scared.
“Just think about it, Captain! Shichibukai Firefist sounds great!” Saber cheered, raising his glass in Ace’s direction.
The teen grinned and shook his head, not bothering to look up from the meal the bartender had placed in front of him. “You can't be serious. Shichibukai have to take orders from the World Government. I don't take orders.”
"Yeah, but only sometimes, Ace.” Banshee pointed out, tipping her bottle towards the missive the government has sent. “The rest of the time they get to do whatever they want.”
“And they're untouchable. Think of all the crap we could do!” Ducky shouted, causing the rest of the crew to cheer loudly.
Ace had to admit they were right about that. It was tempting, if he was going to be honest with himself. Ace would be able to make his mark on the world with little to no fear of retaliation by the Marines. Even better, it was basically carte blanche to attack anyone who pissed him off and that was always a long list. The downside was the very real danger if someone discovered who's blood ran in his veins.
Was it really worth the risk? That was what he had struggled with over the past week, docking at this island to stock up before heading to the nearest Marine base and giving his answer. He knew Garp would want him to take it. The old man had already sent a letter saying as much, assuring the teen that simply dropping his mother's last name would be more than enough to further protect himself and the legacy his blood carried.
What would Luffy think, though? His little brother was very simple, and even if it was a good chance, Ace didn't think he could stand it if Luffy was angry because of it when they met next. Which would be in a little more than a year now. Time sure flew, and Ace wasn't embarrassed in the slightest for asking Makino for a current picture of his little brother. He was a growing kid, it was important no matter how much his crew teased him over it. Might as well take advantage of being in one place for a while.
It wasn't a surprise then when Deuce arrived at the bar a short while later with a letter from home. “Lookit here, boys. Ace got mail from home!” His second in command called, waving the envelope above his head as the crew whooped and whistled.
It was easy enough to ignore the good natured teasing, especially when he finally got his hands on the envelope. Seeing how thick the envelope was Ace got excited, thinking maybe his little brother had taken the opportunity to try and write him something. “Alright you bastards, you've had your fun teasing me! Let me read this damn thing in peace.” He laughed, opening the letter.
It is wonderful to hear from you, truely. Luffy has been following your journey as well as able to given the news articles we have seen.
Ace grinned at that, imagining Luffy bouncing with nervous energy as he tried to read the paper.
I am so proud of you, and though I know it's your decision to make I think you should take the offer.
The teen frowned, not at the words but at the tear stains that had blurred them and the passage below until it was nearly unreadable.
---- went missing ----- waited ---- home. The treehouse ---- no sign ---- Garp-san ----
Ace swallowed hard, stomach twisting as his heart clenched up in fear. He couldn't think, not with all the noise. Something was wrong, but maybe he was panicking over nothing. “Everyone, SHUT UP a minute!” He ordered, his crew instantly quieting down as they picked up on his tension. He barely noticed as he squinted at the paper, forcing himself to make out the words in the shaky stained writing.
I don't know if there's anything he can do. By the time I realized he was not just off having fun the ship was long gone. Dadan has been working herself and her men as hard as she can to find him. Why, even now Dogora and the mayor should be arriving at Logetown at any moment.
I am off to Dadan’s now and hopefully when you receive this letter we will all be having a laugh over Luffy and his antics.
Ace. I I don't know what I'll do if they can't find Luffy.
Ace shook nearly tearing the paper as he struggled not to light it on fire. He wouldn't. There were still three pages left. He would get to the next page and find everything was alright.
I don't want you to go thinking I haven't done all that I can to find that little idiot. I had my men combing the city and the woods as soon as we noticed he was actually missing.
There's no two ways about it, we found out too late about that ship. Supposed to be some merchant vessel. Let me tell you, if that was a merchant vessel I'm a noble.
The next few lines scratched out violently enough that Ace could almost imagine Dadan doing it, teeth clenched around her cigarette.
Found someone who saw the crew with Luffy and some others. Now, I know the kid wants to go out to sea, so I checked. That ship didn't stop at any other island in the East Blue. Pulled in some favors and it's not good.
Ship switched flags right after clearing reverse mountain. Didn't stop, didn't follow one of those stupid routes. I don't need to tell you what that means, Ace.
No, she didn't. Ace swallowed dryly. Only two types would do that, and the first wouldn't bother to hide who they were in the weakest of the seas.
Take that position, brat.
Here there were a few stains, some smelling faintly of liquor but Ace knew better.
I don't have the heart to tell Makino. But we can't put it off forever. So listen here, Ace, take it and find Luffy before I have to tell that girl slavers took our boy.
Her letter wasn't signed. Instead there was a list of names and denden numbers. He realized it had to be her old contacts, from before . Dogra had once mentioned the Dadan bandits had used to be so much more, but Ace had thought it was the puffed up words of a weakling. Spotting such names as the Dark King, Ace had obviously been wrong.
Which for once he was glad of. Taking the list and shoving it in his pocket he finished his drink, not even feeling the burn.
He stood and turned to his crew. “I'm taking the position.”
“Captain?” Saber stood as well, the question of what was wrong went unspoken.
“I'm taking the position and we're finding my brother !” He hissed, flames raging along his arms and back. He'd find his baby brother and burn everyone who had dared to touch him. He had already lost one brother to the whims of the tenryuubito. He wasn't about to lose another.
“Please! I'll give you anything you want! Please--!” Ace watched impassively as the slaver begged for his life, dragging himself to where the pirate captain sat on a barrel. Even if he and his crew were inclined towards mercy -- which they weren't -- he'd bleed out soon enough.
The young Shichibukai scratched at his chin, debating if that would be a more fitting end. A sort of payment for all those lives ruined. “Anything?”
“Anything--!” The man cried, hand on Ace’s boot. “Y-you like money? I can get you money!”
Deuce snorted, “Captain's a Shichibukai, asshole. We want your money, we'll just take it.”
The man paled, shaking comically. “Treasure! I-- I can give you--”
“Have it.” Banshee cut him off, fake yawning.
“I -- I --”
“He's pretty worthless, Captain.” Saber offered. “I say just finish him off and be done with it. Before that snake princess gets close enough to be a problem.”
“Hm. You might be right. Or… we could just leave this trash for her. A gift.” Ace replied, calmly looking to portside where the other Shichibukai's vessel was fast approaching. He didn't need to use haki to know she was pissed. Boa Hancock had a reputation for viciousness when she felt slighted that was definitely earned. She was as fierce as she was beautiful and possibly the most possessive of all the Shichibukai. No one was allowed in her waters without permission. Not that Ace cared about that. He wasn't going to let his prey escape just because of some prideful princess.
“A-anything but that!” The slaver begged, voice cracking either from fear or blood loss. “Y-you like women? I-- I can get you women! All the women you could want! Beautiful women! Exotic beauties!”
Ace grit his teeth, flames fighting to be let loose as his expression hardened. The jovial atmosphere his crew had been sharing a moment before evaporated like the mist over the ocean in the morning. “What was that?” He nearly growled.
“No--? Men, maybe-- no, boys! I, I know a guy! He's got the softest, prettiest boys! All ages, too. Well trained, unless of course you're interested in--”
Ace's temper snapped and the man burned to ash before he could even properly scream. His cold grey eyes fell to the rest of the dead man's crew. “I changed my mind. Kill them all.”
With grim expressions the Spade Pirates got to work even as the Amazon Pirates arrived. Boa as expected was the first off her own boat, flanked by her sisters. “What are you doing in my waters again, Firefist?”
“Hunting.” He replied, not bothering to look at her.
“Hunting.” She repeated with a huff. “These vermin aren't worth your time.” Hancock groused, leaning into the coils of her snake.
A glance showed she had no intention of leaving. “If you want a damn tribute over this you can take whatever they had in their hold.”
The woman's face twitched slightly even as one of her sisters let out a hiss. It wasn't typical of any pirate to yield their booty to another. But this hunt hadn't been about spoils. “How many?”
“None.” Ace replied. “It was making a course towards Fishman Island. Pretending to be merchant traders.” He slid off the barrel, heading towards his own ship as his crew finished up.
“Next time you should call ahead.” Boa called after him. “Not all the others would be as… understanding.”
“Then they can burn in hell, too.” Ace growled, waving a hand. “Take care, Hancock.”
“You as well, Ace.” She answered, voice tinged slightly with compassion for the one man she didn't completely hate.
Marco slipped the notebook in his back pocket as he left the warehouse, information already committed to memory just in case. Standard practice really, even for something as routine as this. Marco would be happy when this whole mission was over either way. Spying on the Heavenly Demon and his operation left him feeling particularly slimy.
Doflamingo was definitely the worst of all the Shichibukai, Marco reflected, and it wasn't just the weapons trafficking but the slaving that made him so. Slavery to many a pirate was a fate worse than death. Many pirates would often go out of their way to kill those wretched souls; an act of brutal kindness the Whitebeard Pirate crew did not practice. No, freeing them when possible was definitely more their style. More than one island under their protection had a village made up of former slaves. Those who couldn't return home for whatever reason. Casually slipping around the corner as a small group of slaves carried heavy crates full of guns and swords to the docks, he managed to stay out of their way. It would be a simple thing to turn around and free them, Marco knew.
Yet to do so would mean the information he had gathered on the younger pirate’s operation would be worthless. While his disguise was decent enough to pass casual inspection it still wasn't that good. Doflamingo might be an egotistical bastard but he was far from stupid. There was no way he wouldn't make changes if Marco the Phoenix appeared on Dressrosa at his hidden wharf. No, better to get the information into Oyaji’s hands. It still wasn't easy to look away, though. He had known too many that had suffered such a life to turn a blind eye.
If Marco had actually managed to do so he'd have likely noticed the guard a lot sooner. “Halt!” the very large, scarred man spat out, gun pressed to Marco’s fully clothed chest.
The First Division Commander widened his eyes in feigned fear, hands raised to ear level. “Please don't shoot.”
“Who are you and why are you here?” The guard glowered.
“I'm lost,” Marco replied, putting a quiver in his voice. “My name is Mark. I'm a writer, well… co-writer and editor. My partner and I wrote ‘The meaning of One Piece’, have you heard of it?”
As expected, the other man made a non-committal sound. If he had read it, Marco would have been surprised, given it didn't actually exist. The guard wouldn't admit to not hearing of it though, and actually solidified the cover story. “How did you get here ?” The guard snapped instead, gun cocking.
“The beach!” Marco yelped, running a hand through his blackened hair in faux worry. “I was walking along the beach, for inspiration. The tide went out, and I saw this cave…. I swear I didn't mean anything by it! Please, don't shoot! I won't tell anyone!”
A calculating look crossed the guard's face. He grinned wickedly, a sick gleam in his eyes. “Oh, I don't think you'll be telling anyone…” the man said, raising his gun up. “Not where you're going.”
As the butt of the gun slammed into Marco's temple the Whitebeard pirate decided to just let it happen. Being captured was a pain, but his family was sure to come for him before he was actually sold off. Which meant there'd be one hell of a breakout, if he knew his brothers. Letting himself slump to the floor he congratulated himself on his plan -- which he would be telling Thatch was the plan all along -- for getting the information to Oyaji and freeing as many slaves as he could in the process.
The holding pens, for the most part, were overcrowded with more slaves than Marco had ever seen in one place. Unlike places where such a foul business was conducted in clandestine shops or on a barge, the whole island was dedicated to the business of slavery. When Marco had been dragged from the port to the open air pens four days ago he had silently raged that such a place existed not far from the edge of Oyaji's territory.
A feeling that only grew as he took in the rows and rows of cages out in the open, protected only by torn and sagging cloth from the sun that beat down constantly on the summer island. Despite the open layout there was a horrid smell that hung in the still air. The smell of death, fear, sickness, and waste. Marco knew as long as he lived he'd never be able to escape that smell.
Watching as the guards go from pen to pen and actually hosing down those inside brought both pity and anger in the Whitebeard Pirate. Especially with how grateful most of the captives seemed. The water did offer temporary relief of the heat and smell, but did not offer much in the way of drinking. When his fellow captives had tried tearing the dripping wet shirt off Marco's back he had been forced to defend himself. The death of one of the more determined ones had lead Marco to being forcefully dragged into his own private pen.
It was more of a space between other much larger pens that was an odd shape. With a strong door added, even he was impressed with how well it served as solitary confinement. Of course, if they had known who they were dealing with they wouldn't have left him in something so flimsy.
Marco passed the time waiting for his family by watching those in the cells around him. These cells were smaller and a tad less crowded, mostly filled with those who had been slaves longer, if he was any judge of things. It wasn't that they were broken, really. Just… quieter than the other slaves. What disagreements they had were settled with a handful of hushed words and sharp gestures. None in the neighboring cages would get to where Marco's own was, cutting him dirty looks for the apparent increased attention of the guards his presence had brought.
In the cage across from him they didn't bother to pay him any mind, more focused on not drawing the eyes of the guards to themselves. Most sat huddled within an arm's length away from the next. Except for one. Marco wasn't sure if it was a boy or a small man, but hoped it was the latter. No child should have such a feeling of helplessness. It was so pervasive even those sharing the pen stayed away as much as they were able.
The longer he stayed here the more he felt like razing this place to the ground. But it would be the job for an army, Marco knew. He just hoped Oyaji would come before he started without them.
“Six days in this hell.” Marco muttered to himself, “What is taking them so long?”
“You in that much of a hurry to get sold, kid?” One of the slaves in the conjoining cages asked in hushed tones.
Marco rolled his eyes, “Hardly.”
“Then ya looking to die? Cause that's the only other way out of here.”
“I'm not planning on dying any time soon.” He replied, “I'm waiting for my ride.”
The slave spat, glaring at him before turning away, grumbling under his breath about cocky bastards. Marco ignored him, instead turning his attention to the pen across the way. There wasn't much change from two days ago, except the smallest in the cage was now leaning up against the bars closest to Marco. In that whole time he hadn't seen the guy speak to anyone, flinching away from the other slaves whenever one approached. Marco had already watched as the meager rations each slave was given were taken away from him as was the rag he'd been using to cover himself with.
Part of Marco felt he deserved it, allowing the others to walk all over him. The other part, the part who had been First Division Commander for so long, was angered at how the others took advantage of a kid . Because it was definitely a kid, for all that he'd hoped otherwise.
“Hey,” he called, trying to get the boy's attention once more. “Hey, brat!” He hissed, not expecting much. Still it was worth the effort to try to get that look off the kid's face.
“Just give it up,” the old man from before advised him.
“Like hell,” Marco shot back, holding out the stale bread crust he had been given by the guards the day before. If the kid just reached for it he'd be able to pass it off. Surely the poor thing had to be hungry, the way his ribs showed. “My brother would kill me if he found out I ignored someone starving like this.”
“It's a kinder fate than what awaits the brat when he's sold off again.”
Marco turned his head slightly to glare at the man. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Simple,” the man shrugged, “Kids don't last. Not long, anyways. Most slave hunters don't even bother going for the real young-uns. They break too easy. Expensive to replace, or keep on the account of how they always need food and all. That one? If he don't starve off, got maybe another two months.”
“You're wrong,” Marco told the man as the boy finally seemed to notice the bread. Marco watched as dark eyes blinked at him slowly from behind lank hair, empty of any emotion. “Take it. Eat.”
“Wasting your time.”
*Shut up, or I'll kill you, yoi,” Marco growled back as the boy cautiously took the bread in one cuffed hand.
“Seastone, huh? Must be why he got taken. Poor bastard. Probably only got caught a few months ago, too.” The other slave blatantly ignored Marco's threat as the boy nibbled slowly on the bread, dull eyes watching Marco watch him.
“I'm going to get you out of here,” he told the boy, unsurprised at the lack of reaction. If nothing else, he was determined to make good on it, though. Young or not, Marco knew very well what the fate was for those with devil fruits who ended up enslaved. Very few, if any, survived long, often used as playthings until they dropped dead. He couldn't allow a kid to suffer that kind of life.
“Yeah, you and what army?” The old man huffed a cruel laugh. “Only way to get him out is death. Same as you, dumbass.”
Marco ignored him, eyes watching the boy finish up the sliver of bread before drifting off to sleep. He was getting the kid out of there even if he had to bust them out himself. As for the other slaves…. Well, there were a few who might not survive such an escape plan.
“You sure you know what you're doing, kid?” the pirate asked Sabo. He thought the guy was called Juru or something, but wasn't sure. Too many new names to keep them all straight.
“I should be asking you that, old man,” he shot back cheerfully. “The Revolutionary Army has a reputation for going after places like this. The Whitebeard Pirates don't .”
Sabo snorted, cutting the other off as they got into position. “You free them when you come across them. When was the last time you went out of your way?”
Juru? Jizo? Whatever his name was glowered. “If we didn't need your help, I'd show you a thing or two about respect, brat.”
“Well, we are at the right place for it.” Sabo gestured towards the rows upon rows of overcrowded cages. With the use of Haki they could sense the others getting into place, surrounding the hellhole. It wouldn't be much longer before they were ready to make their move.
The Whitebeard Pirate huffed, “Can't believe Marco let himself get caught. Even if he was in disguise.”
“Well, it's lucky for us. This is a floating island; no log pose reading. Without that vivre card who knows how long this hellhole would be operating,” Sabo pointed out, eyes scanning the pens without really seeing them. It wasn't the first time he'd led a breakout and likely wouldn't be the last. The scope of this particular operation was much larger than he was used to dealing with. It was easy to see how the slavers had set up the whole island, most of the land being set aside to hold the large number of slaves for later sale.
There were so many they outnumbered the Revolutionary members who had come by at least ten to one. As much as Sabo loathed to admit it, without the help of the Whitebeard Pirates there would have been no way to transport that large a number.
Judu must have been thinking the same, “You sure that place you want to take them to will have room?”
“Most of them.” Sabo allowed, “There's more than I expected, so it'll be tight.”
“Well, there's a few villages under our protection, too.”
“Might need them. Might not. I expect about an eighth to join the revolution if it pans out like usual. Koala’s working on setting up a second retreat for the rest in case we need it.” He shifted, eyes following the near invisible flare in the sky.
“That's the signal,” Jupo growled, moving forward, Sabo right behind him. Their mission was the easiest. Find Marco and get him out as the Whitebeard crew focused on causing a distraction. Freeing the rest of the slaves fell to those revolutionary members with the most experience doing such things. Sabo mentally wished them all luck as he darted between cages.
Marco cracked open an eye as he felt his brothers make their move. It looked to be a little past dawn, a good time for an attack, despite it being the most obvious time for one. There wasn't much of a defense here, anyway. Most of the guards here would offer a token defense at best, trained as they were in the subduing of slaves.
Standing his full height the pirate casually leaned against the bars, listening to the faint sounds of the battle already beginning, a grin on his face as those around him dozed fitfully, unaware of what was coming. Except the boy across from him. Dull eyes met Marco’s before turning towards the direction of the fight. The boy shivered, huddling closer to the bars.
“Don't worry, kid. My Nakama won't hurt you.” As usual there wasn't a reply from the kid.
His noisy neighbor, on the other hand… “You going on about that again? Keep telling you, only way out of here is--”
“If you'd wanted a birdcage you should have just asked, Marco.” A much more welcome voice cut him off.
“Jozu!” Marco laughed, excited enough to see his brother he'd let the bird joke slide. “Took you bastards long enough.”
“What, planning on flying the coupe without us?” The diamond man chuckled as he handily ripped the door off the tiny pen Marco had been confined to all this time.
“Really now, what was the point of me swiping the keys if you were just going to do that?” Marco narrowed his eyes at the stranger standing with his brother. “Marco, I presume? I'm Sabo,” the dapper looking blond said, flourishing a key.
“The revolutionary brat?” Marco asked, taking the offered key and unlocking the bomb collar around his neck as the other smiled brightly at the recognition.
“Ignore him; he's an annoying bastard,” Jozu suggested.
“He's just sore this was too big for just your crew to pull off,” the younger man quipped back, swinging more keys around his fingers. “Now if you two are done, we have places to go and people to free.”
At his words many in the pens around them threw themselves bodily at the bars, desperate to reach the keys and their perceived freedom. Spotting the kid get shoved onto the ground Marco felt his fraying temper finally snap. “Enough!” He snapped, a thin trickle of Haki bringing instant silence as those who had just been struggling to get out now pressed as far away as possible. He turned to the revolutionary, nodding to the pen across, “Open that one first.” His eyes landed on those within, “You lot will wait until he finishes and leave in an orderly fashion. Or you won't leave at all.”
“Marco,” Jozu muttered, “Oyaji's going to sink this place. You wouldn't really--”
“I would.” He whispered back as the pen was unlocked and those within filed out one at at a time, cutting him fearful looks.
“Get down to the docks. There will be someone there to take off those collars. The bombs have been deactivated, so go!” The revolutionary encouraged, moving to the next cage.
“Well…” Jozu trailed off, seeming unsure of what to do with himself as the pens were quickly emptied, “Guess I should get you to Oyaji, then. Come on, Marco.”
Glancing around at the empty cages around them Marco let out a sigh. “Wait.” He said, walking into the one he'd been staring into for the last few days. Despite the door being open and no one else around the boy had made no move to leave. Instead he huddled where he had fallen, eyes on the open door as he shook.
“A kid?” Jozu let out a string of curses, stomping off to break something.
“Hey, kid.” Marco spoke softly, crouching next to the boy. “Told ya I'd get you out, yoi.” He held out his hand, “Let's go.”
His heart broke a little when the boy slightly flinched back from him, shivering violently. Marco almost didn't notice Sabo crouching right behind him. “Poor bastard.” The younger blond sighed, “Look; not to be heartless, but we've got to go.”
“I'm not leaving him to die.” Ice blue eyes met sky blue.
“Not saying you should. But…. You're not going to like how to get him out.” The revolutionary replied. Marco narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re going to have to order him out.”
“Look, I've seen this before.” Sabo cut him off, former smile gone and replaced with a deadly serious expression. “It's not pretty and it's not nice , but it'll work.”
“Damnit!” Marco spat, not doubting his words. He'd expected as much after watching the kid a few days. Sighing, he held his hand out, “Give me your hand.”
Brown eyes stared at him mutely as the boy shivered in either fear or nerves. Slowly a delicate, calloused hand was raised to rest in Marco's. The boy was unresisting as Marco tugged him to his feet, but hesitated at the cage door.
Marco offered what he hoped was a friendly smile, “Follow me, yoi. I won't let anything happen to you.” With a smile that seemed more reflex than genuine the kid allowed himself to be tugged along as the sounds of chaos grew louder. Marco almost regretted giving up the chance to let loose and vent a bit. But glancing back at the kid, Jozu guarding their rear, he knew he'd made the right choice. He was sure many lives would be lost today, and a good number of those would undoubtedly be slaves, but this kid wasn't going to be one of them.
The boy sat still as he could, fighting the urge to flinch away as the smiling blond man did something to his collar from behind. He knew moving would earn a smack, and that was if the other was in a good mood. If he wasn't, which the boy didn't think he was , not with all the tension in the air, it would be a beating at least. He didn't want a beating. These people looked a lot stronger than his other masters had been. So he kept still, scarcely breathing.
“I don't see why you can't just use the key from before.” The biggest man spoke, standing just in the corner of where the boy could see him. He sounded annoyed.
“That is a good question, yoi.” The nice man from the pens said. He didn't act like a slave and seemed kinda important. So it made sense that his people… nakama, he'd called them… had destroyed everything and took the other slaves. He'd seen it happen before when a Tenryūbito got angry. That was how he'd ended up with his third master, after all.
“Simple, Marco's collar was a newer model. They switch up the lock every few months.” The blond man replied.
“Ah,” Marco, the nice man, replied, crouching down in front of him. “We'll have you out of that in a bit, kid.” The boy blinked at him, not sure what he meant. His eyes traveled down to his cuffed hand, wondering if that's what the man was talking about. “That too, yoi.”
“Hmmm. Well, not the most helpful…” the blond man said.
“What? Is something wrong?”
“No, but look at this.” The boy held still as the other two left his line of sight. He couldn't help the shiver that ran through him though. They were reading his collar. The nice man would know how useless he was and send him back to the pens. “See these marks? It's basically a log. A way for potential buyers to know what they're getting.”
“Treating them like fucking animals.” The big man spat.
“Unfortunately.” The bBlond replied.
“Well, what's it say, Sabo?”
“Mmm… let's see… EBG1131X 'Das’.” The… Sabo muttered.
“Which means what, yoi?”
“Give me a second! It's been awhile!” The man snapped, causing the boy to flinch away. He stilled when Marco came to crouch in front of him again, offering a smile. He hoped they didn't get rid of him; he didn't think he could handle the pens again so soon. “EB...that part’s easy; East Blue. That would be where our little friend is originally from. G… that's the island. Probably Goa, only island in the East Blue with ties to the Tenryūbito. 113…. Species, sex, breed -- basically if they have any innate abilities. Pretty obvious in this case; Human, male, devil fruit user. The next one is type… like if he was a Haki user if it's armement or observational. In this case, a one is… paramecia class.”
“And the X?” The big man asked.
