Please let This be a Nightmare
To say Ace was confused when he woke up in the morning would be an understatement. He woke up in a different bed and he was cuddled up on top of something that was breathing. It wasn't odd that he was cuddling – Sabo would often sneak into his bed after a nightmare – but this body was most certainly not the size of the five year old boy.
"Are you awake, Ace-ya?"
Ace tilted his head upward and stared blankly for a moment, not really registering what was before him for a few moments. But then he saw the smirk and –
"Law?!" Ace shouted in surprise. He sat up quickly and then was quickly tangled in the blankets and then, somehow, he fell to the floor with a loud thud. He heard laughing from behind him as he struggled to try and get the blankets off of him.
"Law, stop laughing and help him out, will ya, yoi?" Another voice reprimanded the older man and Ace froze upon hearing it. Was that Marco? What was he doing in – oh wait, he left his room last night and probably forgot his key. Yeah, that sounds about right.
A hand suddenly smacked Ace in the head, causing him to grunt. He heard a muttered apology as hands began to unwrap him from the sheets. When he was finally uncovered, Ace saw Law with a bed head and he also looked surprisingly refreshed. "Law, what am I doing in here?"
"You got locked out of your room last night."
"Okay, I get that, but why was I on top of you?"
Law blinked at him blankly and snorted and Ace wondered what he said, but before he could ponder any further, Law spoke again. "You needed a bed, so Elvis had you share with me."
"Didn't know you were a cuddler, Ace!" The older man said. Ace's cheeks turned pink as he glared up at the older man before turning away with a huff. Thatch merely chuckled and ruffled the boy's hair before turning away and walking over toward the bathroom. "Oi, Marco, you almost done in there?"
"I just got in here, yoi!"
"…You almost done?"
Thatch sighed and Ace secretly grinned, not looking at the older man because he still was not one hundred percent comfortable with them.
"Do you want to go to your room to change? We have to head to school soon," Law said, looking down at Ace from where he sat on his bed. The younger nodded and Law stood, allowing the younger to trail after him after getting the rest of his body untangled. The door to the other room as closed and Law knocked on it, standing cross armed before it.
"Smoky, you up?"
Ace heard grumbles and groans from behind the door. He would never understand how Smoker wasn't a morning person since he definitely seemed like one.
"Smoky, you're missing a child!"
It was silent for a moment before both Thatch and Ace heard cursing from behind the door. Ace was pretty sure he heard Sabo yelp as Smoker began to stomp over to the door. The door was yanked open with a force that Ace thought it would break. He stared up at Smoker with wide eyes, not understanding why he looked so scared and concerned. Thatch, meanwhile, was just grinning as if he knew something that Ace didn't know.
"You should pay more attention, Smoky. Isn't that your job?" Thatch teased the other man, who just sighed heavily.
"Shut your mouth, Thatch."
The brunette merely laughed as Smoker stared down at Ace.
"Can I get some clothes?" Ace asked after a few moments. Smoker nodded and moved, allowing the boy to walk into the room. He looked over at his and Sabo's bed and saw the blond sitting on it, playing with their baby brother who was squealing loudly with glee. Ace grinned and walked over to the bed where Sabo and Luffy were and leaned on it, smiling at both of them. Luffy turned his head and saw the boy and held his hands out, making a grabbing motion. Sabo carefully shifted the baby closer to Ace and Ace allowed the baby to pull at his hair and play with his face, trying to stall getting ready to go to school. He didn't' really want to leave for school, not after what had just happened. Right now, he wanted to never have to leave Luffy alone again. He felt the same for Sabo and the rest of the small family he was slowly forming.
"Ace, you need to get ready for school," he heard Smoker order him from the door, where he was still talking with Thatch who had been joined by a slightly damp Marco. Ace grumbled and moved again, making sure Luffy was safely away from the edge of the bed, as he turned to the bureau. He opened one of the draws and began to rummage through it, looking for something decent to wear. He had fought with Smoker about it yesterday, but for some reason, he was still going to school. It pissed him off, but it wasn't like he could do anything about it. Smoker wouldn't accept defiance either. He'd probably just grab Ace and drop him off at school in his pajamas if he refused to get dressed. So, deciding he would spare himself that humiliation, he grabbed a red shirt and black jeans to wear for the day. Sabo was already dressed, probably thanks to Smokers help. Bless his soul, because getting Sabo dressed was a nightmare. It was like trying to put a collar on a dog – he just kept running away, then coming back, then running away again, and he could do it for, as long as Ace knew, an hour.
"Ace, what do you want for breakfast?" One of the men in the door called to him. Ace looked over after he finished pulling on his shirt and thought.
"I dunno, what can I have?"
"We're running late, so we're probably just gonna buy some food at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Are you okay with that?"
Ace nodded his head enthusiastically He was more than okay with donuts. Or muffins. But doughnuts were, like, a million times better, especially if they were chocolate. Ace had learned he had a love for chocolate during the time he spent with Smoker and wished he could remember if he had ever had chocolate when he was little.
"I want, I want a doughnut! A big one with chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles and, and," Sabo began to ask, sanding on the bed and counting off what he wanted on his finger tips while Luffy laid on the bed, sucking on his hand. Marco laughed softly and walked over to the bed, picking up the five year old and placing him on the ground.