“Nothing.” Sabo replied. “Don't give me that look Juju--”
“ Jozu , for the last time--”
“--Juku. It literally means nothing .” The boy felt a tug on his collar and bit his lip in worry. They sounded angry. “This spot is for use , alright? 1 for general, 2 for ornamental, 3 for fighting…. I've never seen an X. I've got no clue what it means.”
Marco made a face and the boy closed his eyes instinctively. Instead of pain, however, he felt warm fingers carding through clumps of his hair. He risked opening one eye a crack. “Das. Is that your name, kid?” The man asked. The boy couldn't ignore a direct question, so he jerkily nodded, trying to stay as still as possible for the one behind him. Marco smiled at him, and he let out the breath he'd been holding. “Das, do you know what the X means?” He shook his head in shame. The other slaves said it made him worthless. But that didn't tell him what it meant .
“Well, it was a long shot,” Sabo said from behind him, patting Das's shoulder and making him tense slightly. “Almost done, kid.”
“Hey, before we take that cuff off, don't you think we should make sure the ki-- I mean Das’s fruit isn't something that could cause problems?” Ju...zo?... Asked before turning defensive at the glare Marco sent his way. The boy knew Marco was important. “I just meant we don't know how much control the brat has. If it's not a lot, we should be ready is all.”
Marco sighed before looking back at the boy. “Well, Das? Is Jozu right?”
He bit his lip, trying to decide if this meant they wanted him to talk. His other masters never wanted to hear his voice, unless it was in pain. But… there was no other way to answer the question. He swallowed nervously, “Y-yes?” He tried.
The man seemed disappointed for a moment but before the boy could try again Sabo spoke up, “You asked wrong.” There was a click, and his neck felt funny, but he didn't have time to wonder why because Sabo was in his face, much too close. “What fruit do you have, Das?”
“R...rubber… I'm a rubber-man.” Das stammered.
“Good. Now, how's your control?” Sabo asked, something similar to a smile on his face.
Das-- if they wanted to call him by his name he had to start thinking of himself as his name again and not just 'boy’ or 'slave’-- couldn't help the sudden spike of fear he felt. “I c… I…” he swallowed, fighting the fear. Not answering would make it worse. “I can do whatever Master needs of me.”
The other two made an odd sound, but Das was too focused on Sabo to notice. “Yes, very good, Das.” He felt a trickle of relief, “But how good is your control over your devil fruit?” Das blinked at him. Hadn't he already answered that? “Will you accidentally hurt someone with it?”
“No!” He shook his head, eyes wide. “I won't hurt anyone; not unless Masters say to. Das is well trained.” He nodded, proud of that. He'd seen others fight back when their Master beat them. They didn't live long. “Master can beat me as hard and as often as they want, Das is hhappy to accept the punishment.” He smiled, trying to prove he wasn't as useless as the other slaves said.
Sabo heard something break behind him even as he struggled not to pull a face at the kid’s words. Keeping an easy looking smile on his face he pat the boy on the head, both relieved and saddened when he didn't flinch away. “Good boy, Das. Now, Marco and I need to go talk with some people. So you be good and do what Jumo tells you.”
Jupo pushed off the wall and started to walk over as Sabo stood. He was likely planning on sitting near the boy, an understable precaution in case the kid bolted. The floating island had started shaking periodically as Newgate literally tore the place apart. Here close to the ships it was mostly safe but it paid to be cautious. Not that Sabo thought the kid would move at all without prompting.
“It's Jozu.” The pirate reminded him again.
Sabo let out a heavy sigh, handing the flask of water he kept on him to the pirate. “Try and get him to drink, but don't force him, Jozu.” He muttered as he turned. The pirate nodded, sitting even as Sabo grabbed Marco and dragged him out of the small shed. Once they'd gotten enough distance that their voices shouldn't carry enough for the kid to hear he let go, turning to watch as another part of the island sunk.
“ Damnit !” Marco hissed, fist colliding with a wall and crumbling it.
“Gets worse.” Sabo told him.
Marco snorted, “How?”
“The X? I figured it out and it's not good.” Sabo held up a hand to stop Marco, “I’ve only really heard of it as a rumor, but….” He looked away, “My partner said that sometimes you'd hear about these slaves. They didn't wear bomb collars. The owners were afraid the collars would go off when they were having fun with them.” He clenched a fist, feeling the scar tissue pull, “Fun beating them.”
“Wasn't armed. That's what the 'X’ means.” He shared a look with the pirate, “He's not a slave; he's a toy. Hell, 'Das’ might not even be his real name.”
Marco turned and glared out across the rapidly vanishing island, jaw clenched. A detached part of Sabo wondered if many people had seen the pirate known for his laid back nature so angry. The revolutionary let him have his moment, figuring it was the first time the man had ever seen what a truly broken slave looked like. Sabo wished he could say the same. “Look; he'll get better with…” he sighed, catching the look the other gave him before he continued the lie. “Fine. He probably won't ever really recover. But as soon as we get some weight on him I'll move him into headquarters. It'll be easier on him, having a set rout--”
“He's coming with me, yoi.” Marco cut him off.
“You can't be serious.”
“I saw how the others treated him.” He narrowed his eyes, “How you ordered him around. He's coming with me.”
Sabo shook his head, “That's a bad idea, Marco. In case you hadn't noticed he's been broken .” He ignored the hiss, “You can't take him on a pirate ship. I know you're worried about people taking advantage of the kid in the revolutionaries, and I get it. The same could happen in your crew not to mention he won't -- can't -- defend himself if you're attacked.”
Marco crossed his arms, not arguing that his family wouldn't take advantage. Likely he was just as aware as Sabo was at how easily it happened. “Oyaji will protect him. I'll protect him.”
Damn if Sabo didn't believe him. He huffed, taking off his hat and running a hand through his hair. It was a bad idea and he knew it, but at the same time he knew Das might be better off. Marco cared, be it from guilt or something else. While Sabo could say he also cared, by the very nature of his job he wouldn't be able to associate with Das beyond bringing him to the base. It was simply too risky if someone got to the kid, especially in an organization of spies where that information could damn so many lives. Too easy to get information from one so broken.
If he went with Marco, though…. The only ones on the ship were loyal to the old man. So long as the kid never left the ship, it wouldn't matter so much. True, not much of a life…. But somehow he didn't think Marco would stand for the kid being made to do scullery work. Which was honestly better than Sabo could promise. “Koala is going to kill me if I'm wrong about you.” He told Marco, handing him the broken collar.
“What's this for, yoi?”
“Das is going to think like a slave for a while, no matter what. So I gave you that so he'll know you're his 'Master’ -- don't give me that look, you are going to need him to listen to you if he's ever going to get better. Plus, knowing where he 'stands’ will make him feel safer, as sick as it sounds. So take it, give it to your Captain. Keep things really really simple.”
Marco's eyes widened slightly, maybe realizing exactly what he was signing up for. “Any other advice?”
Sabo nodded, turning to walk back to the shack, “You're probably going to have to teach him how to take care of himself to some extent. Keep in mind he was probably forcefully trained to react a certain way to all sorts of things. He's probably going to be scared a lot, even if he doesn't act it. So if you have to, order him to do things instead of asking. Slaves aren't allowed to have opinions so questions will stress Das. Try and be consistent.”
“What about praise? Encouragement?”
“Lots of it.” He turned to Marco when they reached the shed. “He's likely not going to get better, you know. He'll be free, but not , and you have to remember it's not your fault, and it's not Das’s. Sometimes we get to them in time….”
“And sometimes you don't, yoi.” Marco nodded in understanding “I'll keep that in mind. But I made a promise to him, and I'm keeping it.”
“Good luck. You'll need it.” Sabo whispered out of the corner of his mouth, fixing a smile on his face for Das, who was staring at them with wide eyes when the door opened, water running down his chin. Sabo hoped it was the right choice he'd made.
Das stuck as close as he deemed safe as he followed Marco -- the man had stressed he wasn't his master and to call him by name -- up the gangplank. The ship was massive, much bigger than what was left of the island. It was also full of very loud excited people who immediately crowded around Marco, Das pulling back to avoid getting hit for being in the way.
“They're just excited to see him,” Jozu said, standing an arm's reach behind him. Das wasn't sure why, but it made him feel a little better. He still didn't like it when the man patted his shoulder. “They'll calm down soon enough, then we can introduce you.”
Das nodded even though that was the last thing he wanted to was get close to a large group of powerful people. Especially how excitable they seemed. He would do what he was told anyway, just like he always did, because Das knew his wants weren't important. As Jozu nudged him forward he spotted his collar hanging from Marco's belt. Das stared at it, keeping his eyes away from the possible threats around him.
It was comforting to stand near Marco, Jozu not far behind. More so as they walked forward to stand at the center of the ship. Keeping his head down, he edged as close to Marco as he dared, refusing to look up at the large man they stood before.
“Hey, Oyaji.” Marco spoke, voice warm.
“Son. You've been away for a while.” The voice…. Oyaji?... Was deep, powerful. Das fought the urge to make himself smaller.
“Yeah, the party ran longer than I was expecting. Thanks for picking me up, yoi.” Marco tossed something, maybe a small book?
There was a rumbling laugh that actually shook the boards they stood on. “I see you were as successful in your first mission as well.”
“Well, I'm not Thatch.” Most of those standing near broke out into laughter and Das hoped whoever this Thatch was the wasn't hurt too much for failing.
“And who's this, son?” Out of the corner of his eyes Das saw the giant of a man lean forward before he looked down again, uncomfortable with the attention.
“This?” Marco ruffled his hair as he replied, “This is Das.”
“Marco, what the hell, man? I thought all them went with the revolutionaries?” Someone from the crowd called out. Das blinked, focusing on not reacting even as he felt more than saw Jozu move to stand right behind him. Part of him wanted to move away from the large man at his back, but mostly he was just happy to be out of sight of most of those on deck.
“Your brother is right, Marco. This is no place for the bra--”
Marco moved fast, hand closing around the collar hanging from his belt and tossing it at his father. Das’s head snapped up, watching the collar as it was caught by the man who didn't want him here . He made an aborted noise of protest, only to stop and bow his head in obedience when Marco’s eyes cut to him. It wasn't Das’s place to question, just obey. “He's staying, Oyaji.” Das swallowed hard and those words. He would be good, even if he was more terrified then he had been when the island had shook.
Edward Newgate was not a kind man. One did not become the world's strongest pirate captain by kindness, even if he was capable of such to his vast number of children and allies. That didn't mean he could not feel compassion, however. Compassion he felt as he watched the small brat follow carefully at his son's heels. He didn't need to see the brand to know the boy was a former slave, and his heart went out to the brat.
It was because of that he was disappointed with Marco for bringing the boy with him. A lone ex-slave would have a hard time adjusting in one of their protected villages, especially one who refused to even look around. His son knew better, or so he thought when his eldest tossed what could only be a bomb collar.
There was a flash of something on the brat’s face. Something between terror, betrayal and hopeless acceptance before the boy's face went frighteningly blank. Newgate didn't miss the look Marco sent him, or the pointed way Jozu rested a hand on the brat's shoulder. They were both willing to fight him on this. “He's staying, Oyaji.”
The rest of the crew fell silent, waiting for their Captain to decide. Whitebeard sighed, finger running over the etching in the collar. He knew very well what it all meant, and it was easy to see why it bothered Marco so. It might have been a lifetime ago, but Whitebeard still remembered the jeering taunts and abuse of a forgotten island that tormented a young man for the very gift that would later make him so feared across the Blues. He leaned forward, “Come here, brat.”
The brat, Das, didn't even flinch. Whitebeard would have been impressed if he wasn't sure it was something that had been beaten out of the kid. Looking down at the boy standing before him he felt a headache coming on. The kid was more than half dead, weakened by the seastone on his arm to boot. He wouldn't be any kind of asset to the crew, not like this. If he ever would be…. Well. Newgate had seen people come back from worse. Granted, not often, but it did happen.
He held out the useless collar, watching as the boy's eyes followed it. There wasn't desperation or longing in that look, so there might be hope. Still… destroying it now would likely scare the kid. “You know this has no power over you, brat.”
Dark eyes glanced up at him and away.
“We don't keep slaves on this ship.” Newgate began again, reaching down and cupping his hand around the boy to pick him up as the brat shuddered, eyes darting to the rail. To the sea. By the gods the brat probably thought he was going to toss him overboard. He didn't need the dirty look Marco sent his way to regret it. Whitebeard leaned back, and when the boy glanced at him he sighed. “All those aboard this ship are my children, Das. Do you understand?”
Mutley the boy nodded before a raised eyebrow had him offering a hesitant answer. “Y-yes?”
He didn't understand, not really. But that was fine; the words were more for the others anyway. Whitebeard pocketed the horrible collar, vowing to crush it as soon as he was sure the action would not put the brat in shock. The doctors wouldn't forgive him for that, especially with how thin the poor brat was. Whitebeard looked over his children, searching for one he could trust to handle things for the moment. “Thatch, bring your new brother to the infirmary, and then get him something to eat. Afterwards bring him to my room; we will find somewhere for him to bunk.” The Captain stood, eyes landing on Marco in a silent order to follow. They had much to talk about it seemed.
Thatch plastered on the biggest smile he could, shoving his unease as far down as possible as he approached the newest addition to their family. Before he could get too close Jozu was there, arm around his bicep in a move that was unlike him. Thatch glanced up, his smile faltering.
“Go easy on the brat,” Jozu advised, not bothering to lower his voice much at all. A glance behind the Third Division Commander showed the boy still staring after Oyaji and Marco, apparently unaware of anything else. From this angle the brand was painfully conspicuous and Thatch felt his own back twitch just looking at the raised flesh. It looked painful, but he knew the red color was from the branding process, not a sign of how fresh it was.
Thatch mentally shook himself, “Of course I'll go easy on him! I'm hurt you would think anything less of me.”
“I mean it, Thatch. Das…” the larger commander glanced at the boy before lowering his voice. “... He's not right , Thatch.”
“Is he dangerous?” He asked, eyes narrowing.
The other snorted, “Only to himself. That revolutionary guy said he was broken or some such shit.” He shrugged his massive shoulders, “Point is kid is harmless, except he probably thinks we're all planning on beating him half to death.”
“What?!” Thatch hissed back, “We-- that's…. He's our new brother !”
Jozu moved to the side, offering Thatch a pat on the shoulder. “Well, just go easy on him.”
Thatch swallowed, realizing exactly what Oyaji saddled him with. His step lost some of it's pep as he walked over to the kid, noticing how he shifted. Good, he knew Thatch was there, for all he wouldn't look at him. The commander offered the warmest smile he could, “Das, right? I'm Thatch.”
Dull eyes, worn by horrors Thatch could only guess at looked at him. It took a beat but Thatch realized the kid was waiting for him to keep talking. To give him an order most likely.
He chuckled, trying to reach for that feeling of normalcy. It wasn't Das’s fault, nor was it his. “Not much of a talker, huh? That's alright; Marco says I talk enough for the whole crew.” Was that possibly surprise he saw, or was he reading into things? “Aannnyway, Oyaji wanted me to bring you to the Infirmary, I know it seems stupid but it's pretty much standard for anyone who joins the crew.”
Thatch was pleased when Das followed him with no prompting. Kid wouldn't walk next to him, but it wasn't as far back as he had feared. “You'd be surprised how quickly anything spreads on this ship, so new crew get the usual round of vaccinations and a few rarer ones, doesn't take too long.” He continued, not exactly rushing but not taking his time.
The Infirmary was only the level below the commander’s floor, close enough to the deck in case of an emergency, but protected by a floor of the most ruthless pirates on board. Of which at least three were almost guaranteed to be in their quarters at any given time, barring a party or all out war. Luckily they passed only Teach returning to his room. Thatch nodded at the Second Division Commander, shifting to stand between him and Das. Teach was a great commander, but sometimes he made Thatch a little uneasy. Then again, the man was a D, so that was probably it.
Reaching the Infirmary Thatch kept talking, trusting one of the nurses to have already explained what was going on. “Of course, they're going to take your vitals--” he caught the subtle twitch of Das's fingers, the smallest twitch of his lips that had Thatch wordlessly signalling the nurse to wait. It shouldn't have surprised him that Das would be frightened. No doubt as a slave seeing a doctor had been a horrible experience. Well, that wouldn't do. So after he picked the Brat up and sat him on the exam table -- too light by half, poor guy needed to be fed up -- and hopped up next to him. “Which I was supposed to have done a week ago, right Cherri?”
The nurse luckily caught on quick. “Just because you're a Commander doesn't mean you can skip your physical, Thatch.”
“Sorry, sorry!” He laughed good natured as she took her time getting the charts ready.
After a moment Cherri was offering Das a warm smile, “Welcome! Don't let Commander Thatch scare you off of coming here if you ever need to. We're here to help, and while no one lik es coming to the Infirmary, I'll try and make it as stress free as possible, Das. Now. Today it looks like you're here for your first checkup and vaccinations….and I see you've wisely brought someone who 'forgot’ his appointment and went on a mission instead. So, let's get started.”
Cherri was a good choice for nervous patients. She never rushed and kept up a steady chatter, mixing good natured ship gossip with explanations of what she was doing. While Thatch hadn't had her work directly on himself before, he had played this role more than once with newer Nakama. Not often, but enough to be assured he most definitely was not behind on any of his booster shots. Das watched with those dark eyes as Cherri finished Thatch’s exam. When it was his turn there was a brief moment when Thatch worried it had been too stressful. The brat had gone frighteningly still, eyes lifeless as Cherri had listened to his heartbeat. But once the stethoscope was away Das had shuddered slightly, blinking in what seemed to be disbelief and Thach realized he had expected it to hurt.
That disbelief turned to wary distress when she removed the seastone cuff around his thin wrist with the quick application of lock picks. Thatch nudged the boy, “That feel better, buddy?”
Das offered a slight shrug.
“So. I'm guessing… Logia type?” Cherri hummed, marking her chart.
“N-no.” Das timidly interrupted her writing, fingers running over where the band of stone had rested for who knew how long. The skin there was pale and scabbed, but not as badly as the brat’s neck. Das glanced up at the nurse, eyes sliding over to Thatch before returning to the floor, “Pancia. Rubber. Das is rubber.”
“I see.” Cherri hummed, “I take it that it's not something you can turn off?” Das shook his head, earning a tsking sound, “This is why I hate these classifications, hun. You're technically not a Logia, but since you can't turn your abilities on or off and they affect your whole body you're burning energy like one. Three classifications just isn't enough.”
“Good luck changing the world government's opinion on it.” Thatch snorted, watching as Cherri gave Das his incolations and what he was pretty sure was an antibiotic and vitamin booster. To distract Das from the fact he was receiving more shots than Thatch had the division commander spoke up, “So after this I was going to take Das here down to the galley for a late lunch.”
“That's right, you were on watch this morning,” Cherri agreed, easily lying to give them an excuse to go. “The soup was fantastic, I think you'd like it, Das.” She smiled brightly, “You're all set. Don't forget, if you ever need anything, feel free to stop in!”
The former slave just nodded as he followed Thatch, eyes still dowcast but with much less tension hidden between his shoulders. Looking over the kid's dirty head Thatch resolved to get the kid a bath in the next few days if possible. Preferably after Das stopped expecting someone to kick the crap out of him.
But first, he'd take Cherri’s advice and stick to soups for the kid, sure that she'd have an individual meal plan already on its way to the kitchen. Another standard practice for those brothers and sisters who needed that extra help, and if anyone did it was Das. Entering the galley showed that there were a few stragglers eating a late lunch or early dinner before their next shift. It still left plenty of open benches for Thatch to guide Das to a relatively quiet corner, wall at his back before going to get their food. He'd been right, and Rosco -- currently running the kitchen -- had two bowls of thick soup ready, handing over a folded piece of paper Thatch knew was full of notes in the man's precise cramped handwriting. As division commander it fell to him to enter those notes into the log kept for any special diets, as well as prepare a notice in the kitchen so Das wouldn't accidentally get something he should not be eating. That was a worry for later, though.
The big worry for now was how Das stared at the soup. “Aren't you hungry?”
“N-no, master.” The kid answered, eyes still fixed on the soup with a starving man's desperation.
Thatch wanted to punch something, spoon bending in his grip. He should have expected those sick bastards to use food as a form of torture. Food, which was always supposed to give comfort; to nourish your body and soul. He didn't even want to know what had been done, though a sick part of his mind suggested plenty of horrible things. Tainted foods, force feeding, starving …. He shoved back his anger before it showed on his face. “Awe, come on Das, don't make me eat this all by myself…”
“N-not hungry.” Das replied, adding a belated “Master.”
Thatch sighed, eating some of his own soup as he thought a way around the obviously conditioned response. When his bowl reached half way it came to him. “Here, this is getting a bit cool, I'll switch you.” He swapped the bowls, starting on what had been Das’s. “It's super good, but if you don't want any, that's fine. Just, honestly a bowl and a half is my limit and if I have to toss the rest Oyaji will be disappointed.”
Das blinked up at him, “Mad.” It didn't sound like a question, didn't even look like the kid had meant to say it. Not with that panicked look.
Thatch smiled, acting like it was completely normal. Which is should have been. “Not mad, just… sad. He's the type to worry if he thinks we're not taking care of ourselves.” He leaned forward, “If you could help me out here, I'd really appreciate it, Das.”
There was a moment of silence as the boy looked at him and the half full bowl, worrying his lip so hard Thatch was surprised it didn't bleed. Hesitantly Das put his hands around the bowl, looking up at Thatch to gauge his reaction. “Das will help master.” Thatch hid the wince at the title, it wasn't the time to tackle that, not when it was getting the kid to eat.
It was as he'd expected. Das started slowly, sipping cautiously. Soon though his hunger won out and he was taking big gulps, barely noticing when Rosco discreetly brought over another half full bowl. The desperate little noises that escaped Das pulled at Thatch's heart. No one should ever feel that hungry… feel that afraid to eat. When he'd finished around a bowl and a half's worth he stopped, looking around with a slight dazed expression that spoke of exhaustion.
“Good job, Das.” Thatch praised, ruffling his hair. The small real smile made up for the flinch. “Let's go find Oyaji.” Once again leading the way Thatch kept up his running commentary. “If you ever are looking for something to do, you can ask him. I mean, normally you're best off going to the division commander in charge of your group, but honestly until we get you squared away Oyaji or Marco are your best bet. Marco because he's such a mother hen. Of course, you can always just come find me. I actually work in the kitchen, and there's usually something that needs doing. Even if it's just chopping carrots…. And here we are!”
Whitebeard was still less than pleased with Marco. He wasn’t about to just be rid of the brat his son had brought aboard however. Not until the kid had a bit if spark in his eyes, damn Marco and Jozu for knowing him so well. True, Das was not his usual pick for a son, but even still he couldn’t deny his boys if they wanted this brat as their younger brother. Or, given Marco’s actual age, a son of his own.
Which is part of the reason he was so annoyed that his brat had given him the collar. It was obvious that Das had yet to truly understand he was free and wrongfully believed the Yonko owned him. Newgate was a lot of things, but a slave owner wasn't one of them. Unfortunately there were more than a few of his children who would take a certain amount of glee in holding such power over another. That meant where to house the boy was a bit more of a challenge than he had originally hoped.
“As much as I'm loathe to admit it, I would not put it past some of those in my division to force the kid to do those chores that didn't wish to do.” Izo crossly pointed out.
“So the best bet would be to house him with a commander.” Whitebeard mused, looking at Marco.
“It can't be me, yoi. I might not scare him as badly as some would, but he's convinced himself I brought him to be a servant at the least.”
“I'm out as well,” Juzo sighed, “poor brat is scared shitless of me for some reason.”
Whitebeard made a non-committal sound as he stared into his tankard like it would hold the answers. While it had been pretty obvious Das was nervous around Jozu, he didn't feel the brat was particularly more scared of the diamond man than anyone else. But at the same time, Jozu had been there for the rescue. Rooming with the Third Division Commander could cause lingering issues because of that.
Just then there was a knock door opening a second later with a widely grinning Thatch, “We're back! Did you miss us?” The fun loving cook asked, moving to the side for Das to enter the room.
“Horribly, yoi.” Marco deadpanned.
“Aww, love you, too.” Thatch laughed, making a kissy face at his friend.
Whitebeard paid them little mind, attention fixed on the boy. He was tense, which was to be expected. Yet he didn't quite act like he was expecting them to beat him just for existing. A small improvement but one all the same. Apparently the others had noticed this as well.
“My, aren't you in need of a bath.” Izo offered Das a smile.
The brat wasn't able to hide his flinch at the words and Newgate had to refrain himself from crushing his tankard at the sight. He had forgotten the kid was a devil fruit user, let alone one with an ability with no off switch. Bath would have a totally different connotation for any devil fruit person, let alone one who has been tortured.
Izo’s smile softened, “If you don't want a bath, that is fine. But you'll feel better once you're clean. Look; I will go with you and make sure nothing happens. You have my word that I won't do anything to harm you. Most of the crew is on duty so we won't be bothered.”
Das's eyes flitted from Izo to the others in the room. Whether he was looking for assurances or a rebuke Newgate couldn't say, but he offered a small nod anyway. “Go on, my sons.”
It still took Izo leading him with a hand on his shoulder for the brat to leave despite how uncomfortable being in the room with his “masters” made him.
Thatch barely waited a beat after the door closed, “What the hell, Oyaji?”
“We have much to discuss, my son, and it would not do to talk in front of the brat as if he wasn't in the room.”
“What kind of things?” Thatch said, turning a suspicious look to his brothers.
“His health for one, and where we can safely stick him for another.” Jozu answered, leaning against the wall.
“I thought he'd be bunking with Marco's division?”
“I don't trust my men not to haze him, yoi. Do you trust yours?”
The way Thatch's mouth opened to protest before snapping shut was comical, though expected. Finally the Fourth Commander shook his head, “Then, that leaves rooming with a commander or the infirmary. Which I highly suggest not doing. Das was terrified of the place.”
“I thought as much.” Whitebeard sighed. “A shame, it would have made monitoring his health easier.”
Marco passed over the file Candi had dropped off to Thatch, “Don't get yourself worked up, yoi. He's not about to drop dead.”
“Still, if he had stayed in those pens a week longer….” Jozu trailed off, frowning.
“Malnourished, dehydrated… expected that. Already working on a food plan, actually…” the cook trailed off, reading over the chart even as he pulled a wrinkled piece of paper full of cramped dietary notes and handed it to Whitebeard for review.
The Yonko knew when the other had reached the more concerning bits by the slowly increasing frown. Clinical though the notes were it wasn't a pleasant read. While there were no broken bones there were signs of internal bruising. A fever which they had written off as exposure to the sun had belied multiple infections. It wasn't a surprise when Candi had advised against allowing the boy to do anything remotely taxing for a while. With his immune system compromised, a heart attack or stroke would almost be guaranteed. “The brat has more fire than I gave him credit for.”
“Or he's too terrified to let himself be sick.” Jozu pointed out, shrugging when his brothers glared at him. “It's a possibility is all.”
“A possibility I'm going to completely ignore.” Thatch sniffed, putting the file down. “So, he's rooming with Marco, then?”
“No, yoi.” Marco smirked lazily, “He's rooming with you.”
“ WHAT?” Thatch yelped, “No. No no no! I keep odder hours than you , not to mention the sharp pointy things in my room!”
“Well, I can't do it. He thought I was his master. Sharing quarters would give him the wrong idea all over again.”
“Damn, you're right.” His eyes slid over to Jozu.
Jozu let out a laugh, “Don't look at me. I scare him enough it wouldn't be a good idea. And since you're the next highest ranked commander…”
“What about Teach?” Thatch asked somewhat desperately.
Marco raised an eyebrow, “Would you trust him with Das?”
Thatch made a face, “...No. I hate to say it, but… honestly no. I know he's our brother, but…”
Whitebeard let out a sigh, “While it pains me to think so little of one of my sons, I must agree. Teach has a side that is nastier than most, and it is not something I wish to tempt with such an easy target.”
There was a moment as they all thought on that before Thatch sighed. “Marco, I'm keeping my swords and specialty knives in your room for now.”
“Works for me, yoi. Wouldn't want him to trip over your mess and stab himself anyway.”
“Har har. Very funny.” Thatch groused.
“I'll grab a spare mattress and blankets. The shipwrights will have a bedframe ready by tomorrow.” Juzo offered, jotting down a note to pass off to the shipwrights on duty.
Whitebeard sat back and watched as his sons planned away, proud as could be. Family was all about helping each other, after all. It still didn't mean he'd quite forgiven Marco, but that would all depend on Das, he supposed.
“Keep that towel up, Das. I know it's hard to believe, but we do discourage walking around naked in the halls.” Izo teased. Or Das thought it was teasing. It was hard to tell, just like the rest of Izo. Still, he didn't hesitate to pull the towel closer around his body.
It wasn't exactly cold, but for some reason since getting cleaned Das felt cold. More exposed, too, even more so than if he were naked. Not that Das particularly cared about being naked or not when he really thought about it. He did actually care about being clean, though. He couldn't remember the last time he was really clean, and it was amazing. Yes, the whole thing was really scary and he had been pretty sure it was going to end with him nearly downing but it didn't. It hadn't been as bad as he thought.
Suddenly Izo stopped, and Das glanced around the empty hall in confusion. Had he done something wrong? “Relax.” Izo suggested, knocking on a door.
Das was a little put out at how well the people on this ship could read him. The other slaves would say how creepy he was, staring vacantly with no emotion all the time. Even his last master had said that. So he tried harder to school his expression as the door opened, revealing Thatch. “Hey, what took you so-- oh my God Izo ! What did you do to the poor brat’s hair?!” The man cut himself off in obvious surprise.
Izo made an indelecate sound that didn't match their appearance at all and tugged Das into the room. “I cut it off, Thatch.”
“ Why , why would you do such a thing?”
“Because generally that's what one does when confronted with…. that.”
Das ran a hand over the top of his head, resisting the urge to scratch at the fuzzy remains of his hair. Izo didn't like it when he scratched, but it felt weird to not have matted clumps of hair brushing against his neck.
“Was it really that bad?” Thatch asked, a tinge of horror in his voice.
“Let me put it this way; it would have taken my whole division over an hour to sort that mess out.” Izo let out a huff, nudging Das towards the middle of the room, “At least he didn't have lice. I have to grab him something to wear. Thoro burned those rags.”
“Right….” Thatch answered belatedly, watching as the…. Izo….left the room before looking at Das. “So, you survived bath time with Izo, huh? I'm impressed, Izo's a bit… intense about things like that. But he means well.”
Das offered a small shrug, knowing Thatch well enough by now to know when the other expected a response. He wasn't sure he'd call Izo a guy, though he wasn't exactly going to call Izo a girl either. Izo didn't act like either Das had ever met, so they'd just be Izo. It was less confusing.
“You still wet? I can grab you another towel and you can just leave that one on the floor.” Thatch rambled, turning to a drawer for something. Das had to admit the towel he was wrapped in was very wet and didn't feel quite as soft and warm as it had when Izo wrapped him up in it. Running it through his fingers one more time the boy let it fall to the ground. “Ah, found one! Then, when Izo gets back you can ge-- uh, Das? Why are you naked?”
Das blinked at him confusedly, “Y-you told me to leave the towel on the floor.”
“I meant after I gave you a new one.”
Tentatively Das reached out for the towel the man was holding out, expecting a blow for not following orders right. Nothing happened as Das took the towel and wrapped himself back up in it. It was confusing, and he wasn't sure why it made him more upset but it did.
Something crossed Thatch's face too fast for Das to read it. Before he could worry though the man offered a warm smile, “You're safe here, little brother. I know you don't believe it yet, but I'll tell you as many times as I have to; no one is going to hurt you here. You can eat whenever you want, you can sleep as much as you want, and you can talk --or not-- as much as you want.”
“Yes, master.” Das didn't bother to hide his disbelief. He was a slave, and a useless one at that. Of course he wasn't safe. Soon enough they'd get sick of this game and start hurting him, and Das wasn't going to let himself believe it would be any different. It would make it hurt more when they did stop playing with him like this.
The smile on Thatch's face changed but didn't go away and the man sighed. “Izo’ll be back soon enough, but if you want, you can sit or lay down to wait.”
That would be nice, especially if Thatch wouldn't get annoyed with him for being lazy. Das glanced around the room, looking for a clear spot on the floor.
“I meant on the bed, Das.” The boy stared at Thatch in shock, the cold grip of gut-wrenching fear freezing him in place. “Oh for the love of--” Thatch spat out, turning away in what was definitely anger. Watching the man take long deep breaths Das held perfectly still, not wanting to draw that anger back to himself.
After what felt like a lifetime the master spoke in controlled clipped words as he looked at Das out of the corner of his eye. “I. I'm not mad.” Another deep breath. “No. That's a lie and you know it, huh?” Another breath, more gusty, “I am mad, but not at you .” Das watched tensely as the man sat on the only chair in the room. “Maybe a little at what you do or think , but that's not because of you.”
Das didn't understand that at all.
“Look; let me start again.” He pointed to a bed covered in a thick blanket, multiple pillows piled up. “That's my bed.” Then he pointed behind Das. Warily the teen turned, looking at a much simpler bed resting on the floor with two pillows and another thick looking blanket. “That's your bed. I was suggesting you sit or lay down on your bed. Where no one else will join you without you wanting them to. I mean it, Das. Oyaji's a pretty laid back Captain, but he doesn't allow crewmen to force themselves on others. No matter who they are. Understand?”
Das shifted nervously, looking for some sign that he was being lied to. Thatch had a very expressive face though, and it was telling him the man spoke the truth. This bed was a safe place, even if everywhere else might not be. It made something in his chest tighten and relax at the same time. A weird feeling he wasn't sure he liked. He nodded jerkily, sinking to sit on the mattress --softer than anything he'd ever slept on before. Swallowing the teen pulled his legs up to his chest. “Y-yes. I understand.”
Thatch let out a sigh, making the way over to his own bed and throwing himself down on it face first. “Good.”
They stayed like that for a while in silence. Das smiled, so to himself quietly enough he was sure the other wouldn't hear him. “A bed of my own… a safe place…” he couldn't believe it, didn't want to… but he did. It was thrilling and terrifying and he felt dampness running down his face which he ignored. Slaves didn't cry...but maybe here...on this bed….he could.
Izo walked into his brother's room without even a knock, arms full of clothes that should fit Das. In a few weeks, at least. The brat was thinner than some dessicated corpses Izo’d seen. Spotting the tear streaked face the Commander turned to his brother who was lounging on his own bed, a caustic remark on the tip of his tongue.
A remark that died when Thatch gave him that look , the look of the fourth most powerful man on the crew after Oyaji. A fact even the other commanders often forgot with the chef's friendly manner. “Hm. Well, I found some things that might not fit too horribly.” He commented to Thatch instead.
“Yeah? You raid Haruta’s closet?” His brother asked sitting up, seriousness gone.
“Hardly.” Izo dropped the clothes on Thatch's bed when a glance over his shoulder showed Das watching him warily yet curious from the very center of his. The tears had been rubbed dry but even still it was the most openly expressive he'd seen yet. That had been why Thatch had given him a warning look. Somehow in the short time it had taken Izo to gather the clothes his division had pulled out his brother had managed to establish a safe place for the brat. And Izo had almost ruined it by drawing attention to the whole thing.
Pulling the desk chair over between the beds -- neutral ground -- he continued, this time to Das. “You'll meet Haruta soon enough I'm sure. They're about your size, actually. Hatuta is very fond of clothing that even I would consider constricting. If you'd like, I can see if they have any spares to hold you over till I can make you some, or we get to port?”
He hadn't expected an answer, and was pleased to see Das’s lips pull in what was a sad imitation of a frown. Even more so when the boy whispered a soft, “Das is happy with whatever you give, master.”
He felt more than heard Thatch sigh, “Hey now, safe place, remember? That means no masters or anything while you're in this room.”
Das's eyes widened slightly, disbelief obvious. “No masters?”
“Nope.” Thatch replied very seriously, “None in here.”
“B-” Das chewed his lip, looking down. Izo opened his mouth to offer his own encouragement when Thatch's hand closed around his arm. Just in time, too. Though the brat didn't look up he offered what could be seen as a disagreement to someone he truly believed could and would beat him if angered. “B-but, Bed is safe. Not room.”
Izo was going to have bruises tomorrow, he was sure. But he couldn't blame Thatch. That was more headway than anyone had expected so soon. More proof that Thatch was the best choice for a roommate. “You're right of course.” Izo said, smiling when Das looked at him. “The bed is safe. But this is a bedroom , yours and Thatch's. If he says it's safe, then it is. No harm will come to you in this room. Besides little brother, you are on the bed. You are safe.”
The boy blinked, obviously thinking it through. Izo suspected while Das wasn't stupid, he wasn't particularly smart. Though probably smarter than he let on with those wide vacant eyes. Thank goodness for Haki and a long association with fishmen and their more unique facial expressions.
On the other hand it made the simple “Promise?” more heartbreaking to hear when Izo could easily read the hopelessness in it. Even if they promised, Das wouldn't believe them. How could he when likely every good promise had been broken and ground to dust while his captors laughed.
“I promise.” Thatch was quick to answer, “I know you don't believe it, but I haven't lied to you yet, right?”
“And I won't. I'm a horrible liar anyway. So you can say anything you want here, and I promise I won't get mad at you or take it out on you later. Ever . You can say 'no’ or ask questions or anything. Alright?”
Both men waited while Das thought that over. He fiddled with the towel wrapped around his thin shoulders the whole time. After what felt like an eternity the boy spoke. “D.. I don't like tight clothes.”
Izo felt like cheering, smile growing slightly. “Well, that's quite understable. However I hope you don't find these too loose.”
Das’s shoulder twitched in what could have been a shrug. “That's fine.”
“Well, if you do find them or anything you're wearing uncomfortable, feel free to bring it to me. I'll personally make any needed changes.” Izo offered, handing over the first set of clothes. It was an old cotton shirt and shorts, forgotten sleepwear from one of the nurses's last call to port. “This should be comfortable enough to sleep in. I'll find something warmer when we move closer to colder islands.”
“Soft…” Das commented, quickly pulling them on without a care to his nudity. Izo firmly ignored the implications of that again as he proceeded to show them both what he had brought.
Marco repressed a sigh as Das came over to him. For some reason the brat kept coming to Marco every day looking to be told what to do. Normally Marco would be thrilled with the idea of anyone on the damn ship taking work so seriously, but there wasn't a lot Das could do. Not to mention it made him feel a little dirty giving the brat orders. Thatch was still trying to convince Das that he could refuse to do things in their shared room, let alone anywhere else. Four times this week Marco had to reprimand brothers and sisters who had 'accidently’ ordered Das to do something, and that wasn't including the times it actually did happen by accident.
The nurses were getting fed up and threatening to toss the next idot overboard for putting Das’s health at risk. Kid was still to thin for anything that actually needed doing on a ship this size. Still, none of this showed on his face as Das came to stand next to him. “Morning, Das.”
“Morning….. Marco.” Came the soft hesitant reply. It was obvious he still wanted to call Marco 'Master’ but it was an improvement.
For a minute they stood there, Das waiting for the 'order’ of the day while Marco tried to think of anything that wouldn't be too strenuous and have the nurses after him. The only blessing was in the discovery that Das had never worked on a ship. Not that that was particularly surprising given he'd been more of a plaything than a working slave…. Still, it meant the kid had no clue that most of the tasks he was given were completely unnecessary. Like rinsing the mop buckets and setting them out to dry.
However…. There was one task that did need to get done soon. Looking over at where the coils of worn rigging had been tossed Marco made his decision. “Alright, today you'll be helping me sort the rope over there.”
Das nodded, following behind Marco quietly as the commander made his way over to the shaded area. He watched intently as Marco picked up a thick piece of rope, wider than his own arm and held it out for inspection. “See how this rope is starting to fray a bit?” he asked, pointing to the strands that had come loose and waited for Das to nod. “Good. I want you to go through this pile here and sort the rope. Frayed like this is still useable, just not on the sails or cannons. So I want one pile for that.” Again Das nodded. “More frayed, like this one here goes in another pile. We use these to mend the nets we use to hold cargo, fish, or for capturing enemies. Anything in worse shape goes in the discard pile. You got that?”
Das eyed the large pile of ropes before nodding again. “Yes….Marco….”
The commander felt a headache coming on as the brat started to slowly pick through the rope, checking frequently to see if Marco was watching. Something told him this was going to be a lot more difficult than it should be. Just like everything else. He knew it wasn't Das's fault he needed near constant supervision for the simplest tasks. It was exhausting, however. More so than running his own division. He wouldn't complain, though. Marco had known that this wasn't going to be easy when he'd decided to take the brat with him.
Just, sometimes he wanted to shake the brat; make him stop flinching at every little thing. Force Das to stand up for himself; to say 'no’ to those of the crew who pushed him around. Because the Moby Dick was a big ship, and Marco couldn't be everywhere at once. Even with the help of some of the other commanders there was too much that could go wrong.
“Ma…. Marco?” Das's voice interrupted his musings. The boy was holding out a length of rope, the middle badly frayed but the sides were in pretty good condition. Judging by the ware Marco was pretty sure it had been used to lash a cannon to the rail. The recoil would have caused the rope to rub against the adamwood, fraying it with each blast. Most of the rope was salvageable except for that one part.
“Yeah?” He asked, slightly curious to see what Das would do.
“If … can …” he waited a bit, not rushing Das. At long last the boy held out the rope, offering up the worst piece. “This part bad?”
“Looks it.” He agreed easily.
“...if..if mas...Marco…. If y-you cut the rope, the rest is good?”
Marco couldn't keep the grin from his face at those words. “Good idea, Das. That's exactly what I'll do. Let me know if there are any others we can salvage like that, yoi.”
Das nodded, the small twitch of his lip bigger than any smile with how real it was. Marco wished the brat was willing to ask for the knife himself, but he would take the victory where he could.
After all, the kid was trying, despite what the revolutionary had told him. Das was broken, but Marco had to believe he was getting better. Even if it wasn't easy to deal with most of the time.
“I'm not sure this is a good idea, Oyaji.” Marco commented to his captain as he waited for Thatch to bring Das over.
They'd wet-docked at an island late last night to restock and allow the crew to blow off some steam. It was only for a few days at most, though during that time Thatch was planning on slipping away to complete a mission with part of his division. Word had reached the Whitebeards that someone was attempting to make a move on one of their islands, and that just wouldn't do. Since Thatch was planning on being away the whole time they were here and possibly a little past that Marco was left with the dilemma of what to do with Das. One his father had seen fit to solve.
“Nonsense, Marco, it is a fine idea. You've been overworking yourself again, my son. Shore leave is just what you need.” Whitebeard smiled down at him.
“With Das, yoi?”
The Yonko’s gaze sharpened, “You are responsible for the brat, Marco.”
“I know that, Oyaji.” Marco shot back, “I just don't know if taking him off the ship is a good idea.”
“Perhaps not,” Newgate allowed, “though who is to say? The brat will be safe with you, however. Which is sadly more than be said if he were to stay onboard. Too many of your siblings are eager to take advantage of the brat.”
Marco frowned, not arguing the point. If anything the healthier Das got the more trouble it was keeping some of his less… moral… siblings away from the brat. Unfortunately taking him off ship wouldn't solve the problem, just delay the eventual confrontation. Still, Marco didn't want to stay on board himself waiting for things to come to a head. “... He could use some clothes that fit, yoi.”
“Izo has mentioned that a time or two.” Whitebeard said with an easy smile. Marco knew for a fact it had been more than once as his brother had taken to complaining frequently to Marco that rags were not acceptable attire for their youngest brother.
Watching as Thatch lead the brat to them he found himself agreeing. The castoffs they'd been able to convince the kid to wear hung off his thin frame doing nothing but making him look younger than he had when Marco rescued him. Not that they knew how old he was .
He quickly buried those thoughts as Thatch slapped him on the shoulder, a bit harder than needed. “So you two planning a wild time on the town without me?”
“Hardly, yoi.” Marco replied before turning his attention to Das. The kid looked uneasy, possibly more so than normal. “Don't know if you heard, this island is a bit of a resort. Chance for the crew to stretch their legs, have some fun. Thought you'd enjoy getting off the ship for a bit?”
Das shifted from one bare foot to another, eyes flicking between the three of them before settling on Whitebeard. Or more specifically the pocket he kept the collar in. It was a disheartening reminder that for as far as the brat had come he was still mentally a slave.
Oyaji seemed to have expected such a reaction, however. “You are still one of mine, boy.” He patted the pocket, “This stays with me.”
That didn't seem as comforting to the brat as it was meant to be, but maybe Marco was just projecting. Still, the brat nodded easily enough before standing next to Marco.
“There now, that was easy.” Thatch said, clapping his hands with false cheer. “Anyway, I've got to get going, but you two place nice while I'm gone.” He turned to Das alone, “I'll be back, little brother. Until then do me a favor and keep an eye on the bird brain? He's too serious for his own good. Make sure he relaxed for me?”
That nod was accompanied by something that could almost have been a smile. Marco wasn't jealous at all; Thatch was naturally easier to relate to. Still, Das a accepted his help to board the skiff readily enough, and there was no denying the sense of smug satisfaction when the brat leaned against him, eyes wide as he took in the island.
Later he tried to hold onto that feeling as annoyance crept up his spine. Das was pressed too close to his side, nearly tripping the pirate as they navigated the crowded streets. It wasn't unexpected, given the little he knew of what the brat had been through. Didn't mean it made it easier, especially so close to the docks. Further into town Marco headed straight towards the taverns instead of the nicer inns he had been planning on taking advantage of.
Taverns were busier, true, but in a place like this the staff would be more aware of just who went up to the rooms. Meaning for a few belli he could be assured Das would be safe enough in their room while Marco went out. Not to mention the readily available food at a tavern. True, he would still have to get the kid into a few stores to try on clothes, but Marco figured this would be less stressful for everyone involved.
Given that most of his brothers would be heading towards the less... savory parts of town first Marco was pleasantly surprised to see friendly faces in the Roaring Tide , a tavern he knew from past experiences to have decent faire and comfortable rooms. Nodding in greeting to the Sun Pirate who was kind enough to hold the door Marco felt some of the tension leave his shoulders even as a grin stretched across his face at the sounds of a familiar song belted out from within the crowded main room. Though technically a crew of a Shichibukai the Sun and Whitebeard crews meshed well enough, and while Marco was displeased with the prejudice against fishman and mermen the presence of the other crew would cut down on potential problems with fools trying to look tough by mess with Marco The Phoenix.
As he paid for their stay the sounds of a commotion got his attention. “-- think you're looking at, air-breather?”
“The little bastard is mocking us!” Another voice growled out as the music faded and the lively atmosphere turned turbulent. More voices joined in, taunting the haplass soul who thought it wise to antagonize a crew of powerful pirates while they were drinking.
Normally Marco would be happy to watch the beatdown coming. Hell, depending on how many were involved he might even get in on the action. Unfortunately there was his newest brother to consider. Who knew how the brat would react to violence breaking out so quickly. Deciding it was better to get the kid upstairs before the fun got started he turned to his shadow, “Let's just head on up to our roo--” only to find himself speaking to open air.
Only the instinctual reach of Haki -- thanks to Haruta and Thatch’s many pranks -- stopped the panicked thought that he had lost Das. However pinpointing the kid right at the center of the commotion was a whole different type of panic. “Shit!”
“You think you're better than us, huh? Do you?”
Marco started to none too gently force his way through the crowd at the anger in that voice.
“What? Too good to talk to a bunch of fish , are you ya stinking mud monkey?!” Seeing ripple of hostility go through the crowd Marco used a less aware pirate as a launching pad to get to the center of the rising violence.
Just in time to see a sailfish fishman shove Das hard enough to send the poor kid stumbling into an unforgiving crowd. Marco didn't let it get any further than that, yanking his young brother out of those grasping hands and holding him tightly to his chest.
For a moment nobody moved. Marco knew at any second that could change, and by interfering he'd made himself a target for the crowd. That didn't bother him, not when he could feel the panicked stucco of Das's heart as the brat took in the crowd with painfully blank eyes. “Back off, yoi.”
“Is there a reason your choosing to get involved, Marco?” A familiar baritone asked. Turning his head slightly Marco watched as the crowd parted for the Sun Pirate's first mate. Aladdin's tone made it clear that only long respect for the blond was holding the crowd back. “It isn't like you to interfere with matters of another crew.”
“It is when that other crew is after one of mine.” He shot back, edging away from grabbing hands.
“So the Whitebeard’s allow humanist scum to join now?” A voice jeered, others rising in agreement.
“Who Oyaji chooses is none of the concern of the Sun Pirate s, yoi.” He spat back, eyes losing their normally sleepy look.
“That mud monkey insulted me,” the sailfish fishman growled out, “mocked Caspian, Aladdin. I'm not letting it go just because some Whitebeard claims he's one of them.”
“Yeah! If he's a Whitebeard, where's his mark?” Someone else called out, the crowd pressing in again.
When a clawed hand closed on Das’s shirt, nearly yanking him out of Marco's arms the commander had it, “ Enough !” He spat out, Conqueror's Haki slamming into the other crew hard enough to make them stumble. The angry rumble in response had him bracing for a fight.
“What's going on down here?” Jinbe’s voice cut through the crowd, drawing all eyes to the stairs where the Shichibukai stood, Praline behind him having obviously gone and gotten the captain.
“This mud monkey insulted us, Captain! And Whitebeard's little Birdy dared to interfere.” The sailfish snarled in Marco's direction as the Captain made his way to stand by Aladdin.
“Is this true, Marco?” Jinbe asked, arms crossed over his broad chest.
Marco shifted his grip around Das, keeping the boy close but making sure Jinbe had a good look at the poor kid to blame for all this. “That he's one of us? Of course, yoi.” His eyes cut to the sailfish, “The only insult he'd have given was not answering.”
“Because he thinks he's better than us!”
“Because you're scaring him, idiot.” Praline snapped, standing by her husband. One clawed hand reached out, and Marco tensed. All she did was gesture to the ripped shirt where part of Das’s brand was peaking through. “Use your eyes Bermuda, or I'll pluck them from your skull myself and save my husband the trouble.”
Das's breath hitched as Jinbe and Aladdin's gazes focused on him. After a moment Aladdin sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Caspian, Bermuda, back to the ship. Replace Grouper and Scaline in cleaning the hull. I'll be by in a few hours.”
“Now, or you will be answering to the Queen.” Jinbe added, sending the two in question out the door as the rest of the Sun Pirates quickly became interested in anything else. “I apologize for that, young man.”
When Das didn't react, still locked into what Marco assumed was a trained response to someone lashing out at him Jinbe looked at Marco, question in his eyes as he and his first mate followed Marco up the stairs. Marco felt that sooner he got Das into a room and on a bed the sooner the kid would snap out of it. “The brat isn't used to confrontation, are you, Das?”
“What did you just call him?” Aladdin asked even as Jinbe eyed the Whitebeard pirate sharply, standing in the doorway.
“Das.” Marco replied, “why, do you know him, yoi?” He continued, settling Das on the bed furthest from the door and wrapping the blanket around his thin shoulders.
Aladdin bristled, brushing off his wife's hand even as Jinbe spoke. “That's an unwise word to throw around, Marco.”
“It's the kid's name.” Marco replied, eyes only for the brat. “This is your bed, yoi. You're safe here, alright?”
“That's… not a name.” Aladdin growled out. “It's a slur .”
That was definitely news to Marco who looked at the kid in surprise as Das blinked groggily at him. “We figured it might not be his real name, but--”
“It means slave.” Jinbe cut him off, gaze fixed on the boy.
“...I can't say I'm surprised, yoi.” Marco sighed, scratching the back of his head as he stood to face his old friend.
“Can't he just tell you his real name?” Praline asked, “Or is he mute?”
Marco glanced over his shoulder at the boy. “Well? Is there something else you'd like to be called?” He asked, realizing it was a bit cruel given what had just happened
The boy’s brow wrinkled, the equivalent of a full frown. “Das is… Das.” Came the answer and Marco turned his attention to the three standing in the entrance of the tiny room.
“That was pretty assertive for him, too.” Marco shrugged, about as uncomfortable with the name as the others now that he knew. If it was what the kid wanted to be called then that was that. Marco wasn't about to try and force the kid to use a different name. Especially since that had to have been how he'd ended up with a name like Das in the first place.
Jinbe made a disgruntled sound, “I need a drink.” which Marco understood completely. He needed a drink, too.
“I can't believe you'd even ask me that, Old Man.” Ace said with a snort, tipping his chair onto it's back legs as he eyed the denden in amusement, hand loosely holding the receiver.
The snail pulled a face, a mimicry of his grandpa's expression. “Can you do it?”
“I got no problem hunting down some revolutionaries.” He assured Garp, leaving out how he'd gotten a list of locations from Kuma and was already on his way. “But I'll tell you right now, I'm not going to be fighting them.” Garp barked out a laugh at that and Ace had to chuckle a bit himself. “Well, not until after I thank them for blowing that cesspit straight to hell.”
“Well, that's good enough for me.” Garp huffed, “I would thank them myself if only Senny would let me go. Horrible business. Upstanding marines got no place helping people like that.”
“Hey you're the one going on all the time about how you idiots stand for justice.” Ace said, letting his chair drop back onto all fours. “Ever think about doing something about this?”
“You know I would if I --”
“Don't give me that, Old Man! If the Hero of the Marines came out against slavery publicly people would listen. You know they would!”
“And then what? Burn all the auction houses to the ground? Free all the slaves? It would be a riot, Ace! And I won't be able to protect any of the civilians because I'd find myself in Impel Down for 'turning against’ the Tenryubito!” The old marine snapped. After a moment he let out a sigh, “I'm sorry, Ace. But all I can do is keep feeding you information on locations. Anything else and I put everyone close to me at risk.”
Ace sighed as well. He knew Garp couldn't really do more than he did. Didn't mean he was alright with his adopted grandfather not trying harder. It was bad enough the Tenryubito had taken Sabo from them; but then their stupid whims took Luffy, too. He would never forget the number of auction houses under the protection of marines his crew had destroyed, nor could he forgive Garp for working with those kind of people. “Yeah, whatever.” A knock on the cabin door had him standing, “Gotta go. I'll contact you at the usual time.”
“Right. And Ace? Be careful. The revolutionary army has a lot of powerful members who don't want to be found.”
“I'm always careful, Old Man.” Ace smirked before hanging up. Powerful people; he liked the sound of that.
Opening the door and coming out on deck showed him they'd arrived at the island Kuma had told them about. Apparently the whole island was a revolutionary stronghold, with a few hidden villages made up of former slaves. According to the other Shichibukai, this would be the place to look for those who had been involved with the raid a few months ago.
Judging by the two waiting for them at the docks, they were in the right place. He had never actually met any other members of the revolutionaries except for Kuma, but Ace recognized the fishman standing there with his arms crossed. “You sure you don't want backup, captain?” Jorge asked, giving the two on the dock the stink-eye.
“Nah, just going to ask a few questions is all.” Ace assured the newest member of the crew.
“Well,” Saber put in, “that's all good Ace, but give a shout if you need us. Me n’ Banshee’ll be checking out this village, see if we get any leads.”
“Hey, pick up some shit while you're at it?” The cook asked, leaning on the rail from the upper deck. “Saw a beach down the coast. Been a while since our last party, and well.” The man offered a shrug, fingering the burn scar that covered his old brand.
Ace carefully kept the grimace off his face. Flav didn't often bring up his time on a slave ship, preferring to pretend those months had never happened. It made it easy to forget most of the time, though the man was nearly as cutthroat as Ace when it came to dealing with slave traders. He was also a lot more likely to celebrate any time they managed to free those caught where while Ace was glad, he didn't see much reason to celebrate. Not when Luffy was still out there. Still, it is a victory, even if it isn't theirs. A celebration would be nice. So he nods once, sharp and decisive, before forgoing the gangplank to jump down to the docks.
The two revolutionaries are not impressed, watching him saunter over with suspicion. “What do you want here, Shichibukai?”
“So unfriendly, Hack. It is Hack, right?” Ace asked, a smile plastered on his face that just barely wasn't threatening.
“It is.” The fishman allowed, “Though I would say cautious more than unfriendly.”
“Mm, I suppose you don't get many visitors here. Especially not anyone sanctioned by the world government.” He replied, smile becoming a biting grin, “Except for Kuma, of course.”
The unknown girl snorted, “If you think he's the only spy we have in place you're dumber than most Ds.” She thrust out her hand, “Koala. You're Hikien D Ace, right?”
“Yep, that's me.” He replied easily, tension broken at her actions. “He tell you I was coming?”
“Mentioned you might. Normally that would have gotten you a whole other kind of greeting, but our partner said to give you a chance….and then went off to the nearest restaurant for food.” She explained, her expression exasperated.
Ace chuckled at that, knowing his crew could relate. “Hope you don't mind if some of my men head into town?” He asked, nodding to where Banshee and Saber were disembarking.
“So long as they're not here to make trouble,” Hack said, relaxing now that the posturing was over, “your whole crew is welcome.”
“Thanks.” The pirate said, before bowing low, “And thanks for sinking Traders Paradise .”
Hack seemed taken back by his words, if Ace was reading his expression correctly. After a moment the revolutionary nodded towards the town before turning his feet that way. “Nothing to thank us for.”
“I disagree.” Ace said, falling into step with them, “I've been looking for that hellhole for a year with no luck. Stinking slavers, using a floating island….. I'm not sure how you found it, but I couldn't be happier with the results.”
“That's right, you're the crazy bastard who broke Donflamigo’s nose, aren't you?” Koala smiled brightly at him as they reached a shaded table outside a bar, “Guess rumors about you being anti-slavery are right on.”
“More like...anti-Tenryubito in general and slave trade in particular.” He shrugged, pulling out the chair and sitting backwards on it.
“So you came all this way to thank us?” Hack asked, signalling the waiting bar staff for drinks.
Ace waited until the staff member had taken their orders and left before shrugging. “Well, the world government technically sent me to 'teach you a lesson’. The only lesson I've got for you though is to leave less witnesses alive.”
The staff member pailed, coming back on the end of that. Ace's smile did nothing to assure the man as he put the drinks down with shaking hands before fleeing. Koala rolled her eyes at him while Hack looked less impressed. “What's your real reason for coming?”
Sighing, the young pirate took a long swallow of his drink from the frosted tankard. Pulling a folded and warn photo from his pocket he carefully smoothed it out in his hands, holding it so as to hide his treasure from them. Ace had carried it on him since he'd left Dawn Island, so he wouldn't forget his brothers’ smile. By now he knew every part of the photo by heart. The way the sun was peeking through the trees and painting the long grass golden instead of the dried pale green of late summer. The way Sabo’s shirt was rolled up to the elbows jacket and hat removed, the only concessions his brother made to the heat. His own frown that at the time he'd thought made him look tough, but looking at it now it was an adorable pout. Luffy's blinding smile as he hugged both older boys. “I'm looking for someone.”
“Who?” Asked Koala, leaning in sympathetically, trying to get a look at the picture no doubt.
Ace pulled the other photo, taken of Luffy days before Ace had left and passed it over. He was careful not to handle this one as much, as he needed it. Besides, there was a copy in his room. “Luffy, my little brother. You haven't
Both examined the photo carefully. Hack was the first to lean back, “I'm sorry.” He offered as Koala shook her head.
“It was a long shot anyway.” Ace sighed into the silence.
“Can I have this?” Koala asked, picking up the photo again. Ace nodded, not looking up from his own photo. “I'll ask around for you. But Ace… You've got to know that--”
His hand tightened reflexively as flicks of fire raced across his shoulders, “Don't. Don't say it.” He hissed, gray eyes dark as he glared at her, “He's my little brother and I will find him. Even if I have to burn the whole world down to do it.”
“Okay.” She agreed, sitting back. “How long?”
“Almost two years.” Neither of the others mentioned he might not find his brother alive and Ace refused to think about it. But the more time that passed he knew that was the most likely outcome if--no, when-- he found Luffy. “Those filthy bastards snatched him right from the East Blue and I wasn't there to stop it…”
Hack took the photo gently from Koala, “I'll go ask the others.”
“Thanks, Hack.” Koala offered her partner a slight smile before edging her chair closer to Ace. “Tell me about him?”
Made some slight adjustments to last chapter. Ace's photo of the three brothers was NOT seen by Koala or Hack. They only saw the one of the two D boys.
Also I've got so much more of this written.... I am so happy you all are enjoying this!
Sabo didn't bother to look up from his meal as Hack slid into the seat across from him. “I can't believe you're here stuffing yourself while a Shichibukai is on the island.”
“If it was anything to worry about I knew you could handle it.” Sabo replied, “Besides, for a murderous bloodthirsty pirate with an attitude problem he seems like a decent guy.”
“You're just being lazy.” Hack pointed out, more than a little accurately. Sabo shrugged but didn't argue the point. He couldn't explain it, but he just felt that if they didn't go out of their way to antagonize the young pirate nothing would happen. Hell, maybe they could gain an ally since the Spade Pirates seemed to take great exception to the world government despite technically being sanctioned by it.
“Since nothing's on fire I assume he wasn't here to pick a fight?” He asked instead.
“No, not this time at least.” Hack reached into his shirt and pulled something out before passing it over to Sabo. It was a photograph, one that looked a little worn around the edges from a lot of recent handing. Sabo glanced at it curiously before turning back to his meal. “He's looking for his little brother. Kid was apparently taken by slavers a few years ago.”
Sabo let out a hiss of sympathy at that, finishing up his meal so he could give the photo his full attention. Not to see if he recognized the kid, but to honor another life lost to this horrible world. He didn't know much about Hiken, but what he did know was the pirate was driven and ruthless, which given what he was looking for made complete sense. However the fact the Shichibukai hadn't found his brother after what was now obviously an exhaustive search meant he wouldn't. Not alive. Either the kid was dead, or he was being kept in Mariejois and better off dead.
“None of the men recognize the kid.” Hack confirmed, voice tinged with sadness. Sabo frowned, figuring the kid was young then. Meal finished he pulled the photo over and gave it his full attention. The first thing he saw was the orange hat Hiken was known for wearing, making it easy to recognize the man who became a Schibikai after this photo was taken. The man was smiling, proudly showing off the misspelled tattoo he was also known for.
Something about Ace seemed familiar, but Sabo passed it off to the bounty poster he'd seen. The only other person in the picture was more familiar, something he found surprising. The slight scar under wide brown eyes was something he had seen recently. Though in this photo the kid was obviously healthy if not clean, he recognized that face. Das looked out at him with a grin that was too wide for his face but suited him perfectly. An old straw hat covered hair that was shorter than he remembered and Sabo blinked in surprise at the ache he felt knowing the kid had lost the hat. An ache that grew as he took in how happy Das was in this picture, cementing how ruined he was now. It made him feel a bit nauseous, actually, thinking of such a kid losing his freedom and being alone…
Hack continued, not noticing Sabo's distress as the other tried to figure out where these feelings were coming from. “Kid's name is Luffy, apparently snatched right from--”
Luffy…. Sabo stood so fast he nearly knocked the table over as well as the chair. The name hurt . Looking at the picture he ignored his friend's concern as images overlayed the photo of the two pirates-to-be. Imagines of a thick lush jungle, large animals and those same two teens as young boys. Of Ace frowning to hide a smile as Luffy hung off him. Of the brothers --his brothers -- calling out to him as he walked away. Of Luffy telling them how being alone was worse than death….
“No..nonoNo!” Sabo gasped, horrified as the memories kept coming. His brothers…. he'd forgotten them! He hadn't known…. Das-- no, Luffy-- his brother was slave and he'd done nothing --! Ace was going to kill him… he should! But not before...Ace didn't know. He didn't know Luffy was free. If he knew his brother the other wouldn't ever stop looking, but he was looking for something that didn't exist anymore. Das….was Luffy and not at the same time. His brother was alive, but at what cost? “What happened….” He gasped, tears falling as he remembered the broken shell left of a kid who had dreamed bigger than anyone else and was always ready with a smile. His world tilted, and Sabo knew he was about to pass out. It was too painful remembering, remembering how he failed… “Gotta tell ...Ace….” He gasped, heading towards the door.
Hack caught him as his legs gave out, “What's wrong?” Concern and anger warred on his face.
“Remembering--” Sabo gasped out, knowing Hack was suspicious of something worse. “Gotta-- tell---- he's alive , Hack. Tell my br--” No he couldn't dump that on Hack, he'd tell Ace that part himself. “Tell Ace...Lu’s alive! Seen him …!” He gasped, vision swimming. “Hack...I….it hurts. I forgot and it hurts….” He cried, almost relieved when he felt his friend move to knock him out.
“Rest then. I'll be sure to tell him.” Hack told him solemnly. Sabo just hoped he wasn't out too long. He'd already missed too much.
Thatch waved to Haruta as he passed, wordlessly declining the loud invite to the strip poker game as he headed towards the cabins. While he was greatly enjoying the enthusiastic party his finding of a devil fruit had triggered, enough time had passed that he was starting to worry about Das.
The kid knew he was welcome to any gathering of the crew, and Thatch had been pleased to see him at the start of the party. Of course he'd vanished the moment people started drinking, long before food appeared, but that was to be expected. He'd still stayed longer than he had been before the fourth division commander had left on his mission.
Which meant leaving the kid with Marco had been the exact right thing to do. Das might feel more comfortable expressing himself to Thatch, but it was obvious how much he looked up to Marco. It was actually kind of cute, even though Marco mistakenly thought Das was treating him like a master it was definitely not the case. Thatch wasn't jealous…. much…. it wasn't a competition no matter what Izo said and really, there was a lot about Marco to look up to. Not that Thatch would admit it to Marco at all.
Besides, Marco still overlooked how uneasy Das was when the crew started drinking. No doubt drunk gatherings hadn't been good news for the young devil fruit user. Unfortunately that meant he probably hadn't eaten, and the nurses would have all their heads if he didn't. So Thatch was just going to pop over to his room and bring Das back up to the party. The buffet table was out and as it had been a few hours there wasn't the press around it there had been. Making it the perfect time for the brat to grab a meal and get used to being around his many siblings when they weren't at their best.
“Hello hello, it's your most handsome brother!” Thatch called, knocking on the door to give the other a warning and not take him by surprise.
Opening the door Thatch’s eyes were drawn straight to his desk. The drawers had been pulled out and contents dumped across the floor, chair lying broken on its side. His mouth fell open in shock, never having expected his timid youngest brother to ever do something like that. Turning to confront Das the fourth division commander found himself stumbling onto his own bed instead as the familiar weight of the teen collided with his side.
“Wha-- Teach? What are you doing in here?” Thatch asked, noticing the other as he tried to untangle himself from Das.
“Looking for this, brother ,” Teach spat the word like a curse, holding up the very devil fruit Thatch had found while away on his mission.
The fruit that had been locked away in a drawer out of habit. “You… broke into my room to steal that?” He asked, confused. If the other commander had asked Thatch would have happily given it to him.
“Well, a bit more than that…” He decided the wild glint in Teach’s eyes was a lot more disturbing when on the receiving end, especially coupled with the wicked-looking knife being held up as a casual threat.
“Why?” Thatch knew that in a one-on-one fight he didn't stand too much of a chance, not when he was unarmed. If he could get the knife away from the other man the possibility of surviving went up quite a bit. Teach was decent with most weapons which was why he was so dangerous… but he was not the master of blades Thatch was. All of this passed through his head as he shoved Das behind him. The kid had done enough and it wasn't surprising he'd gone tense and still in the face of such a threat. “We're Nakama… brothers!... Why--”
“We're not family!” Marshall spat, “We never were!”
“Oyaji--” he started getting to his feet, eyes ranging across the room for a weapon even as he realized there were none. It was still not safe enough to keep his knives in the room with Das.
“Is a foolish old man! All that power! And he wastes time playing house !” The fruit was held up, “I only stayed with you fools to find this ! The most powerful of all devil fruits!”
“If you had asked--”
“Why ask when I can take?” Teach sneered, “With this I will become the most feared man on the seas! I'll be unstoppable--!”
Anger curled in his guts at the thought of how they all considered this traitor a brother. “Oyaji will stop you.”
“Not when I kill him.” Marshall sounded confident, enough so that Thatch found himself possibly slightly worried. “This, this is the Yami Yami no mi.”
“The dark dark fruit…. So your brilliant plan is to, what? Become a vampire?” Teach's brow twiched, and Thatch knew he had hit a nerve. Despite his words he knew exactly what kind of powers that fruit had thanks to Roko’s many long rants in the kitchen about the various fruits. Teach could not be allowed to take that fruit off this ship. If he mastered it he'd become a very serious threat to everyone.
Teach must have sensed when Thatch came to that conclusion, because the man quickly swallowed the fruit whole before lunging at the other commander. His mistake. The first thing Thatch had learned before wielding a blade himself was how to disarm someone who had one. True, most days he did it with a lot more flourish, using his own weapons to get the job done. But it was a simple matter of slipping past the outstretched arm -- sloppy fighting -- grasp the hand around the blade and twist while slamming a Haki imbued elbow into Marshall’s gut.
Just like that the tables were turned. Finishing his move Thatch flipped the blade in his hand for a better grip, swinging around the other way in an attempt to bury the knife in his opponent’s side. Instead it caught on fabric as Teach jumped back, quicker on his feet than he'd ever been when pretending to be Nakama. The traitor was also a coward, as fled the room. Thatch was no Mihawk, but the list of people who could best him when he was armed was short indeed.
Normally he'd have let the man go; warning Oyaji was more important. He couldn't risk it this time, not with Marshall threatening to kill Oyaji with a fruit that, if rumors were right, was ridiculously overpowered. He had to stop him now. “Das, stay here and shut the door behind me. I've got a traitor to catch.” He called over his shoulder, giving chase before the brat could answer.
Racing after Marshall he nearly caught the man just as they reached the stairs, only to lose distance as they hit the deck. It was too crowded; too many drunks stumbling into him to reach Marshall. The other had the slight advantage of being bigger and less likely to be knocked aside when someone bumped into him. Marshall waded through the crowd with determination, unarmed and not an immediate threat to Thatch's family. That being the case he didn't out the traitor. Not yet, when people would be in danger.
That didn't stop the other commanders noticing and moving to follow. Good, backup was good. Hopefully not needed as he took a page out of Das’s book and body-checked the bastard into the rail. “Caught you, scumbag!”
“What's going on, yoi?”
“Commander Marco!” The traitor offered a slimy grin as the other commanders gathered around, “It looks like Thatch here has had a bit too much to drink--”
“Oh?” Marco’s expression didn't change but Thatch knew his friend -- his brother -- was suspicious. “Thatch?”
“He's a traitor , Marco. He wants to kill Oyaji--”
“He took the fruit--”
“He gave it to me--”
“There’s blood on Thatch.” Fossa pointed out, lighting a cigar.
“Just a little accident--” Marshall began, fingers straying to the pistol on his belt.
Thatch wasn't going to let him. “So is this.” Using strength he rarely saw the need to display he lifted the bastard up and shoved him over the rail.
The others went to grab the former division commander as he hung there clinging to the rail. “Wait, yoi.”
“Thatch?” His brother asked.
“He attacked me in my room.” Thatch spoke fast, “I went to check on Das and that bastard was in there. He'd ransacked it, stole the fruit, and tried to kill me. Said he was going to kill Oyaji. I swear on our mark I'm not lying.”
At his words the other commanders’ expressions turned stormy. No one stopped Marco as the man reached down and grabbed the traitors wrist, crushing it into pulp. “Enjoy your swim, yoi.” He calmly said, dropping the bastard into the sea.
Thatch let out a sigh of relief, even as he dreaded telling Oyaji that there had been a traitor in their mists. Someone they has all trusted for years. Still, it had to be done. That and routing any others hiding in the crew. With extreme prejudice.
“Are you alright, Thatch?” Izo asked, touching his shirt. “That's a lot of blood.”
“Yeah?” Thatch blinked, he didn't think he'd been hurt. Looking down he saw Izo was right, however. A large bloodstain spread across his side and chest, so large it was surprising more of the crew hadn't noticed and come over to find out what had happened. He felt around, trying to figure out where the blood was coming from. It was enough blood that he should definitely be feeling the wound, especially as the adrenaline left his system.
“Man, I hope Das wasn't in the room when this all went down. That'd be pretty scary for the brat, huh, Namur?” Haruta commented to the left, watching the waves lap at the hull.
Still looking for the mystery wound Thatch shook his head, “Nah, he was there all right. Saved my ass, too. Traitor was behind the door when I came in. If it wasn't for Das slamming into me he'd probably have stabbed me….in...the….” Thatch's head snapped up, looking towards the cabins. Adrenaline rushed his system a second time that night as he ran back into the crowd.“Shit, Das! Izo, someone, get the nurses!”
“Thatch,” Izo snatched at him, “you're inj--”
“It's not my blood, Izo, it's Das’s!” At those words the crossdresser pailed under his makeup, turning to get help even as Marco fell into step with Thatch. He knew his eldest brother didn't blame him, but Thatch would never forgive himself if the youngest died because he'd been too stupid to realize the brat had taken a knife for him.
So I'm about to go in for an endoscopy... Let's see how many comments I get before I'm aware of the world again.
Marco had never seen Thatch move so fast in his life, and that was saying something given how often the other ran from their family after a prank. Which was probably what everyone on deck thought was going on, what with Marco barely half a step behind him as they reached the stairs. Neither bothered with going down them, instead using their momentum to jump to the bottom. Marco steadied Thatch as the other stumbled slightly, not wanting to need the nurses for two injured brothers. One was worrying enough.
Racing down the hall they both could see the door to Thatch's room was wide open. “Shit shitshitshit--- Das!” Thatch shouted, throwing himself into the destroyed room. Das lay haphazardly across Thatch’s bed, blood staining the blue sheets a blackish purple. At first glance Marco wasn't sure the kid was even breathing. He was so still and pale as the two experienced pirates hovered over him, momentarily at a loss on what to do.
“Das?” Thatch asked, dropping to his knees as he reached out to check the brat's breathing. “He's alive.”
“Let's keep him that way, yoi. Nurses will be here soon; let's try and stop the bleeding.” Marco said, stripping off his light jacket to use as a bandage as the bed sheets were much too absorbent and fluffy to use as a good compress.
The wound wasn't easy to spot at first, even after Thatch gently removed the brat's shirt. There was frankly too much blood to tell right away where it was coming from. When the jagged wound was found Marco couldn't stop the hiss of sympathy. Spanning the width of his spread hand it was obviously not a clean wound. From Thatch's story and the angle of the tear in the skin the foolish brat had timed his interference just right; Teach had already been committed to his attack. Only the fact that Das had been moving and shorter than the original target had saved him. Pressing his jacket against the wound didn't even illicit a reaction, causing the commander to frown.
“Hey, hey…” Thatch cajoled, trying to wake the boy, his own expression somewhere between worried and fear. The shake in his hands was understandable as he ran his hand through the short hair, inadvertently spreading blood through it. “Dammit Das, you better not die from this.”
“He'll be fine. He's a tough brat, just like his brothers.” Marco's words did little to convince either of them. Not when they could see bone. Marshall had struck expecting to hit a fully grown powerful pirate; not some kid that was still painfully thin. Hearing a commotion coming from the hall in the direction of the lower deck he hoped the nurses would hurry.
“Stupid kid, getting in the way like that….” Thatch continued, though which of them he was talking to Marco wasn't sure.
It didn't really matter one way or the other as a team of nurses came into the now very cramped room and pushed them out of the way with brisk efficiency. As they carried Das off to the infirmary on a stretcher Marco repressed a shudder, wondering how long it would take for that image to fade from memory. Standing there with Thatch he spoke before his brother could blame himself. “It's not your fault, yoi. If anything, it's mine.”
“Oh yes, of course it's your fault Teach attacked me, nearly ki-- hurt Das, and stole a devil fruit. Totally. One hundred percent your fault, Marco.”
“Alright, it sounds stupid when you say it out loud like that.” He looked side-eyed at his brother, “But so does you knowing this was going to happen.”
“It was still my room, Marco. He still got hurt protecting me.” And alright, Thatch did have a point with that.
Still… “Teach is the only one at fault, yoi. You trusted your brother, we all did.” He paused, remembering all the times Das had hesitated in walking anywhere near Teach, face carefully blank. “Except for Das.”
“....Maybe we should look into the others he doesn't like.” Thatch suggested.
“Maybe. But first, get changed. We need to report to Oyaji and you're not doing it covered in blood, yoi.” Their father was going to take this bad enough, no need to worry him by seeing one son covered in another's blood. Hopefully when they were done the nurses would let them in to see the kid.
Sorry I didn't answer any reviews from the last chapter. I had my endoscopy and ended up with an allergic reaction to the oxygen tube. So yeah. Allergic to air. I have an ucer, waiting on biopsies and my MRI and ultrasound came back normal which is actually a bit depressing because I'd like to have something I can point to that explains the pain I'm in (migraines uuuushhh)
“Go away, Koala.” Sabo moaned, rolling over and showing her his back without even opening his eyes. His head fucking hurt , and while he knew his best friend was probably worried about him, he wasn't quite ready to get up and face reality. Not when it meant acknowledgement of the family he happily forgot.
“Not on your life, Sabo.” Koala said unmercifully, yanking the covers off him. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Five more minutes?”
“If I give you five, you'll want ten, and then before you know it another day will have passed.”
That got him up. “How long was I out?” He yelped, scrambling to get out of the bed now.
“Five days. Not long enough to worry me, but…” but she had been worried anyway. “Hack said something about remembering?”
“Yeah…. Hey, is A-- I mean Firefist still here?” He asked, switching to cleaner clothes that didn't reek of pain and fear. He'd lost the right to use such familiarity when he'd failed his brother.
Koala handed him his jacket, side-eying him the whole time. It wasn't the first time he'd gotten dressed in front of her and it was definitely not going to be the last, so that wasn't why. If he had to guess Hack had been very thorough when telling her about Sabo losing it. After a moment she sighed, “I tried to keep him on the island. Kinda figured you'd need to talk to him or something, right? But once Hack told him his little brother was alive….I did get his denden number, though.”
“...Ahhh well. He always was a bit of a hot head.” He snickered even as Koala stared at him, enjoying the pun.
“Riiight. So… Hack stepped out to call Dragon, but he should be back in a moment.” She looked at him expectantly.
“When he gets back I'll tell you both everything.” He answered her unspoken question, “But don't worry, I'm not going to be leaving the Revolutionary Army.”
“I wasn't aware that was even an option, Mr. Second In Command.”
Sabo was saved from answering that as Hack came back in, “Oh good, you're not dead.”
“Nope, not dead.” Sabo agreed. “My head is killing me, but I'm pretty sure I'll live. Unless Ac-- Fire Fist kills me. What did the boss say?”
Koala held up a hand, cutting Hack off even as she stared hard at Sabo. “That was the second time you almost called that Shichibukai by his name. Like, his actual not you messing it up name.”
Now Hack was looking at him as well, strong arms crossed as he looked at Sabo in concern. “What did you remember?” The fishman asked.
“Well…” Sabo sat on the bed, offering his two friends a sardonic smile, “would you believe that Shichibukai, Ace, is my brother?”
“Well, sworn brother at least. Before I sort of left to protect him and Luffy -- that was the kid in the picture, our little brother -- and then ended up with amnesia…” Sabo frowned as a thought occurred to him. “Hack, next time you talk to the boss tell him he and I need to have words. ”
*But… I thought you weren't going to leave?” Koala asked, slightly worried.
He shook his head, “No, I'm not leaving. But Dragon has some explaining to do.” Seeing the look of confusion he explained, “I met him before the… accident that took my memories. I told him about Ace and Luffy. He's known this whole time…. Not to mention he's technically Luffy's dad, I think. In which case I might have to hurt him for leaving him with Garp of all people.”
“Luffy… the kid in the picture?” Hack said, pulling out the picture and looking at it. “The one you said is still alive?”
At those words Sabo grit his teeth. He'd been trying not to think about it, the fact happy energetic Luffy had been reduced to that . That boy he'd helped rescue wasn't even a shadow of the kid Sabo used to know as well as himself. He hated he hadn't recongized his baby brother, amnesia or not. Luffy had been right there and needed him and he'd walked away. Why if Marco hadn't insisted on getting the kid he'd have probably left him. Ace… was going to kill him for that. If he didn't kill him for vanishing for ten years…. “Koala, I need that denden number. I need to call and let Ace know.”
“Alright, but you better explain better than that after.” She said, handing it over and walking over to the door, sensing this was a conversation best had in private.
“I promise I'll tell you everything.”
Hack nodded, holding the door open just a moment longer. “I'm sure there will be plenty of time while we are catching up to Fire Fist. I'll let the men know we're leaving in an hour.”
“Thanks…. I'll be down soon.” He offered a weak smile, dreading the conversation. “At least he can't set me on fire over the denden.” He told himself as the door shut. Taking a deep breath he dialed, hoping his once-bother would let him explain.
Das whined, trying to twist away from the grabbing hands that were hot against his skin. Hands that were holding him down, pressing his face into the hard deck (but it wasn't hard. It was soft, too soft). He wanted to fight back, to punch and kick and scream at them. He knew he should, his…. someone. Someone would be…. Angry? Sad?.... that he wasn't. They'd hurt him (they'd never hurt him, would they? Who was it?) for being weak. But he was weak, useless and helpless as he lay there. He gave into the tugging hands at last, letting them do what they would as he drifted. He wasn't strong enough to stop them….
Das gasped, flinching away from the sudden pain in his side. Soft words over cruel laughing as the bear's claws bit into him. Why wasn't he (who?) there? He couldn't win this, not alone (he was always alone, though), surrounded by mocking laughter...
His back burned and he sobbed, begging for it to stop, for them to not -- he couldn't (couldn't what?) -- anything but -- shame . He was useless and pathetic and he'd already lost (what? What was it?) How could he face (no one. There was no one he was alone it hurt so much). He wanted to die, please...he was useless and didn't deserve death but please….
Soft humming, a word (was it a name? Who-who-who) on his lips as he begged them (her?) to stay. He was sorry, he'd do anything, please don't leave, soothing fingers carding through his hair as he pleaded…
Choking on water, fear pounding in his veins. Drowning in ice cold water Das couldn't breathe as the flames raged (burning rancid stench of fear and death) and he struggled to find his ….. (what? Slaves had nothing ) crying out for them ( he had no one) to not leave as he coughed on smoke….
Soft blankets and the smell of liquor. Aching burn as he tried to move away from the light of the cabin back to the dim attic. The sun was up and he should go out (and do something, what was it?) before she got mad at them for being lazy (he wasn't afraid of her being mad, who was she?).....
Starting at a corner trying to decide if the man with the turban was there or not. (He should know him. Maybe.) Das was pretty sure the Tenryuubito with the bloody club wasn't there. No one else was reacting to him. Not the the man sitting in a chair or the grinning kids playing cards. But maybe they were the fakes, speaking without sound. (His heart hurt looking at them. He didn't notice the tears.) A woman, talking to a growling tiger… (but when he blinked the woman was gone and the tiger was a pirate.) What was real, was Das real?
Shivering against a breeze that was full of screaming. What was worse, being alone or being surrounded by pain/hate/fear (hiding the hate in the fear to avoid the pain.) Wanting it to end, not believing the voice that everything would be alright (he wanted to, though) that he was safe (they hadn't lied to him before) that he wasn't alone ( who had told him that, who had lied?)
Das drifted lost between what wasn't real and what was, what never was and what had been….
“Well, that was fun.” Ace commented, jumping back onto his ship. He’d been getting anxious waiting for the call from that Revolutionary Army guy and had left a day ago to blow off some steam. Mostly because his crew had been threatening to tie him up with seastone and throw him in the bilge if he didn’t stop snapping at them for every little thing. He’d understood completely, and was more than a little annoyed with himself for letting his temper slip like that.
He needed to know what that guy had meant. Was Luffy really alive? Where had he seen him? When? Not to mention it was a bit suspicious the man had suddenly fallen ill after telling Hack to let him know Luffy was alive. Something was up, and the old cynical part of Ace suspected a trap. Which might have had something to do with him clearing the area within a day’s sailing of his ship of anything in the water. With extreme prejudice. He only felt slightly bad about the one fishing vessel, but he’d left them a life boat so there was that.
Saber leaned over the rail separating the helm from the rest of the ship, “Good to see you’re back, Captain. Feeling better?”
“Much. Any word?”
“Well….” The first mate began, “I’m pretty sure your denden has been ringing for the last few hours. We’d have answered it but personally I don’t want to talk to Garp if it’s not that Revolutionary guy and I figured anything he’d have to say to you would best come from him.”
“And none of you contracted me?” Ace asked, good mood evaporating.
“We did ,” Banshee snapped, walking by, “But someone left his black denden in the kitchen.”
“....Oops.” His temper fizzled. He had done that. Little snail had been looking a bit under the weather so he’d left the guy with Flava to nurse back to health. A week of good food and cooler temperatures was just what the denden needed after living in his pocket for over a month. Being made of fire meant he had to be a bit more careful with the snails than most people realized. He always ended up feeling bad when he accidently cooked one. Mostly because they tasted horrible and were more useful alive, but still. He felt bad.
“So, you gonna answer that ringing or not?” Banshee asked, “Because I know you can hear that.”
“It’s waited this long, and I could probably use a nap.” Ace replied, suddenly feeling nervous. What if it wasn’t the revolutionary but Garp calling? Worse, what if it was and he was calling to tell him Luffy was dead? Ace didn’t think he could handle that. No, he knew he couldn’t.
Banshee’s expression softened. “Ace, even if it isn’t great news, we’ll keep looking. And, that fishman… he said his friend said Luffy was alive. Even if that news is stale, its news . We can work with that. We can find him, we just need a lead.”
“Yeah… yeah, you’re right. I’m…. I’ll let you know.” Ace trailed off laimly, hand on the door to his cabin. His men nodded and went to busy themselves away from his room, oftering him whatever privacy he needed.
Just like his crew had predicted the denden was ringing. The snail looked a little worn out from it in fact, and Ace made a note to bring it to Flava for some aftercare. Once this conversation was over, of course. Pulling over his chair he sat with more than a little trepidation, annoyed at himself for it at the same time. Frowning at his stupid behavior he snatched at the receiver.
“Badabada --- ink? He could answer the damn thing!” Someone shouted.
There was a slight chuckle and Ace raised an eyebrow. It looked like the caller hadn’t realized he’d answered. This could be interesting. “ Well, it has been a week …”
“ I was unconscious! Plus, I’ve been trying to reach him since I woke up! ” Alright, being unconscious was a good excuse. “ I swear if that dumbass goes off and does something reckless …”
“ He’s not you .”
A humorless laugh, “ No, he’s WORSE, Koala !” That was a bit insulting, and Ace opened his mouth to tell this stranger that when he heard something that made his blood boil. “ My brothers are both reckless idiots and Ace in particular is a hothead .”
The voice continued over him, “ He’s going to start a war over this; I just know it. I’d be better off picking Luffy up myself .”
“ He’d kill you .” Koala replied, and damn right he would. Ace would be the one to rescue his little brother, thank you very much! The more this guy talked the more he wanted to deck him. What a pompous asshole!
“ He’s probably going to kill me anyway , Koala .” The jerk let out something that almost sounded like a sob. “ No, you don’t understand. Luffy was right there -- I spoke with him!-- and I -- I didn’t know . I didn’t…. And Ace! He’s never going to forgive me for that, or for leaving --” Damn right he was never going to forgive this asshole for leaving his brother….wherever it was. Alright, it was a little hard to hold onto that anger when he was kind of confused about why this revolutionary guy was so upset. Yeah, it was Ace’s little brother they were talking about, but that shouldn’t actually matter to this guy.
“ It’s not like --”
“ No, I meant to leave .”
“ Sabo, you couldn’t have known you’d end up with amnesia .” The woman replied, exasperated. Ace didn’t really hear though. Not over the sudden anger at someone daring to use his other brother’s name.
“HE--!!” He tried again to get their attention.
“ You don’t know Ace like I do. He’s really not going to care .” Damn right he wasn’t going to care about some name-stealing jackass’s sob story! “ All he’s going to care about is that I left , and not only that I set sail without them . I didn’t even come back to tell them in person. I didn’t even check to see if they’d survived that fire …” Ace dropped the receiver in shock. There were very few people who knew about the fire in his childhood, and all but one lived on Dawn Island. Or so he thought. Was someone spying on him? ” I wasn’t worthy of being their brother then, and I sure as hell am not worthy now. Not when I didn’t recognize my own brother !”
Scrambling to pick up the receiver he snapped out, “Alright who the hell are you, and why the fuck are you spying on me?!”
“ Ace !” The other voice yelped.
“Yes, Ace. The guy you were calling with news of my little brother. Well, I’m on to you, you sick fuck. If you think for one moment I’ll beli--”
“ Ace, he’s alive ,” The other cut him off, the relief in that voice stopping his rant. “ I… I saw him! Spoke with him… granted more like at him… but he’s alive and I know where he is, so you need to tell me where you are right now so we can-- ”
“I’m not telling you shit!” Ace spat back, knowing a trap when he saw one. Like hell this crazy jerk had actually seen Luffy. Ace might be desperate, but he wasn’t born yesterday. And yeah, he’d gladly die to get his brother back, but he wasn’t going to throw his life away either.
“ Yes, you are! ”
“Uh, no, I’m not! This is some sort of trap, and I’m not falling for it!”
“ Oh for the love of!! !” The denden glowered at him for a second. “ Koala, a moment, please .” It sounds ominous. Ace ignored her affirmation that she was leaving the room, mentally bracing himself for whatever extortion or threats the other threw at him.
“Didn’t want your little girlfriend to know what a creep you are?” He snarked, smirking dangerously.
“ First, she’s not my girlfriend. She’d fucking kill me if she even heard you joke about that, you asshole. ”
“Maybe I should be louder, then.”
“You listen here, I, no WE do not have time for your petty bullshit or one of your stupid temper tantrums. You’re going to tell me where the hell you are or so help me I’ll go and get Luffy myself because obviously you’re too much of a child --”
“No, you listen! You’ll tell me where my little brother is before I come back there and melt your face off!”
“ Too late .” Came the quiped reply. Ace narrowed his eyes dangerously. “ I’m already gone. I was planning on meeting up with your cranky ass, but I can just as easily pick up Luffy without you .”
Ace swallowed, “Pick up?” His temper faded as his heart sunk. PIck up, not rescue. Spoken like he knew where to go, like Luffy wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But of course not…. You can’t rescue a corpse after all. He was a failure of a big brother...
“-- Ce? Ace? ACE !” The denden looked concerned, “ You idiot, I told you he was alive. He’s just…listen it’ll be easier to explain in person .”
“Why?” He ignored the relief he felt, suspicious again.
The other sighed. After a moment he spoke, “ Because I want to see you again, firstly .”
“ I am not !” The other snapped, “ I had fucking amnesia for the last decade, I couldn’t stalk you, you dickwad! And besides that, I know you, I tell you were Luffy is you’re going to run off half cocked and get yourself killed being reckless. ”
“I’m not reckless!” Ace shot back, insulted.
“ Yes, yes you are! Unless you’re going to tell me that you’ve changed since we were kids and don’t go beating up random strangers, oh wait, you’re a pirate now, so OF COURSE NOT!!! ”
Ace opened and shut his mouth a few times as his mind raced. There weren’t many people who’d known him as a kid, and other than his brothers, only two who had also been children at the time. One he’d never even spoken to, but the other he’d taken great enjoyment in tormenting any time he want near hightown. “....Smelly-Stelly?”
“ What?! EW! No! I’m insulted. And hurt. Mostly Insulted .” The other man huffed. “ You even talked to that bastard after I left? I mean, really… ”
“Who the hell are you, then?”
“.... So that’s how it is .” The sound of the other shifting, “ I… suppose I deserve it. I mean, I did leave without saying goodbye. Didn’t write, either… but you know what, Ace? Amnesia. If anything you should be mad at Dragon for not telling me I had people who I’d want to get back to. ”
Now Ace was confused all over again and feeling kinda guilty for making this guy feel bad about whatever it was. “Listen…”
“ I promise you if you just let me meet up with you…. Let me spend some time with both of you, a week at most…. I’ll leave you alone. Get out of your lives for good this time. I promise. Please , just meet with me first. I… ”
“No seriously, I really don’t know who the hell you are.” Ace cut him off, “I get you’re all upset, and I’m assuming you’re from Dawn Island? But… listen, I don’t remember you. I’m sorry.”
The denden’s mouth dropped open. “.... Seriously .”
“Well, you’re not Stelly, and I’m pretty sure Ricco hated my guts more then Smelly-Stelly, so you’re probably not him….I mean, I beat up a few kids for picking on Luffy --If you’re one of them, I’m not sorry, by the way-- but I don’t know who --”
“ Its…. Seriously? SERIOUSLY , Ace? I expected you to be mad at me but... I’m your brother !”
“You’re not my little brother.” He shot back, getting angry again.
“ I’m not Luffy, that’s for sure! ” The other agreed, “ I mean your other brother !”
“I don’t have--”
“ Portgas D Ace, don’t you dare !” The use of his last name, the only one he’d ever acknowledge, gave him pause. “ I’m sorry I left, and I’m sorry I forgot. More so than you could ever know. But don’t you dare … if you want to disown me, do it to my face, you coward! ”
“I’m not a coward!” Ace shouted back, “And I won’t let some jackass taint the memory of my brother! I’ll tell you exactly where I am so you can come here and I can fucking kill you!”
“ Don’t write me off as dead just because you’re mad at me! You asshole, I’m going to kill you, bring you back, and kill you again! ”
That… was not the answer he’d been expecting. Usually threatening to murder someone had them groveling. Not threatening to kill him back. “...Huh?” He blinked, working through what the other said.
“ I get you’re mad I left, but I did write… once…. ” There was no way…. “ It’s really not my fault I got hit by a cannonball and lost my memories, alright?” He’d finally lost his mind. That had to be it, right?
“Can… you wait a second?”
“ Uh….sure? ” Running to his door he threw it open and waved frantically for Saber to come over.
“Have we found hi--” The first mate started, an excited glint in his eyes that faded at the look on Ace’s face.
He was sure he looked horrible, “Later. Listen, just… you can hear the guy on the other end of this, right?” He held up the snail.
“No?” Saber said, looking worried.
“Shit. I’m….” Ace started shaking, sitting heavily and putting the snail down before he dropped it and killed the thing. He wondered if the snail had even been ringing when he’d come into the room. Weird, he didn’t feel crazy, but he supposed it did run in the family. Maybe it was better this way… maybe he’d start to seeing his little brother, safe and here with him soon. He started to laugh, a sad desperate sound. What a failure he was….
“ Ace? Ace, what’s going on? Are you alright? ” The imaginary voice of his dead brother asked.
“I think he’s having a mental breakdown. What the hell did you say to him?” Saber answered Sabo. Wait….Saber answered….?
“ I was trying to apologize for not getting in touch for ten years because I had amnesia .” The snail sniffed, sounding insulted. “ Jerk. Anyway, I need to know your coordinates, if you’d be so kind ?”
“And why should I tell you?”
“ Because I know where Luffy is and if I get him myself Ace’ll murder me , and if I just tell him where he is he’ll get murdered. And I’d rather not Luffy be down a brother right now. ” Came the exasperated reply.
“You’re dead….” Ace hiccuped, trying to get control over his hysterical laughing.
“ You can try it. ” Sabo agreed, “ After you give me your damn coordinates .”
“No, like, actually dead.” Ace looked up at his first mate, fingering his tattoo. “Saber, we’re talking to a dead man.”
“Not….Sabo?” The other man paled, having gotten some of the details from Ace not long after they’d set sail. A sea ghost. His brother had become a sea ghost, probably to haunt him for his failure in protecting Luffy like he promised he would.
“ Ace… you…. Didn’t actually think I was dead, did you?” The snail sounded worried.
“Yo-- the ship was blown to bits . You’re dead .” He swallowed, not sure if it was a good idea to remind the dead how they died.
“.... Saber-san, would a dead man need coordinates? ”
Saber looked at Ace before taking the snail and leaving the room. Good, he hoped his friend would toss it overboard. Sabo could drag his soul to hell where it belonged, but only after he’d rescued Luffy.
Wait…. If a ghost said he’d seen Luffy….did that mean Luffy was dead? Ace was much too sober for this. Stumbling his way out of the room he ignored the looks his crew were giving him as he made it over to the galley. He needed to be very, very drunk. A glance at the wall calendar next to the cabinet they kept the strong booze in showed him the date; May 5th. No wonder Sabo was haunting him now of all days. How could he forget?
Thatch offered the nurse a small smile as she let him back into the infirmary. Making his way over to the cot that held Das he offered the boy a warmer smile, even if the other couldn't see it. At least he looked like he was sleeping peacefully at the moment.
“Are you planning on spending the day, Commander?” Cherri asked, coming over with a fresh pitcher of water.
“Well, as long as I can.” He admitted, knowing he really spent too much time in the infirmary the last few weeks. Between cleaning up the mess Marshall left and making sure there were no other traitors hiding amongst their family he hadn't as much free time as he was used to and what little he did was often spent here, by Das’s bedside.
It was easily one of the toughest things he'd ever done. Sitting there, unable to help as his littlest brother fought for his life…. It was a special kind of hell. The blow which had been meant for Thatch had cut deeply into the kid, carving not only into his flesh but his very bones. Worse still, Marshall's blade had been covered in who knew what, as the man never cleaned the weapon. Infection had set in before Das made it out of surgery, sapping his already over taxed immune system.
Those first hours....The nurses had only allowed Oyaji in to see him. No one had expected him to survive and the whole crew had turned vicious in their mourning. None who had approached, be they rival crew, merchant, marine, or fisherman was spared. Any and all could have been in league with that traitor , and as such removed. Permanently.
When Das had managed to survive those first twelve hours it was nothing short of a miracle. One Thatch refused to have ruined by thinking about just how many times the nurses had made him keep breathing that first day. One look at Oyaji's face said it all, and Thatch for one was thankful he would never be asked to make that kind of call.
Once the others had been allowed in he and the other commanders made sure someone was sitting with the kid almost at all times. A little over the top, maybe… but Das…. still hadn't managed to make any connections within the crew. The only ones he knew particularly were the commanders, and that was due to rooming in their wing. The few others who had expressed an interest in the boy admittedly weren't the best sort. Unlike everyone else, Das was alone. If they hadn't stepped up, there would be no one there for the kid, and that was inexcusable.
It was painful, though. Das fought -- not just the fever trying to claim his life, but the very people trying to save him -- and it physically hurt to have to restrain him so he didn't harm himself or others. And wasn't that a shock? Das -- weak timid Das -- was strong enough to easily toss one of the nurses across the room with his thrashing. Then again, Thatch supposed the kid had body-checked him out of the way of that attack.
“You know,” he told the sleeping boy, “Izo’s been saying that you're probably a ‘D’, Das. It would explain a few things, but…” but what D flinched at shadows? He'd never… D’s smiled in the face of death… what… what would it take to break a D? No, D’s didn't break; they died. And if Das was really a D… he shook his head, killing that dark train of thought. He looked for something to change the topic to and found it in the form of a thin book left on the table.
“Ah, 'Noland the Liar’, huh? Marco said he was going to change books. Do you like it? Personally, I think Noland probably wasn't wrong. I mean, it's hard to explain the Grand Line to people who never leave the Blues now, right?”
Das didn't answer, his breathing didn't change either. That was alright, though. Thatch could pretend. Just like he had yesterday, and the day before that… he'd keep pretending until Das did answer.
“What do I think? Well, since the rest of the island is still there, I'm betting on a sea-quake. They happen from time to time in places were the currents are unpredictable. They can sink a whole island, or sometimes just rip it in two. Why, there's this one island in Oyaji’s territory… whole coast got shoved up a league into the air, but the center kinda sunk. So it's this really pretty valley below sea level surrounded by these awesome cliffs. Some of the prettiest waterfalls you'd ever see. When you feel better, I'll take ya. How does that sound?”
Flipping through the book he found where Marco had left off and started to read out loud, knowing from his own experiences how comforting it was. When Marco joined them, bringing lunch and assurance he wasn't needed in the kitchen today he kept reading, allowing his brother to work on the reports he'd brought.
Thatch wasn't sure how long he'd been reading when a sound made him pause. Lowering the book he found Das looking at him, eyes glazed over with fever. Thatch swallowed against the momentarily panic he felt, looking at Marco who shrugged helplessly. The last time Das had 'woken up’ hadn't been pleasant. The boy had pleaded for someone -- Thatch didn't know who, but if he ever saw them there would be hell to pay -- to not leave him.
“---kino?” The boy rasped, eyes flitting around. Thatch wasn't sure how much the kid was really seeing. “Ma……Ma...k...?”
His heart clenched even as he closed the book and leaned forward. It was not the first time he'd asked for his Ma. “Shhhh…. She just had to step out.”
Fevered eyes landed on him and before he could worry the boy blinked, eyes clearing. “T--thatch?”
“Hey there, little brother.” He smiled warmly, ignoring the confusion on the other's face. This was the first time he'd looked at one of them and known them.
“What… where's….” Das let out a distressed whine.
“Easy, everything it's alright.” Marco said, continuing when Das looked at him, more present that he had been yet. “There was an accident,” It was the agreed upon story if he didn't remember what happened right away. Telling him he'd been hurt could cause a panic, especially given his nightmares. “and you're in the infirmary.” The boy whined again, eyes flitting around. “Shhhh, Das, it's --”
“M’not…. where's? Marco? Where's? I…” a choked sobbing sound as he struggled to sit up and Thatch had to wonder if he'd been wrong. It didn't look like the kid was aware after all. It hurt, but it wasn't unexpected. “Thatch… where’s….”
“Where is what?” He tried, calmly.
Das sniffed, tears filling his eyes. “I--can’t--they took --- I can't… Why? Why can't I? It hurts and I don't…”
“If you tell me what they took, I'll--” Marco crouched, expression serious.
“ Me ...they took me .” Das answered, tears running down his face.
And oh, did that hurt. They'd always known Das must have been kidnapped, but with how… broken … he was it was often easy to overlook it. He was just a kid, though. “Hey, it's ok. I swear to you on our flag, no one is ever going to take you again. Alright?” Thatch swore. He couldn't change what had happened, but he could promise this.
Das sniffed, nodding. His eyes were losing some of their intense focus as Marco eased him back down, covering him gently with the sheets. “Get some more rest, we'll be here when you wake up, alright, Das?” The boy nodded again, closing his eyes obediently enough. Even as Thatch was hopeful that this meant Das would be up soon he found himself also hoping the boy never remembered the conversation that had just happened. It was enough that he and Marco would . For now, if they could spare their little brother the kind of pain they'd heard in his voice they would.
“Thanks.” Sabo said, tipping his hat as he crossed the gangplank onto his brother's ship.
Saber nodded back, arms crossed as he watched them warily. Sabo approved; Ace needed someone watching his back. “He's in the galley. Been there since you called. Wasn't expecting you to get here so soon, honestly.”
“We asked some friends for a lift.” Hack replied. Of course what he meant was when he saw how distressed Sabo had become he'd had the shoal of soldier fish that always followed their ship earn their scraps for a change. It had been an … interesting few hours.
“I… suppose that works.” His attention fixed on Sabo once more as they walked towards the galley. The the young man tried not to shift uncomfortably as his scars were scrutinized. “So… you're not dead.”
“No? I mean, I still don't remember much of the... accident … but it was a close call, as you can see.”
“I'd say. You brats must have been made of, shit, I don't know, Haki or some such shit. I've heard stories, man.” The first mate offered his hand, “Saber. Pleasure to meet you. Thanks for putting up with the Cap when he was a brat.”
“I should be thanking you. At least when we were kids his crazy was limited to one island.” He bowed low, “Thank you for taking care of my brother. And… thank you. For doing the same for Luffy.”
Saber’s face twitched. “I'll take that when we find him. You want me to go in with you?”
Looking at the shut door and feeling the uncomfortable heat radiating from it Sabo shook his head. As much as he'd like the help corralling Ace if things went south… he didn't want to put the man at risk. “In the off chance he takes this as poorly as I'm expecting and kills me…. Koala has the information needed.”
“If you let him kill you I'm going to throw his ass in the sea.” Koala promised, leaning against the wall. “I'll wait here.”
Hack sighed, clapping Saber on the shoulder, “We can at least start heading in the right direction. It will take some time before we arrive, even using alternative ways of travel.”
“Alright…. Try not to let the Captain destroy the ship when he's trying to kill you.” Saber told him with a smirk. Then his expression softened, “And .. don't let him actually kill you. I shouldn't be telling you this, but… he never got over it, you know. It eats at him, that and well… I know he ain't gonna take it well, but. He could probably use a brother. In case…” Saber trailed off.
Sabo swallowed, suspecting Ace wasn't quite as stable as he pretended to the world, not that he'd been stable as a kid. There had been a few times before Luffy'd forced his way into their lives Sabo had worried his brother was going to so something stupid… “All I'll say right now is Luffy is alive. Anything else Ace needs to hear first.”
Saber nodded, moving away. “We'll talk later. For now, good luck.”
“Thanks…” Sabo said, bracing himself as he opened the door. Hopefully armament Haki could protect against burns, even if it was doing shit for the heat. Opening the door he shook his head at the sight of Ace surrounded by empty bottles. “Can you even get drunk anymore? Being made of fire and everything?”
“Yes.” The other replied, not bothering to turn and look at him as he took another swig from a bottle. “It just takes a lot of really strong booze.”
“Alright. Well, pass that over because I shouldn't be the only sober person here.” He said, coming around to sit across from Ace. If his brother we as going to try and ignore him he was going to push the issue.
Ace passed the bottle over easy enough. “If you're here to drag me to hell, you'll have to wait. I need to find Luffy first. I need to see it for myself….”
“You even have to ask?” Ace gave him a look of self loathing, “His….how I FAILED as a brother. I promised you I'd look after him and--”
Sabo held up a hand, “First off, if anyone failed, it's me--”
“You're dead, that doesn't--”
“Not dead. And SECONDLY he's fucking alive you dumb shit. I keep telling you that. He's not….good…. but he was definitely alive when I saw him last. And also how the hell were you to know he'd get kidnapped? On Dawn Island? No one could possibly blame you for this.”
Ace narrowed his eyes, “You...are a ghost. I don't believe yo--”
Sabo rolled his eyes before reaching out and slamming Ace’s face into the table. Not hard enough to hurt him, but enough to stun him a bit. He smirked slightly as his brother came up, eyes wide in surprise as he held his nose. “Your nose is fine. Don't be such a baby, Ace.”
“Y--b--- you blew up!”
“I'd noticed. What with the extensive scar tissue covering my body.” Sabo replied dryly, gesturing to the prominent one on his face before lowering the collar and cravat with an ungloved hand. The scars were not something he was was ashamed of at all, but he tended not to flaunt them. They were… distinctive. In his line of work it didn't pay to be so distinctive. “Blown up, but not dead.”
Ace stared at him for a while and Sabo could swear he could see the alcohol being burned out of his system. If nothing else he could smell it. Then his brother's expression changed and he lunged faster than Sabo could move. For a moment Sabo thought he was a dead man for sure. Right up until Ace half dragged him across the table in a rough hug. “You… you bastard! I… you're live… I… I'm sorry. I failed… you and then Luffy and…”
“Hey asshole, I failed. I'm the one who left.”
“Yeah well, you… amnesia? Seriously?.... ” Ace let out a chuckle.
“Well, excuse me it's not super cool.” He rolled his eyes hugging Ace back. “I'm sorry. For this, and for everything else. For…” he took a deep breath and continued. “Listen, Luffy is alive. He's not a slave anymore. He's been rescued, and I can take us to him. But… Ace, I was there. I didn't… I was going to leave him, and….”
“But, you didn't.” Ace said, staring into his eyes. He nodded. “You… didn't recognize him…” Ace sat back, working through it, “You didn't remember him.” Sabo tried not to flinch as he nodded. “Right. And the photo…. It's why you got sick and passed out, right? Your memories came back.”
“Yeah, listen I'm sorry. I'm a horrible brother and I should have--”
“Remembered sooner?” Ace snarked, “That might have been nice, you dick. Or try not giving me a heart attack with being alive and not dead.” He let out a watery chuckle that Sabo joined in, knowing all was forgiven, even if they would probably be beating the crap out of each other over this eventually. Had to figure out who was the worse brother after all. “He… is alive?”
Ace held up a hand, “Don't tell me. Not right now. Let me just… enjoy this. Please.” His voice broke on the last word and Sabo found himself reluctantly agreeing. There would be time later to mourn what had become of their little brother. For now though…. They were all alive. For now that was enough.
“My son, how are you feeling?”
Das glanced up at the question before focusing on the deck once more. “Better.” He didn't say how he wanted to be anywhere but here on deck sitting with the captain, even if that meant going back to the infirmary.
His mas… Oyaji , he didn't want Das to call him master and frowned in a scary-but-weird-way when he did.… leaned forward, a warm smile on his face. “You are not in trouble. In fact, I am quite proud of you.”
He didn't believe that for a moment. He couldn't be proud, because Das was useless. If he'd been less useless he'd have stopped the bad man from coming into Thatch's room. From wrecking the place…. he wasn't able to stop him at all, and then made everyone upset by getting hurt.
“You did the right thing, Das.” The pirate captain told him, and he was no longer surprised that the man seemed to know what he was thinking. It was some sort of mystery ability, but ... Oyaji … was the strongest man in the world according to Marco and Das believed him. Of course someone that strong could read someone as weak and pathetic as Das.
Still… Oyaji was wrong. “I… it's my fault.”
“Oh?” The man asked, surprising Das. When he had told Thatch and Marco it was his fault they had told him it wasn't, even when it was . They were too nice and Das had been afraid of getting them in trouble by arguing but they were wrong . “How so?”
Swallowing the boy my repeated, “My fault. Let him come in--”
“Did you open the door for him?”
Das frowned, he hadn't done that. “No. He… he followed me. I tried to shut the door, but he… Das tried, but he was too strong. He threw Das.”
Something passed across Oyaji's face but before he could tell what it was it was gone. “It is not your fault if he forced his way in. It would be foolish of me to expect you to stop a commander from entering somewhere when any of your other brothers and sisters here would likely have let him in as well.”
“But… he ruined the place. Das just let him. No one else w--”
“Did you tell him he could?” Once again he shook his head. “Did you help him?”
*No! I tried, Das swears he tried to stop the man from breaking everything, but he was too big, and Das is too little.” He roughly scrubbed his face, not wanting to cry as he remembered the taunting laughter as the man had literally thrown him around the room. “Das… might have broke the chair. Not on purpose! But… it's hard to dodge in small spaces. Das is sorry…”
“Did he throw the chair at you?”
“No, he threw me at the chair.” Das shrugged, “Sorry…”
Oyaji let out a disappointed sigh, “My boy, how many times did he throw you?”
“Every time. Lots. Das will do better next time.”
“Das, you are a child ,” Oyaji said, something akin to frustration in his voice, “I do not expect you to fight full grown men, let alone someone as strong as Marshal. That traitor was a division commander because of how strong he was, and Thatch informed me it was possible he was stronger than we had known. Attacking him was very brave if wreckless of you. I can't fault you for not succeeding.”
“But… I didn't warn Thatch. He almost got hurt and I should have--”
“I doubt Marshal would have let you leave the room alive if you had tried to warn anyone.” Alright Das had to admit that was probably right. The man had threatened him, but still… “And Thatch wasn't hurt, you were. You were very very brave pushing him out of the way. If you hadn't, I'm sure I'd have had to bury two sons. And thanks to you, no one died.” Oyaji smiled down at him, “So you see, Das? None of this was on you. In fact, by your own account you did your best to stop him.”
“It didn't work…”
“No, but he didn't succeed either. I'd have preferred you not to have been hurt, but even so. Without training you held off a commander long enough until help arrived and through your actions prevented one of your brothers from being grievously wounded.” When put that way, Das supposed he was right. He hadn't been effective in stopping the man, but he knew he'd slowed him down, even if just a little. “Maybe I should make you a commander one day.”
“No, nonono. I...Das… not strong enough.” He protested. “Not yet.”
Oyaji smiled, “You’re right. Not yet. Which is why you are going to start taking lessons, my son. So you can get stronger.”
Das chewed his lip, thinking. He didn't believe Oyaji wanted him to ever get that strong. For all that they protested, he was still a slave after all…. But…. If he was stronger, he'd be more use to the crew, right? Everyone here was so strong, it wasn't like he was any sort of threat to them -- and he never wanted to be! -- but if he was stronger…. He could do more. He could maybe help next time someone bad was on the ship.
Next time, maybe he wouldn't worry Oyaji and his… Das's mind shied away from finishing that thought, his heart aching painfully for some reason. He blinked in confusion and annoyance. That was happening more often since he'd been hurt and he didn't know why. The nice lady Candie had told him it wasn't anything to worry about and he believed her. She had hugged him then, and it was weird because Das knew she wouldn't hurt him but he'd felt trapped and had wanted to panic. But he hadn't. It had just made his heart hurt more until he'd wanted to cry. He figured it was because he was still pathetic and weak, worrying everyone like that. If he got stronger, maybe it would stop.
“D...I… want to be stronger.” He told Oyaji. “I want to be better… I… I want you to be proud.” He trailed off quietly.
He felt good when Oyaji grinned down at him, “You already make me proud, my son.”
“For the record, this is a bad idea.” Koala offered, not bothering to look up as Ace and his brother left the ship.
“I agree with you, Koala. This is not the time , Ace!” Sabo reminded him again.
And yes, his brother was probably right. But half the time Ace wanted to deck him in the face and the other half he wanted to crush him in a hug. Since he figured neither feeling was going away any time soon and he'd rather not fight in front of Luffy -- he was alive!! -- now was just about the only time. “What? I'm sure those Whitebeard losers will hear about me making trouble and hurry on over. Big Mom always does.”
Sabo shook his head, “Fist, I'm surprised she didn't eat you. ”
“She likes me.” Ace replied, offering Sabo a leg up and over the wall that separated the port from the surrounding fields where large animals roamed free. Perfect spot for a fight since neither really wanted to get any civilians mixed up in their family squabble. “I'm very likeable.”
“Says the man with breathtaking self esteem issues.”
“I said I'm likeable . Not that I'm worthy of being liked, asshole.” Ace snapped back.
Sabo raised his arms in defeat, though Ace knew very well his brother would likely kill anyone who said Ace wasn't worth being liked. Or alive. Good, he didn't just want to wail on Sabo, he wanted a fight. “Also, don't call them losers. The White Bread pirates--”
“Are quite strong. Even by your stupid standards.” Sabo continued, pulling his pipe free of its straps and tossing it to the side before adjusting his gloves. Ace had a sneaking suspicion there was seastone worked into them somehow. “So, how do you want to do this?”
Good question. He didn't want to be at this for days, which would easily happen if Sabo was as strong as he thought his brother was. Plus collateral went up the longer the fight went. “Best two out of three?”
“Oh great, we'll just be at this a week then.” Sabo quipped back. “How about first one to say 'Jiji’? Or, you know, fall unconscious…. How's your narcolepsy, Ace?”
“Har har.” He flipped a lazy fireball at the other that was easily knocked out of existence by a wave of a hand. Definitely seastone in those gloves. “On the count of three?”
On three both launched at each other, fists flying. It was nostalgic; it was cathartic; it was fun for all that anger fueled more than a few of those punches. What Ace was exactly angered over was something not even he understood. He loved Sabo; was thrilled to have him back, and knew Sabo hadn't forgotten him -- them -- deliberately.
Still, there was a bubbling burning feeling in his gut over all the lost time. All the could-have-beens and all his failings as a brother, rage over the scars Sabo carried inside and out that showed how Ace had failed him. Fear that he buried under the white hot anger at the thought of Luffy , broken as Sabo described him.
As he skidded back from a vicious right hook Ace took in the slightly crazed look in his brother's eyes. Ace knew he should probably be worried about that look. He was pretty sure he didn't remember Sabo smiling like he was planning on eating you as a kid. Then again getting blown up probably messed with a person...well if they weren't made of fire...besides he wasn't a good person to judge what were healthy coping mechanisms. Anyone who'd witnessed his temper in action could attest to that.
Especially when it made the spar so much more thrilling. Ace launched himself at Sabo, turning into flames at the last second and barely avoiding what would have been a bone bruising kick to the ribs to appear behind Sabo and returning the favor with interest, kicking him clear through the wall protecting the village.
“Oops.” He said, reforming just to disappear as Sabo had the nerve to throw a building at him. It was a small house, but still.
“Sorry, my hand slipped.” Sabo replied, the creepy look would have actually been scary if he wasn't sure they weren't trying to kill each other. Especially when his hand turned black with armament haki and crushed the piece of siding in his hand to dust. Forget seastone, Sabo was dangerous enough to make this fight really interesting.
“How rude.” He spat a glob of blood as he reformed before returning the look with a devilish grin of his own.
“What are you going to do about it, bastard ?”
“This!” Ace launched himself up, bringing a fire piller down on his brother, knowing for sure now the other could handle it. Which he did, leaping through the flames to slam into Ace, knee to the gut and elbow to the back of the head. “You asshole !” That had actually hurt! He flipped away, kicking his brother in the chin.
The two of them glared at each other, ignoring the people running for cover. Ace felt the glare become a smirk. Yeah, he was still angry, but he was always angry all the time . Now though, he was having fun. Sabo's answering smirk said he was having fun, too.
“You do? How nice of you--”
“I'm going to kill you, you smug bastard!” Ace shouted lunging for the blond who easily slipped out of the way.
This was going to be fun !
Marco ran his hand over Das's head in a wordless greeting as he joined the brat at the table. He had to admit it was a little gratifying when Das didn't flinch at the hand running through his growing hair. He did try and make himself smaller, but it was still a victory. “What's up?”
“...lessons…” Das replied, a small frown letting Marco know the brat wasn't pleased. He shared an amused look with Izo, who was in charge of the more practical lessons for any of the crew who needed to learn reading, writing, or arithmetic. Izo was a natural at making even the most reluctant of men put forth the effort needed.
“Well, if you're going to be running a division one day, you'll need to know how to do this, little brother.” Izo teased lightly.
Das's frown grew and he glared at the floor. “Not funny. Da-- I can't be a commander.”
“Sure you can, yoi.” Marco told him, “If you really wanted to be, I've no doubt you could do it. Right Izo?”
“Of course. I wasn't making fun of you, Das. I'm sorry if it sounded that way.” Izo fiddled with his fan, a sign he was uncomfortable. Since the Incident Das had been making an obvious effort to be more assertive. It made it hard to tell sometimes how uncomfortable the brat was, not that it had been easy before. Das was a hard read, and Marco worried often that this new behavior was just because it was what the kid thought they wanted. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
At length the boy nodded slightly before turning back to the worksheet in front of him. Marco watched, vaguely interested as he had never seen how Izo taught. “How's he doing?”
“Well, his math skills are abysmal and his writing is almost legible, so he fits right in with the rest of you barbarians,” the crossdresser sniffed dramatically. It was a well known fact he felt most of the crew were uncultured swine and had become a long running joke between the commanders.
Marco smiled, relieved that Das apparently already knew at least the basics. It meant that Izo wasn't going to insist on keeping the brat onboard when they docked for more lessons. The sixteenth commander was more than a bit intimidating at times and could be really pushy when it came to something he felt you needed to do. Most didn't bother arguing with him, and while Marco could and did often, something told him arguing this time would get him shot.
Still, no need to worry. Looked like the improdu 'celebration’ Thatch had planned would go off without a hitch since Das could apparently already do basic math, write and… “Wait, how's his reading?”
“That's the thing.” Izo said, giving Das a long look. His finger tapped the handle of his fan in contemplation.
“He can't read?” A bit odd when you could write, but not unheard of.
Izo shook his head, “The opposite, in fact. I'd even go so far to say as his reading comprehension is at your level, Marco.” He waved off any questions before Marco could voice it. “Having him read out loud was….an experience, but I asked Das to read an article from today's paper and he was able to summarize it quite well. Not to mention the paragraph of ‘Genevieve's Island ’. I was quite surprised.”
So was Marco. The paper was one thing, but Genevieve's Island had been a classic when he had been young. It was a good book, but not the easiest to read. He looked at Das in surprise, “Had you seen the book before, yoi?” He asked, wondering if maybe one of the scum who had owned him had read it out loud and Das was just remembering it more than reading.
Das didn't look up, though it was obvious by the badly drawn doodles -- was that a cat or a fish? -- he had stopped working on the math problems to listen to them. There was a slight twitch, almost a shrug. “No.”
“Huh.” Marco crossed his arms, wondering exactly where the skill had come from and trying to think of a way to ask. Glancing at Izo he saw the other was equally conflicted on if they even should . Sometimes the smallest simplest questions led to answers no one wanted with Das. Like when they'd asked Das if he wanted a hat and it had led to what could only be a full on panic attack. Marco didn't want to know what had happened to earn that sort of response, and equally he didn't want to have reading turn out to be something horrific, either. The conversation on dodging had been upsetting enough.
“I… knew how.” Das spoke so softly, Marco almost didn't hear him at first. “Before…. Before. Someone? Someone showed me.” Das made a frustrated sound, quill leaving a jagged line across the paper. “Das doesn't remember , though. Just… they really liked books. Big boring books.”
This was big . Marco fought hard to keep from cheering as a wide grin stretched his face. It had become pretty clear those first few weeks that Das didn't remember ever not being a slave, though all evidence pointed to him having been caught and made one. Becca, one of the few nurses on board that focused on the mental health of the crew, said it wasn't unheard of. That Das had either been brainwashed into the slave they saw now, or had forgotten himself under everything that had happened which Marco found slightly more horrifying. He couldn't imagine what would make him want to forget his own family, and when he'd said as much she'd smacked him. Apparently 'want’ had nothing to do with it, and he supposed he deserved that. Either way, the chances of Das remembering were slim. He couldn't wait to tell Oyaji, and Thatch was going to be thrilled. This was even more of a reason to go into town when they reached the island to celebrate.
“Well, you remember they taught you, yoi. That's something. It's more than you had before, right?” Das nodded slowly. “So maybe you'll remember them one day. Or maybe you won't. Either way, you have that skill they gave you.” He finished rather lamely, not sure how to express what he was trying to get across.
“Marco's right in his bumbling way. This person gave you something that no one can take away from you. And I'm sure people tried. But you kept it.”
“... Like a mystery treasure?”
“Yes, exactly, yoi.” He grinned at the boy, rewarded by a slight shy smile and knowing what they were trying to get across was understood. Those bastards might have taken too much from their littlest brother, but there were some things he'd fought for and kept, even if he'd hidden those things so well they were almost lost, even to himself. Maybe Izo had been on to something, about Das being a ‘D’ after all.
“Bad news, guys!” Thatch called, walking in and sinking into a vacant seat next to Izo, looking dejected.
“We're out of pudding?” Izo guessed.
“No, but almost as bad.” The cook slouched dramatically, “That batshit Shichibukai? The fire one?”
“Yeah?” Marco prompted, nodding to indicate he knew who Thatch was speaking about.
“Picked a fight on our island . The one we were going to, no less!”
“So? I doubt it will take much to route him from our island. He might be crazy, but Jinbe said he wasn't stupid .” Izo pointed out.
“He's fighting with the Revolutionary Army , so that's pretty stupid. Oyaji already sent Jozu and Haruta with some of the crew to deal with it, too.” Thatch's eyes flitted to Das before looking at the other commanders, “We're heading to the next island.”
Sounded like Oyaji was taking this seriously, even if he didn't want to risk even the remote chance of Das getting caught up in the fight. Not that Marco didn't understand. That Shichibukai had a reputation of being particularly nasty when it came to slaves. He wasn't sure of the details, but he knew for a fact the youngest Shichibukai was often at odds with Doflamingo. There was a debate among the crew if it was over competing business or something more personal. “Well, I guess it's for the best, yoi. Fire Fist is unpredictable enough that there's no telling how he would react to us all showing up to put him in his place. He could destroy the Island, or at least harm most of the villagers.”
“This suuuucks.” Thatch whined. Das reached out and pat him on the head sympathetically.
Sabo smiled up at the Whitebeard Pirates a little sheepishly from where he sat in the rubble of what had once been a store of some kind with his brother. “We seem to have gotten a little carried away. Oops.”
“Oops.” Juju repeated, arms crossed as he glared at the two. “We get word some Shichibukai is trashing one of o ur islands and the Revolutionary Army is mixed up in it and all you can say is 'oops.’”
“It wasn't deliberate!” Ace huffed, crossing his arms and looking away. Sabo thought he was more upset about being interrupted than anything else. Though possibly he was upset at the group of pirates 'guarding’ his crew.
“You sure I can't stab him, Juzo?” The shorter of the two Whitebeard commanders asked, glaring at Ace.
“Not until we have answers.” The third division commander replied, eyes still on Sabo. “As we're not allies or enemies with the Revolutionary Army, mind explaining what your doing here?”
“Waiting for you.” Sabo replied, smiling brightly and winking. “I know I could have called, but I was in the area.” He saw Koala slap her forehead dramatically at this and counted it as a success.
“And you?” Hupta asked Ace.
“Just in the area. Heard your crew was heading this way and thought I'd say hi.”
“By picking a fight?”
Ace looked at the other pirate like he was crazy, “I wasn't fighting your crew here. I was fighting this jackass. Though if you want--”
Sabo casually smacked him up the back of the head, earning a glare that was actually a pout if you knew how to read his prickly brother. “No. No fighting a Yonko.”
“No. I told you--”
“I don't want to hear that from you ! You threw a house at me!”
“You kicked me through the wall first, you asshole!”
“On accident !”
“Bullshit! Thanks to you we're in trouble--”
“ Me ? Don't go blaming me , you broke as much as I did!”
Juzo coughed, getting their attention. “So, let me see if I have this right. You two both came here to meet up with our crew.” Both brothers nodded. “And apparently had a grudge match.” They nodded again, this time a little sheepishly.
“Man, you two must really hate each other, huh? The villagers said you started fighting the moment you got here.” Harupo laughed, “I can see why though, right Juzo? Sabo is an arrogant smug bastard and this snot nosed rookie is a nasty piece of work from what I've heard. They'd nev--”
Sabo felt his smile slip as he watched Ace close off out of the corner of his eyes. He'd expected anger over what the Whitebeard was saying and could have hit himself. He'd forgotten his brother's feelings of guilt; of course he'd take the words as more proof of how worthless he was. Sabo cut the pirate off, words cold and brittle. “While I will be the first to admit Ace is a real piece of work…” he began, look threatening bodily harm, “do not talk about my brother that way.”
“Brother?!” Harupo sputtered. “But… you were fighting!”
“Please, like you've never gotten into a fight with one of your siblings.” He shot back. “Ace and I just got a bit… carried away… is all.”
“We said we were sorry.”
“No, you didn't. Oops is not sorry.” Juzo said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Ace looked away, contrite in a way Sabo had never seen before. It was weird. “I am sorry. It was mostly my fault; I hadn't seen Sabo in ages, and the spar got a little out of hand.” Haruka mouthed 'a little’ his expression incredulous. Little did the Whitebeard crew know they'd just gotten started. “My crew and I will pay for the damages.”
“Fine. But you're coming with us, you brats. Thanks to your little spar Oyaji decided not to stop here. The whole crew had really been looking forward to it, too.” Juzo admitted. Sabo could see why. Before they had sort of trashed the place the town had seemed perfect for a nice extended stay for such a large crew. He imagined Whitebeard wouldn't be too happy with the two of them for ruining those plans. “You can personally explain to Oyaji how you ruined his favorite resort town with a spar. ”
Ace and Sabo winced at the same time. Somehow even though both were in no way answerable to the Yonko it felt uncomfortable thinking about telling him. Mostly because the way the division commander said it was more like he -- and in extension his captain -- was disappointed that the town had been wrecked over this. It was a weird feeling. “We are sorry.” Sabo said, standing. “Look, what if I left some of my men here to start the cleanup?”
“That's not a bad idea.” Haruot put in. “The government dog's crew should stay, too.”
“We were already planning on it.” Saber cut in, “I'd like to come along, if that's alright, Captain.”
“Just so there's someone at your back. Not that I don't trust your brother,” he and Sabo shared a nod, “but I definitely don't trust Yonko crews.” His eyes narrowed as he looked at the twelfth division commander. “After all, they're nasty pieces of work that can't be trusted.”
Sabo whistled, impressed at the foolish bravery his brother's first mate showed by mouthing off like that. It was a clear dig at the commander, and given the words from before totally understandable. Hakko was forced to nod his agreement, even as he flushed in anger. No one would trust the safety of their captain to a crew that held him in such contempt after all. It was brilliant, since Sabo knew for a fact Saber wasn't worried about that at all. Ace was more than capable of protecting himself. But it gave his first mate the perfect excuse to shadow him. Sabo just hoped the man didn't try to kidnap Luffy from the other crew. That wouldn't go well.
“You ready to go, little buddy?” Thatch asked, all smiles as he waited by the gangplank for Marco and Das. A few of the other commanders were planning on meeting them in town for dinner, but for the most part it was going to be just the three of them.
“No…” Das replied petulantly. “Don't want to go.”
Thatch shared a look with Marco, equal parts exasperated and anxious. While they did not want to rush the kid, the ship was about to get some very… temperamental … guests and neither wanted the Das here when they arrived. They weren't going to put their little brother at risk, and that meant getting him off the ship before things came to a head. “Come on, Das, it'll be fun.”
“Not fun.” Das replied, walking over to them anyway. Thatch quickly squashed the voice in his head that was yelling about how wrong they were, making him do something he didn’t want to. There were going to be times that for his own good they’d have to do that, even if it did feel like undoing all their hard work on getting him to be more assertive.
“You don’t like spending time with us, yoi?” Marco asked, half teasing and half serious. If Das didn’t want to spend time with them, they’d let him be, but that idea seemed a little ridiculous when the kid actually sought them out frequently.
Das of course completely missed the teasing tone and stared at them in horror. “No! I like being with you! It’s the only reason Das is coming.” He looked down the gangplank with barely disguised fear, “It's dangerous off the ship.”
Allright, coming from someone who had gotten stabbed on the ship that was a pretty big accusation. Thatch couldn’t ignore that. “What?” He ignored Marco’s look; yeah he could have expressed that better.
“Das is a slave --”
“For the--- Das you’re not a slave, yoi.” Marco snapped, obviously exasperated. Thatch nodded along, he’d thought they’d gotten past the kid thinking himself as a slave. Was Das just not mentioning to make them happy? The kid flinched back at the tone and instantly Marco’s face fell. “I didn’t mean it like that, little brother.”
Das shook his head swallowing hard before speaking, his voice soft and fierce. “Here, I’m not a slave. Here is home, safe. Out there…. Out there Das is a slave.”
“Das, no, we wouldn’t--” Thatch began, feeling horrible.
“Das is a slave.” the kid repeated, meeting their eyes. The look stopped Thatch with how serious it was. “Das was branded.” their little brother continued, sounding more annoyed at them then anything.
Marco tried again, “But you’re not a sla--”
Das spoke over him for what was probably the first time, his actions belying his words as slaves didn’t talk back. That more than anything had the fourth division commander actually listen to what he was saying. “Slaves are branded, like Das. Slaves wear collars, I don’t. Away from home that means Das is a runaway slave. I… I can’t ….” he finished with a frightened animalistic sound.
Both commanders shared a look of understanding. One that held more than a little bit of guilt at how they’d taken their little brother’s very real fear. There were stories on what happened to slaves caught trying to escape. Hell, the whole Sun Pirate crew had tattoos designed to deliberately hide the slave brand, something that up until their creation no one had realized you could actually cover, given their unique makeup. Thatch frowned, maybe he should give Jinbe a call and see exactly how they’d done it. True, the idea of their little brother walking around with another crew’s mark was off putting… but if their mark was a sun becaus e that was the only option... It also explained exactly why Das just had to know that Oyaji had the collar still. He crouched low to look Das in the eyes. The tears he saw there made him feel like the worst brother ever. “Listen, we won’t let anyone take you, got it?”
“No buts, Yoi.” Marco cut him off, voice firm as he tugged Das close in a one armed hug. “You’re one of the Whitebeard Pirates. Oyaji would murder anyone who tried to take you, no matter what that scar on your back might mean.” When Das looked up at him eyes wide and unbelieving, Marco smiled, perhaps a little more aggressively than needed at the moment. “It’s a scar, Das, like the one from Marshal. Not a brand. Got it?”
“It still looks like a brand.” Thatch commented, putting his hands up when Marco glared at him, “Which is why I’m going to ask around about how to change that!” He finished before his brother killed him.
“Das… I… won’t be taken away?” Das sniffled and Thatch couldn’t help but snatch him away from Marco so he could smother him in a proper hug.
“ Never.” He hissed, almost wishing someone would try just so he’d have a chance to prove it. Not that he actually wanted to stress their little brother like that, even if he did want to kill someone because his little brother was crying and he couldn’t fix it. “You’re stuck with us, kid.”
Marco let out a deep sigh, schooling his face once more into its usual placid bland expression. “You ready to check out the town, Das? I swear on our flag if someone so much as looks at you funny I’ll kick them into the ocean.”
That earned a startled giggle from the boy. Thatch relaxed when Das pulled away even though he just wanted to bundle the kid up in blankets and give him hot cocoa. He could do that in town after all and they had to get Das off the ship today. Now, preferably. “Your big brothers promise not to let anything happen to you.”
“If you promise that Das is safe…” The boy nodded, expression serious, “I want to go with you. Izo’s lessons are boring; I want to have fun.”
Standing Thatch chuckled at that. Izo could be a real sl--- hard ass about his lesson plans. “Well let’s go quick before he notices we’re still here and makes us all write poetry or some shit.”
“It’s not that bad, yoi.” Marco replied falling into step.
Das gave him a funny look, “You like boring old books. Sorry, your opinion doesn’t count.”
Marco looked so affronted by that Thatch couldn’t help how his chuckle turned into raucous laughter. Thankfully after a moment Marco joined in. “You might be right, yoi.” He allowed as the three left the ship in a much better mood.
Ok so the last chapters are done! Thanks for waiting as my beta reader worked towards moving. Not to mention they're not a One Piece fan....
So I'll be posting the last few chapters over the next few days!
Newgate watched as the two brats approached. He saw little in their manner to make him doubt the story that they were brothers, though secretly he was surprised. As a Yonko it benefited his crew to keep a close eye on those pesky Shichibukai. There was a surprising dearth of information on Fire Fist, enough to be more intriguing than worrying. However his apparent ease with the revolutionary at his side went against what Whitebeard did know. True, that one Shichibukai worked closely with the Revolutionary Army, but there had been no hint that this one was even associated with any of the members, let alone the brat Dragon had taken under his wing.
Yet here they were standing side by side, at ease with each other; assured the other had their back. Newgate had raised a lot of snot nosed brats, and he knew the look of two brothers who trusted each other with their lives. It almost made him wonder how they would fit in with his children.
But no. Not when the revolutionary brat was so unstable and the pirate brat so full of hate. While he didn't doubt his ability to give them a home he wasn't going to do that to his children. Not when so many still felt the sting of betrayal. No, he wouldn't put his children through that.
“Hello, Newgate. Pleasure to see you again.” The Sabo-brat said, tipping his hat in greeting and knocking him out of his musings.
The other brat was a bit more direct. “You got something of mine, old man. I want it back. Now.” He said, hate in his eyes.
Sabo didn't seem surprised by this declaration, leaving Newgate to believe he had known this was going to happen. Very well, he'd humor the brat. “Oh? And what is it I have of yours?”
“It's less of a what... And more of a who.” The Revolutionary spoke, giving his brother a dirty look. After a moment he looked back at Newgate. “So, about that kid that Marco took in…”
Newgate eyes narrowed dangerously. “You mean my youngest son?” He felt more than saw the murderous look the Shichibukai leveled at him. Newgate returned the look with one of his own, letting a trickle of haki out. If this brat thought for one second he would be leaving the ship with his son, he was in for a fight. Irregardless of the promise he had made, Das was not a thing to be fought over.
“He’s not your son.” The pirate hissed, “He's--”
Sabo smacked him, ignoring the flames that were licking the pirate. “Not helping.”
“He has the audacity to--”
“Shut up and let me handle this, Ace. I can't believe people find you likeable. I think your temper has actually gotten worse since we were kids.” The blond cut him off before looking back at Newgate. “We've come to take the kid off your hands, if you'll let us.”
“Ha! Like I'd let my son go with the likes of him.” Whitebeard leaned forward, “I've heard about you and your temper, brat. Whatever your issue with slave trading, you'll keep my boy out of it.”
The young man literally exploded, something that had been unexpected despite the dig at his temper. Judging by the look on the handful of people who had come with them he had hit on a touchy subject. “Luffy is the whole reason I HAVE an issue!”
“Ace--” Sabo tried to cut in, only be be brushed off.
“GIVE HIM BACK!”
“I don't know a 'Luffy’ brat.” Whitebeard said despite the fact he knew very well who they were speaking of. As Haruta returned to his side Whitebeard nodded in acknowledgement, spotting Cheri lurking among the commanders still on the ship. Newgate eyed the Shichibukai brat in speculation. Though he had no intention on granting their wish, it was possible they could have answers for the nurse if they were indeed connected to his son in some way.
“You know him as 'Das'--”
“His NAME is LUFFY!” Ace spat, “And he's MY LITTLE BROTHER SO GIVE HIM BACK!”
“But as you can see, he's our little brother.” Sabo continued as if he wasn't standing next to a man spitting hellfire as he held out a picture to the Yonko.
Sure enough the photo showed someone who looked like a much younger, happier Das sandwiched between younger versions of the men before him. “You didn't recognize your own brother?” He questioned, not bothering to hide the silent accusation.
“I had amnesia.” Sabo growled out, and the self-loathing in that word was enough to convince Newgate it was true. Especially with the rumors he had heard about the blond's erratic reactions to certain things. “Please--”
“While my boy does look a bit like the brat in the picture, it doesn't mean he is." Whitebeard knew 'Das’ wasn't his boy's real name, but he still had his doubts. As the picture was passed around to the division commanders it appeared he wasn't the only one reluctant to take their claim at face value.
It was surprisingly Ace who answered after taking a deep breath. “He's got a scar under his left eye from when he was almost seven. He stabbed himself, you can ask Shanks about it. There's some scarring behind his right ear, brass knuckles to the head, and don't you dare give me that look, Sabo, you're at least as much to blame for that as I am--”
“I just agreed with you, jerk. And besides, I'm the one who found out where they had him…”
“And they're probably faded by now, but there's four slashing scars on his stomach from that time I maybe let him fight a bear…”
“WHAT?!” Sabo shouted, glaring at his brother, who glared right back.
“You don't get to say anything. You were dead and you left me with Luffy! That was a horrible idea!”
“A BEAR though?” Sabo shot back in anger. Newgate was inclined to agree, so far this Ace character wasn't making a good case for himself.
“....he was being annoying and I wasn't actually serious when… look it's not my fault if he thought you and I used to run off and kill bears solo, alright? Besides, he's got scars from when you used him as crocodile bait! At least I wasn't using him as bait!”
Whitebeard tuned them out, looking to Cheri as she consulted her records.
“It's not my fault he kept falling into the water! I told him to sta--”
“You were doing it deliberately, and you kno-”
“--mention the time DADAN broke that bottle--”
“--or the time Jiji tossed us into the rev--”
Cheri’ looked up from her chart and shrugged. “Some of the scars he has do line up with what they claim… but Oyaji, there's a lot of ways for a young boy in Das's… situation… to get hurt. Naturally there are past injuries not accounted for as well. I can't say for cer--”
“Wait, what other injuries?” Ace cut her off, heedless of the glare, “Is he alright?” He asked, worried and pale.
Cheri took pity on the young man, “He is doing better. But as I was saying, given what he's been through, I can't prove one way or the other that our Das is your Luffy. I'm sorry, but it is entirely possible, even likely, that they are in fact different people.”
Whitebeard hid a wince as he watched her verbally destroy one of the most feared pirates on the seas, and for a change it wasn't deliberate. The fire went out of him, quite literally. “It has to be him…”
“It is, Ace.” The other brat assured him, meeting the Yonko's eyes. “His… the collar said he's from the East Blue, pancia type. L-Das told me himself that he's rubber. Our brother ate the gum gum fruit when he was a little kid. It's him, I'd stake my life in it.”
Those words seemed to bolster Fire Fist. The man stood, squaring his shoulders as he met Whitebeard's gaze. “What will it take to get my brother back?”
“You think to buy him?”
He was pleased at how quickly Ace shook his head no. “Please-- look, I understand you've taken him in. I can't pay you enough for saving my little brother. But he's my little brother! Please--” he begged tears in his eyes threatening to fall. “I-- I can't just walk away. I refuse to.”
“Ballsy brat, aren't you?” Whitebeard mused, leaning back as he considered the two in front of him. If he were smart, he would send them on their way. He preferred not to deal with the Revolutionary Army unless he had to. Spies could not be trusted after all. As for Shichibukai, well in that Newgate would be the first to admit he was a hypocrite. For all that he despised the system, it was hard to hold the position against someone like Jinbe or Hancock who used the role to protect their home. He supposed this brat must have used it to try and find his brother.
That was the sticking point. Rightfully feared as the world's strongest man, Edward Newgate had to admit --at least privately-- he was a sucker for stories like theirs. He just hoped he didn't come to regret what he was about to do.
“I am not the sort of monster that barters away his children for trinkets and favors. All my children are precious to me, and their happiness is my treasure.” He glowered at the two, “Do you understand, brats?”
Ace just mutely nodded, grim faced but accepting. Good; as a pirate he knew better than to get between another and their treasure. To do so would mean war, one it looked like the young man was willing to start. His brother on the other hand looked frustrated as he agreed, perhaps worried about such a war.
“Family is treasure, brats. Something you hold onto with all your strength and never let go. People who don't are the worst kind of scum.” He held up a hand to forestall any comments either could make. “I won't allow you to take my boy; he is precious and you snot nosed brats lost him once already.”
“--die before I---”
“That being said,” he continued over them, “You are brats; too wet behind the ears by half to be shouldering those responsibilities. So I offer you a compromise. You and your friends will be guests aboard my ship for one week. After that week, if I like what I see, we will talk.”
“...and if you don't?” Sabo asked, fingers twitching.
“Well now. A pirate must protect his treasure. As a Yonko this is especially true. Wouldn't want people to get ideas…” he threatened, more than willing to kill them both if it meant the safety of his children.
“Ace! At least think about it!” The pirate gave his brother a incredulous look. “Or at least pretend to think about it!”
Ace snorted, “Why? The old geezer knows he has us over a barrel.” Looking at Whitebeard he offered a dark predatory smile. “And what do you want in return for this… favor?”
It shamed Whitebeard to admit he hesitated for a second. It was true what the younger pirate had said, the Yonko was the one holding all the cards as it were. Given their obvious desperation there was much he could ask for. It would be simple to ask for information on either the World Government or his fellow Yonko. Easy to ask for the elimination of troublesome pirates. They might balk at first but they'd do whatever he asked, it was in their eyes. Except, he couldn't use them like that, holding their family ransom. “We shall see, hmm?”
The two looked at him, full of suspicion before nodding. “Fine. We agree to your terms. Now, can we see our brother, please?” Sabo asked.
“Das is not on the ship right now. He's in town, enjoying a day with his… friends.” Izo spoke for the first time, watching the two younger pirates with bland curiosity. “They should be back later tonight. In the meantime, let's get you lot setted.” He said in a manner that stated he was planning on laying down some pretty explicit rules. Whitebeard watched in amusement as the two brats allowed the commander to bully them below deck.
He would see how the week went.
“Shit.” Ace muttered quietly under his breath as he watched his little brother creep up the gangplank behind the two he recognized as division commanders.
“Well. He looks better.” Came Sabo's oh-so-helpful comment next to him.
Ace kind of hoped Sabo didn't mean that, even if he was glad it was better. But it was hard to reconcile the memory of his little brother with this timid kid clinging to the first division commander as they approached. Looking at Ace like he was a threat… then again, the guy, Marco, was glaring at his group so maybe that was it. What an asshole. Opening his mouth to let the other approaching pirate know exactly what he thought Ace paused, catching the frantic waving of the other guy.
That was apparently enough of an invitation to come over, as the man said something to his friend, ruffled Luffy's hair, and then trotted over. “Hi, I'm Thatch. You must be Fire Fist?”
“I'm going to kill you. Slowly.” Ace growled back.
Saber sighed moving to stand between the two. “What my Captain means is, yes he is Fire Fist. He also wants you to know he does not appreciate you being so hands-on with his little brother.”
“Wh-- oh, you mean Das!” The bastard chuckled, all smiles as he stood in Ace's way. “Can't help it, Das is so cute, isn't he?”
“His name is --”
Warm brown eyes went cold in a second as the smile melted away. “His name is Das. ” The jerk sighed as he glanced over her shoulder. Lowering his voice to a low hiss he turned back to Ace. “Look, I get it, kid. He's your little brother and, trust me, I get it.”
Damn it, he believed him. “Then you know why--”
“You need to stop right there, kid. Because Marco and I, well ok mostly me, we're willing to give you a chance. But not if you upset Das. ”
“Look, I can assure you it really is L--” Sabo started only to be cut off.
“You don't get it. He might have been Luffy. But that was before. He doesn't remember it; any of it… and trust me, we have tried to get him pick any name to use but ‘Das’ and he won't. Whatever they did….” The man shook his head, face drawn and haggard. Ace could understand why, even if he didn't want to think about it. The very fact Luffy was willingly answering to the name ‘ Slave’ was enough to make him want to burn everything in sight. He couldn't, though. Not yet at least. It must have showing on his face. “Look, just don’t push him too hard. Because if you freak him out that'll freak Marco out. And if that happens you won't get a week. Understand?”
Ace reluctantly nodded. “Fine. I don't like it, but fine.”
Thatch glanced at the others. Sabo offered a shrug, “I'm here for Ace. He's the one who wanted to be upfront, I was all for stealing him--” Koala hit him, hard. Ace knew he liked her. “Shutting up now.”
“Ignore the idiot. I for one know how hard this has got to be on the kid.” She smiled brightly at the commander, “I'll keep these two in line. Well, as much as I can…”
“We'll help.” Saber added. Ace narrowed his eyes at his first mate who shrugged, “You can be pissed all you want, Ace, but if you screw this up you'll never get a second chance. I wouldn't be a good first mate if I get that happen.”
“You’re an asshole.” He said, rolling his eyes before looking at Thatch. “Happy now?”
“Not really but it will have to be enough…” Turning again he signaled the first division commander.
The blond was frowning as he approached, but Ace didn't really notice or care. All his attention was on Luffy. His little brother hadn't grown much, being basically the same height he remembered. His hair was a lot shorter, there was no hat, and he was actually cleaner than Ace had ever seen him. But he was so thin. Fragile, though that was a word that should never been applied to his brother.
Luffy for his part kept glancing up at them before looking down at the deck. The hand fisted into the commander's jacket was likely the only reason he even got close. It struck Ace when the two were right in front of him that Luffy was honestly scared. Of him. It hurt, seeing the fear. But that was a pain he could live with. The way Luffy looked at him with no spark of recognition was gutting him as it was.
He wasn't sure how it happened, but he found himself on his knees, wanting to hug his brother and never let go but afraid to reach out and be rejected. But… even if he was rejected… it was alright. Luffy was safe, even if Ace wasn't happy about with who, it was alright. He knew his brother was safe. He could take the rejection.
Looking again into those wide eyes that flitted to the side in fear as he leaned in for a hug Ace changed his mind. The rejection would kill him. He'd just burn up into a little pile of ashes they could toss overboard for the fishes like the rest of the garbage. He was scaring Luffy. That was inexcusable. Leaning back again he tried for a smile. “H-hey there. It's been a long time, huh?”
Luffy blinked at him before looking up at Marco for guidance. Ace tried not to be hurt by that. He knew someone who had been… hurt… like Luffy had sometimes did that. Latched on to someone. It just pissed him off that his brother latched on to such a stupid looking bastard. At Marco's slight shrug Luffy looked back at Ace, cocking his head to the side. There was no recognition. No spark of mischief. Nothing of Luffy in those eyes. Lowering his head he understood why Sabo hadn't recognized him… this… wasn't Luffy. Not anymore. He'd failed after all.
A timid hand on his cheek that was snatched away the moment he noticed. “You're crying… Das made you cry?”
“Nah,” he sniffed, trying to get himself under control. He'd always told Luffy real men didn't cry, and look at him now. “just… got something in my eye.”
“Oh.” Das stepped back, leaning against Marco and clearly not wanting to be there. “I’m sorry.”
“Don't worry about it, L--kid.” He reached out slowly and ruffled his brother's hair for the first time in over three years. Ace firmly put how Das tensed under his hand out of is mind. “I'm Ace. I'll be visiting a while.”
“With him?” Das glanced over at Sabo and away.
“Yeah. That's Sabo,” he said even though Sabo had been there for the rescue. Rescues were traumatic, and it was likely Das didn't remember.
If it was possible Das leaned further into Marco. Given his rubber powers, actually, he probably did. “I know.”
“I told you, yoi. He wasn't actually going to leave you.” Marco said, looking at Sabo dead in the eyes.
“Right.” Das said in the same way Luffy used to when he was agreeing with you even though he didn't actually agree. "I remember.” Sabo made a noise that could have been a groan.
“Well, he felt so bad about saying that he came and got me.” Ace half lied. “And so we came here to make it up to you.”
“....o…kay….” Oh that was worse. Now they were both in trouble. He should have left Sabo on his own.
“No, really, that's why they came.” Thatch said, coming to his rescue. “Oyaji said if they really wanted to apologise they had to prove it so now they'll be helping set up a bigger room for us.” Ace could have either kissed him or killed him when Das just nodded along in agreement.
“Right. A bigger room…” he ground out, reminding himself that the division commander was Das's friend and Luffy never did like being alone. It didn't help. He felt his temper fraying and quickly he stood before he scared Das by punching his friend in the face. “I'm… going to just… go look at those plans again. Yeah… I'll… see you tomorrow.” He said, turning and walking away instead of going off on the man like he wanted to. Glancing back he saw Thatch pull his brother into a half hug. This was going to be a very long week.
Walking into the galley in the morning Thatch couldn't help but think that it was going to be a long week when he noticed their guests sitting at one of the tables. He was a little surprised to see them there and not loitering on deck. The big breakfast rush was over after all, and the galley tended to be mostly empty until the lunch started. Which was why Izo had moved Das's morning lessons here instead of the documents room. The documents room tended to be empty, and the kid really needed to get better about being around people. Thatch wasn't on kitchen duty today so he'd planned on sitting in on the lessons, slipping the youngest brother snacks while he was studying.
“What the hell are you two doing here?” He asked with no preamble.
“Waiting for Luffy.” Sabo answered, nursing a cup of coffee. Taking a sip he made a face and passed it over to his brother.
Ace rolled his eyes, “One week and you're already spoiled.” he said as he heated the cup. As steam started to rise from the beverage he passed it back. “So bourgeoisie.”
“Hey, you're here. I'm going to take advantage of it while I can.” The blond replied, taking a sip again. “That's not bourgeoisie, that's opportunistic.”
“Point.” Ace turned his attention back to Thatch and the fourth division commander was once again taken back by the intensity of his stare. “Before you get all cranky we were told it was alright by that Izo guy.”
“Huh. Well, alright then.” Thatch was a bit shocked that Izo of all people was being so nice to these punks. He tended to be almost as protective of his family as Marco. But then maybe that was why? If these guys really were Das's family…. Pouring himself some coffee he joined them in waiting. “So, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you have a fancy hat last time I saw you?” He asked Sabo, mildly curious as the man had been ridiculously protective of the hat for some reason. It made its absence more noticeable then the fire-brat's lack of iconic hat.
Sabo huffed, leaning back. “Isu--”
“Izo.” Ace corrected, earning a nod from his brother.
“Suggested we leave our hats in the room. Something about Lu-- Das not liking hats.”
“Which is weird as fuck because before all this he had this stupid straw hat he never took off.” Ace elaborated when he noticed Thatch looking at him in surprise, “Shanks gave it to him-- said Luffy should give it back when he became a great pirate… which won't happen now. Fuck. I should probably let Shanks know…”
“Wait, Redhair Shanks?”
Ace gave him a dirty look, “Do you know another drunk idiot that'd let a kid stab themselves in the face?”
Wait, what?! Ok, apparently Haruta had left some things out last night. Thatch made a note to talk to Cheri or Izo about it later. If his brother ever showed up for those lessons. He had a sneaking suspicion his jerk of a brother had planned it this way. Thatch was not happy about his brothers’ taking advantage of his friendly nature to get answers. It wasn't the first time and one day it was going to end really badly. He finished his coffee and poured the three of them some more before continuing. “Izo’s right about the hat thing. Das really doesn't like hats. Won't go near them, won't even look at someone wearing a hat most of the time. Jiru is probably his least favorite person because the guy won't take off his hat.”
“The slavers must have done something to Boshi then.” Sabo sighed, “That hat was literally his treasure.”
“Not you guys?” Thatch asked curious and suspicious at the same time. “I thought you were brothers?”
Ace gave him a look that suggested he'd just asked the dumbest question. “Yeah, we're family. Family isn't treasure.”
“Excuse you?” He said, offronted.
“What Ace means is, to us at least…. How do I explain this?” Sabo leaned back, brow furrowed.
“You can lose treasure. You can't lose family. Family is forever, duh.” Ace gave his brother a look, “If you're still our brother after being dead I'd think it would be obvious.”
That was both a very simple answer and yet, very wise. He'd have to mention it to Oyaji for sure. “So it's more important than treasure?”
“Obviously.” The fiery young man replied, “I wouldn't have sold out on my dream for some lousy treasure.” At Thatch's look he snorted, “What? You think I wanted to be a Shichibukai? I mean, yeah I'm still pretty well known and all, but I'm sure as hell not free. Not when I have to answer to those assholes.”
Alright, that made the kid either the best potential ally ever since his little brother was with them...or potentially really dangerous. Thatch wasn't exactly sure which. It did mean both these men took family incredibly seriously, which was actually a point in their favor. Speaking of family, that reminded him that Das had wanted his mother when he'd been recovering. Thinking about what must of happened to his hat, he was almost afraid to ask. Still, it was probably better to find out now…
“So uh. Family.” He scratched the back of his head nervously. “Got any other family we should be expecting to drop in? Parents?”
“Probably not if--”
“We're orphans so--” Ace said at the same time.
“Um, Ace, Dra--?”
“Doesn't count and you know it.” They stared at each other for a tense moment before the blond nodded. “Orphans. All three of us.” Which was actually a pretty weird way of saying it, but then again Thatch supposed they might not actually be closely related by blood. They did look quite a bit different from each other.
“I'm sorry.” He said, “That must be rough.”
“Nah, not really. I mean, Sabo here got kidnapped--”
“by a shadowy organization while he had amnesia but Luffy and I were on our own for the most part that whole time. Which is why I should have stayed until he was seventeen. I'm the worst brother ever.”
“He'd have been super pissed at you if you had stayed and you know it.” Sabo said, sounding like they'd had this argument before.
He was going to ask more except Izo chose that moment to finally come into the galley, an obviously unhappy Das trailing behind him. Thatch found it interesting how both young men seemed to instantly forget he was there, their whole attention on the youngest on board. They might not see family as a treasure, but it was obvious to him they'd gladly die for Das -- their little brother. It made him like them, damn it. Hard not to when he felt the same way, after all.
“What the hell are you doing, yoi?” Marco asked in exasperation. He had come up on deck to enjoy a nice quiet evening and instead had stumbled across this, whatever it was. Jozu, Izo, Haruta and Thatch sat in a circle with their less than welcome guests in various stages of undress.
“Truth or Dare Go Fish.” Haruta answered, putting two cards down in the discard pile.
“Alright. Why are you half dressed then?”
“Because Ace has no shame and Sabo cheats at poker.” Saber answered, pulling a card from Izo. “Damn. Truth.”
“Is it true you're dating Hancock's sister?”
“Which one?” The other replied, making room for Marco as he was dealt in. “Yeah but it's more of a… physical thing if you know what I mean.”
Ace snorted, “It's only a thing because I'm fake-married to Hancock.”
“No, see, that's not fair. You can't just say that and not explain.” Thatch whined before pulling a card. He grinned in triumph and put a pair down. “HA! Explanation please.”
“I'm fake-married to Hancock.”
“That doesn't tell us anything, yoi.” Marco mused, “Wait, there was an article a year or so back…”
“Yeah, that's what started it. Some stupid marine overheard us talking about heartburn and then some shit happened. Anyway, long story short, he asked her out saying he was more qualified to be her boyfriend than a pirate and her sister made a quip about if he was 'half the man Ace was’ Hancock would've considered it and suddenly everyone thinks we're married.” Ace shrugged, “I mean, she's a good friend so it's not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal. You're fake married to the most beautiful woman in the world!” Jozu stated incredulously.
“Not my type.” He reached over and pulled a card from Koala, grinning and discarding two. “Speaking of type… You dating my brother or what?”
“Ew no. Just no. Firstly, ew, and secondly, ewww.” She laughed at Sabo's pout, bumping him with her shoulder. “He and I are friends only. I'm seeing someone anyway.” She said in a manner that made it clear she wouldn't say who.
Sabo was next, pulling a card from his brother and discarding two. “If you're going to be a cheat so am I.”
“Fine, I'll stop.” Ace grumped.
“What's your favorite attack?”
“Hmm… I'd have to say the Firefly one? I basically took the game we used to play as kids and made it a weapon. We used to spar this game on this hill on summer nights, and if you had a firefly touch you it was a free hit…”
“No wonder Sabo was a fighting monster as a kid.” Hack muttered.
Izo was next and he pulled a card from Marco. A frown marring his face he sighed, “Dare.”
Marco grinned, “I dare you to pour sake on your hair.”
The pure look of murder Izo shot him was still worth it to see his usually so put together brother with hair dripping wet falling out of it's elaborate style.
The next question was from Saber directed to Thatch. “How did Luffy get that scar?”
The laid back friendly atmosphere became tense and Marco found he couldn't blame Fire Fist for the trickle of killer intent as Thatch told the story. In honesty he was impressed that the brat didn't do more than that. When Thatch was done all he said was, “If he isn't dead, I'll find him and he'll wish he'd drowned.”
It was a pretty awkward for the next few rounds before Hack broke it by asking Haruta to do their best impression of a well known marine. Marco personally thought that Garp was a little more... Garp … but it was pretty good, and he said as much.
“Well, if you were stuffing your face or punching people, maybe.” Ace shrugged, reminding the Whitebeard commanders he had many interactions with the Marine Hero.
“He still does the thing?” Sabo asked.
“Yes every time I see him. It's 'Bahahahaha! Fist of Love!” The young man wilted dramatically, “And he wonders why I never stop by…”
Jozu was next, pulling from Sabo and discarding quickly. “What's this about you being dead?”
“Yeah I was wondering that, too…” Thatch grumbled, pouring more liquor for everyone.
“Oh that.” Sabo took a long drink before continuing. “I got blown up by a Tertibo about ten or so years ago. Well, the little dingy I'd stolen to go and be a pirate on was blown up. Nearly died. When I came to I was with the Revolutionary Army and had amnesia. This jackass thought I was a ghost when we finally met up, too.” He finished as breezily as discussing the weather.
“That… explains some things.” Izo allowed. “I imagine it will take some adjusting, reconnecting with your family.”
“Nah. Ace and I kind of just picked up where we left off and, well there's Luffy but that's a whole other issue.” Sabo shrugged.
Ace nudged him, “What about--”
“I'm… “ Maybe Marco was imagining it, but the two other revolutionaries tensed slightly. The blond sighed and looked at Izo, finger tracing the scar on his face as he smiled pleasantly. “So, before I died as it were I happened to run into the leader of the Revolutionary Army. Who happens to be the one who saved me. At the time I figured it was just a matter of timing but now… let's just say given my… connections … it's unlikely he rescued me out of kindness.” He frowned, “Not to mention he knew I had people who were important to me, and also knew very well who they were and kept that from me.”
Marco wasn't the only one who winced at that. No matter what the motivation, it seemed wrong to keep something like that from a kid. And for all that he was a tricky potentially dangerous pain in the ass, a decade ago Sabo had been a child.
“So, what my brother is asking in his awkward way is if he needs to have words with Dragon. Which as much as I'd love to…” he sighed, looking at his brother. “We can't. I'm the Chief of Staff, Ace. That's second in command, and in a lot of ways I'm the new face of the Army. Which I'm betting was definitely deliberate given my previous connections. If I confronted him about this in the open it could possibly split the whole group.”
“Seriously?” Saber asked, eyebrows raised.
“Sabo-kun is well liked and respected by many of the undercover operatives.” Hack nodded, “He has a reputation for being more approachable and for listening that Dragon is lacking. He also never asks someone to do what he won't. Which is why Koala and I have agreed to follow Sabo's lead in this. If he wishes to break ties over this, we wouldn't be the only ones to go.”
Sabo let out a frustrated sound, “Which is exactly why I can't. We do important work. I'm proud of the work I do. I can't risk all that because of a few hurt feelings.”
“Damn.” Ace spat. “ Fine, you win. I won't kill your boss.” Somehow Marco thought the brat might just be able to pull it off with how honestly pissed he seemed. “But… I'm telling shitty Gramps.”
“I would.” The two shared a grin that no one bothered explaining as the game continued well into the night. Marco found himself grudgingly coming to like their guests for all that he really didn't want to. They were all loyal to each other and driven. Honestly they were the type of people Oyaji liked the best…The kind he liked the best, too. Which made it harder to hold onto his grudge. Unwillingly he admitted to himself maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing for Das to reconnect with his… other brothers. Because Marco wasn't going to be giving up his little brother. Not one bit.
But… maybe they could share. A little.
“Are you bored with your Oyaji, my son?” Whitebeard asked in a teasing manner.
Das knew it was teasing, but he still flinched anyway, looking away from the two wrestling on deck. “Sorry, Oyaji. I was paying attention. Honest.” Not exactly a lie, since he had been listening even if he had been watching the group of pirates roughhousing. The captain had been talking about what it had been like on the sea when he had been a young pirate. It was exciting, and Oyaji made the stories come alive.
“That’s quite all right.” The captain leaned back, arm protectively around him to prevent the teen from falling from his seat on the captain's knee. It had taken a long time for Das to feel comfortable there, but he liked how he could see almost everything on the deck. Oyaji had been patient with him, too. He never got mad when Das flinched away from his large hands. It was… nice. Even if it was frustrating because there was no reason to flinch he couldn't stop . “Do you want to join them, Son?”
He shrugged, turning his attention away as the others joined to look at Oyaji. He liked how Oyaji said that -- Son -- almost like it was his name. It was a much nicer name, even if it still wasn't a name. Oyaji never called him Das anymore, either. Sometimes like now it made him want to tell Oyaji to call him… something… he sighed in frustration as the thought slipped away. “No. I'd get in the way.”
“I assure you, your brothers would never think you were in the way.” Whitebeard reminded him easily. “But we can watch, if you prefer.”
“Do… do you want to join them?”
A warm chuckle was more than enough to calm the slight panic he still felt asking questions. “I fear I'm too old for play like that, Son.”
“ I don't think you're too old, Oyaji.” He muttered, feeling his cheeks heat up as he reminded himself that it wasn't bad to have opinion or express them.
“I'm glad you think that about your old man, Son.” Whitebeard chuckled, leaning in a bit, “But I think that most of your sisters disagree.”
He had to nod his agreement at that. His many sisters could be scary when they thought you were going to hurt yourself. “Maybe … you should stay here. Just in case.”
“Maybe.” For a while the two of them sat in silence. It wasn't the tense fearful silence Das remembered but a warmer calm one that reminded him of before. He found his eyes sliding over the others again, uncomfortable looking at them for too long. “If they upset you, all you have to do is say so, Son.” Whitebeard rumbled.
He worried his lip, watching his own hands as the tugged on the bottom of his shirt. “They're leaving soon.”
“Yes. Day after tomorrow.” He glanced up at Oyaji's face, nervous energy making him anxious. Oyaji didn't say how he'd make them leave now if Das asked… he didn't need to. His youngest son knew it all the same.
“They … won't come back?” He asked, looking away again as he felt the intensity of the Captain's attention.
Whitebeard made a non-committal sound. “If that is what you want.”
“... Marco doesn't like them.”
“Marco is not always good at sharing.” Oyaji replied with the humor of a loving parent. “He is growing to like them.” Das admitted that was true. He fidgeted again. “Come, tell an old man what bothers you, Son. I trust your judgement; all your brothers here do.”
He knew that was true. Felt it deep inside where the parts left from before where hidden. It calmed him and frustrated him at the same time. “I don't not like them.” He said at last.
“But you don't like them?”
“No...not that.” Das knew what it felt like to dislike someone. Had always known to listen to that feeling from deep inside, even if he couldn't act on it. This was different, though. It wasn't a feeling Das was familiar with. He hated it; Das didn't remember and he didn't remember not being Das. Not really.
“You don't have to remember, Son.” Oyaji spoke, once again knowing what was going on in his head. “You've been making new memories, after all. Maybe not better, but precious all the same.”
That… was true. He felt himself relax. Thinking of it that way, he tried to relate what he was feeling to something he understood. It felt… awkward and weird. “He's supposed to have a hat.”
“Sabo?” Whitebeard asked, causing him to jump. He hadn't realized he'd spoken out loud.
“No, but him too.” He replied after a moment.
“I had forgotten. You don't like hats.”
“No, I don't like stupid hats.” He replied, the usual buzzing thoughts of fire-pain-loss-hurt muted as he glowered towards where the stupid-heads were without their hats.
“I see. And Jiro's hat--”
“Is the stupidest, Oyaji. It don't make him look taller or cooler or anything and it falls off all the time.” He didn't hear the snort of laughter from his Oyaji as he ranted. Nor did he notice Whitebeard's attention sharpen as he continued, blithely working through while he was annoyed and not really paying attention to the words he was saying. “Boshi was a cool hat. The coolest, Oyaji, because it was mine.” He remembered the feel of warm straw, the musty smell of sweat and salt. “It was a promise. And…” he shuddered, mind flinching away from the memories that burned worse than the scar on his back. When he came back to himself he found he was being held against Oyaji's chest, the man using a large finger to rub soothing circles on his back. “Sorry.”
“For what, Son? We all have things that hurt to remember. What kind of father would I be if I didn't offer what comfort I could when you need it?” The captain gently shook him, already knowing what he was thinking. “You are not broken, boy. No more than anyone else on this ship.”
The part of him that was Das thought he was wrong; that he was broken beyond repair. The other part -- the part that was some of before and lots of now -- thought they were all pretty broken, but found it funny. Like one of Haruta's bad jokes. He thought maybe that part was right, more so then the Das-part. “Yes, Oyaji.”
A moment passed before Oyaji spoke again, “I'll admit that Sabo-brat has a decent hat.”
“He always had that hat, though. Which is why Ace needed one.” He replied, lost in a memory, “It was a...Because he was leaving. And if Sabo had a hat when he …” his mind said died but that wasn't right because Sabo was not dead and it felt warm/sad/confusing “... left, and I had Boshi he needed one, too.”
“Ahh, so it was a gift.” Oyaji said warmly.
“... He doesn't have the hat.” Das-part said it was because Ace didn't want anything from a useless thing like Das. The rest of him was annoyed and maybe a bit hurt.
“Son, they are not wearing their hats because of you.” When Das stared at him wide eyed Oyaji smiled kindly. “Foolish brat, they came here for you. None of your brothers wanted to upset you. He hadn't mentioned it was something you had given him.”
That made sense to him. Ace was a private person. Even if he didn't really remember it, he could tell. The Shichibukai shared less than the Revolutionary Army members put together. “But, he still has the hat then?”
“Why don't you go ask?” Oyaji replied, a warm smile tugging his lips.
Das hesitated, but the rest of him didn't. He was off and moving before he had even thought to actually ask, too caught up between the before and the now and the then was just dragged along for the ride. That was alright, though because Oyaji said so. He wasn't who he had been before, and he didn't want to be Das anymore. He didn't need to, not now and not ever again. Whoever he had been, whoever he was…. His family was there for him now. All of them were. And he wanted to get better at being himself for them.
It felt like seconds and like a lifetime and he was there amongst the people who meant the most to him. Marco of course noticed him first. He always did. Sleepy blue eyes watched him carefully as his eldest brother welcomed him into the group. “Getting bored just watching, yoi?”
“No.” He would never get tired of watching his family.
“Brat.” Thatch teased, ruffling his hair. He felt a smile form as he ducked under the hand to stand in front of Ace.
The pirate watched him with cold eyes. There was pain hidden there. Pain Das had caused, somehow. “What's up, L--ittle man?”
He frowned, unhappy that Ace kept doing that. Ace always did that; avoided things that could hurt. Lu--who ever he was… he wasn't like that. Not before or then. And he wasn't going to be like that now. “Your hat. You're not wearing it.”
The man froze, probably because Thatch and Marco were looking at him with their scary faces. “No?”
“Ace needs to wear his hat. It's important , right?” He tugged on Ace's arm impatiently, uncaring of the drama his big brothers were making. “Come on let's go! I wanna see the hat!”
“Fine I'm coming!” Ace replied, shooting Sabo a helpless look as the other three trailed after them.
“Why's it so important, kiddo?” Thatch asked, bemused but easy going as always.
“Yeah, it's just a hat.” Sabo added, “Not as cool as mine, though.”
“Hey, it's way cooler than yours!”
“It's orange, Ace.”
“I like orange!”
“I'm with Sabo on this one, yoi.”
“You--you shut up. You wear purple, you...stupid blue turkey.”
“He called you a turkey.” Thatch teased, holding the door of the room open as everyone crowded into the room. It wasn't very big, more of a storage room than anything else. It felt cozy and familiar in a way that might have been important.
It wasn't as important as the hat, though. “You kept it!”
“Of course I did, idiot.” Ace's smile was a little warm, and a little like his stomach hurt as he handed over the hat.
The teen fingered the beads before running the weighted cord through his hands as he sat on the bare floor. It felt like a promise half forgotten but kept all the same. He smiled. “You kept it… look, Thatch. He kept it.”
“Yeah?” Thatch sat next to him. “It's… very orange. Very.”
“Ace likes orange. It's his favorite color.” He replied, remembering. “The blue, that was for Sabo. 'cause he always liked blue. But only certain blues.”
“Yeah, Dadan said you spent a week bugging poor Makino.” Ace replied, joining them on the floor.
“She wanted to help.” He said, sure of it even though he didn't remember who Makino was. Just… laughter and warmth. “The red… that was for… Das. No. Me. The… the me from before.” He made a frustrated sound.
“You're still you.” Ace said, larger hand covering his much smaller one where it clutched the weight.
“Yes.” Ace spat back, “You listen here you little idiot, I did not just spend a week behaving myself --”
“This was behaved, yoi?”
“You have no idea.” Sabo answered.
“I behaved, alright? Mostly. Because you were here. And I--”
“Would you just let me finish, Luffy?” He looked up at Ace surprised. That name… it sounded familiar. It felt right when Ace said it like that. All annoyed-but-happy. “I was saying I behaved because you were here. And there's no one else I'd rather spend time with.”
“Considering he thought you were dead, that's a bit insulting.” Thatch put in. Sabo just shrugged, not bothered in the slightest.
“...Even if I'm not…Luffy… anymore?” He kept going, talking over his brothers’ protests, “I'm not. I remember being Luffy, sometimes. But I remember being Das all the time. I… I don't want to be Das anymore. But, I don't think I can be Luffy. Not after... I can't. I'm sorry.”
“You don't have to apologise, yoi.”
He shook his head, tears threatening to fall. “You don't understand, they took everything and I don't remember how to be anything but Das! I can't--”
“I… might not have a right to say this. Since it's my fault. All of it.” He was wrong, Ace was so wrong, he felt it more strongly than anything. It was one thing every part of him knew. His brothers would never hurt him. Ace would never hurt him. The thought struck him, echoing inside as something clicked even as Ace kept talking. “You don't have to try to be Luffy. You still are. Even the parts of you you don't like. Cause, if my little brother could accept me… with everything I am… then I sure as hell better be man enough to accept him, right?”
“Even if you suddenly turn into a stinky marine that liked vegetables.”
“That's it! Group hug!” Thatch cried, sniffing loudly as he yanked everyone in for a big hug. “I can't take it anymore, Marco! We're kidnapping them all!”
“You can't kidnap me, I'm a Shichibukai! That's like… a declaration of war or something!”
“ What?! Sabo! A little help?!”
“Can I get kidnapped but still do my whole… lead an army thing I wonder….”
Da-- no, Luffy, he wanted to be Luffy again -- laughed. It felt right, even if it felt like he was one of Rakuyo's puzzles; missing the box and a lot of pieces, what was left pretty chewed up, too. It was still right, because his family didn't care. They could still see him, even when he couldn't anymore. They saw him, and they loved him even then. No, they loved him because they saw him. He didn't think it was possible, but he loved them even more because of it. His family, his everything.
“Ah hell.” Marco said, no real heat to it as he melted into the group hug. “Fine. I'll go talk to Oyaji. But I'm still the favorite.”
“ I'm the favorite!”
Marco let out a laugh. “Alright, Luffy's the favorite.”
Outvoted, Luffy let them think that. Besides, they were all his favorites, and this way he didn't have to share.
This is it. The final chapter. I'm plotting and planning a sequel. But this is the end of Conditioned. Thanks for reading everyone! I know many will feel cheated as it's not EXACTLY an ending but a beginning of sorts... Which it is!
Das was the CONDITIONED response to being a slave. He's not Das anymore, so DAS's story is done. Luffy has yet to begin... It'll be a while before I do the sequel however as I have an original story to work on next month AND Anj and I are doing an original re-write of Immortality Is What We Leave Behind. Sorry for making you all wait...