"Yeah, yeah, you'll get your doughnut. I'm driving you three to school today. I won't let you go there on empty stomachs."
Ace still found that odd, going to places with food in his stomach. He was very used to going without food, but now, after a few months of being fed three meals a day, he liked it a lot. He never wanted to have to go back to starving for three to four days on end and being forced to give Sabo all of his food so the boy could survive. Not that he regrets doing it, but he was glad now that he had enough food to fill both of their stomachs. It felt a lot better being able to give his brother food like this, rather than having to give him pickings from a dumpster.
Law suddenly appeared in the doorway with a tired groan. "Marco I want lots of coffee. Black coffee."
Marco snorted with a smile on his face. "You're going to become addicted to coffee and caffeine, you know that, right, Law?"
Law raised an eyebrow at him and grinned. "I'm already addicted to it."
Marco sighed and shook his head. Smoker just looked at his nephew with annoyance while Thatch was laughing loudly.
"Whatever, let's go get you guys some breakfast. Don't forget your backpacks."
It was rare to have a day this slow, especially considering the placement of the restaurant in the city. Thatch literally had nothing to do, and he was the head chef at a famous, yet cheap, restaurant during lunch hour. Where the hell was everybody?
"Why is it so slow today?" Someone on the other side of the kitchen loudly complained, getting a groan of agreement from just about everyone else I there.
"I heard that something big happened as night," One of Thatch's coworkers said, a look of anxiousness on his face as he leaned against the counter, a frown on his face.
"Bad how?" Thatch asked, looking over at the man and wondering if word of the attempted kidnapping had already spread.
"I heard not only was there an attempted kidnapping last night, but also, at around three in the morning, they found the bodies of three kids. They were all shot to death and left in the middle of the street."
Thatch was staring at the man with blank features, but inside his head, his mind was reeling. Three dead children? Right after an attempted kidnapping of Luffy? That just sounded way too coincidental. Something like that could not be a coincidence.
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah, he's fine, but it's still disturbing that something like that happened. "
Bepo gave his friend a concerned look as Law leaned back in his chair. The two were in the cafeteria, waiting for their friends to come back from the lunch line so Law could explain why he was temporarily living in a hotel.
""Smoker-ya's really worried a well. This morning, right before we left for school, he got a phone call. He looked really disturbed, but he refused to tell us what happened." Law sighed heavily. "I just hope nothing too bad is going to be coming after these kids I don't want anything to happen to them, ya know?"
Bepo nodded as Killer sat down, soon followed by Penguin and Shachi.
"So Luffy was almost kidnapped?"
"And it seems like there' more going on behind the scenes and Smoker is refusing to tell us what it was."
"That's not good. Are you guys going to be getting picked up from school from now on?"
"Until we can figure out who it is that's after Ace, I doubt we'll ever be allowed alone outside, or at home."
The whole table turned around and Law grimaced slightly at the person behind him. He was one of the top students and on the student council, something that everyone knew Law disliked.
"What do you want, Drake?"
The older teen grimaced and sat down.
"You guys were talking about that attempted kidnapping, right?" Law stiffened and glared. Killer nodded stiffly, staring blankly, while Law's other friends all tensed.
"Listen," he sighed with annoyance and, to Law's surprise, concern. "I know we don't get along, but I've been asked to go around and warn students about what's going on. Last night, a few hours after that kidnapping attempt, they found three kids, dead in the middle of the street. Two of them looked homeless, but one as a kid who lives near this high school and goes to the elementary school. What's worse? This morning, someone vanished walking to school. I don't know who it is, but the office called home and their parents said that they saw them walk out of the door with their backpack, ready to go to school. None of you should walk home alone tonight and if you can, just don't be alone at all. That's all I have to say. I got to go warn some other kids. Stay safe, right?"
Drake stood and walked away, leaving their whole table in a stunned silence. Law stared at the place Drake had just occupied, mind reeling. Things were happening too quickly for his mind to process. No, this couldn't be right. This was all a dream – no, a nightmare. Law pinched himself hard on the arm, hoping he would wake up
The classroom of children was completely silent, but in a dumbstruck way. All of them were shocked about what they had just heard. Dead. A child in their school was dead, killed viciously and left in the street.
The sound of a wail was loud from the back of the classroom and it was quickly followed by other crying children. Miss Nico hurried to the back to try and soothe them. The only table with no one crying was Ace's, but they all looked disturbed.
Ace, by far, was the worst off out of the four.
"Did you guys know him?" Kidd turned to the blond and green haired children across from them. Sanji shook his head, not saying a word, while Zoro shrugged.
"I saw him around once or twice. Talked to him a couple of times. He wasn't a bad kid," Zoro mumbled, arms crossed as he bit at his lip. He moved his eyes up from the table and they worriedly turned to Ace. "Ace, are you okay?"
Ace was not okay. His mind was being shattered to pieces.
Ace didn't say anything for a few moments.
"I'm going to the bathroom."
He stood, pushing his chair back violently as he turned and stormed from the room. He didn't realize that Kidd got up and began to chase after him as he walked out the door and ran down the hall for the bathroom. Once he was in there, he thanked the stars he was alone, he sat against the wall and curled up into a ball.
It had happened again.
The sound of a terrified scream was ended with a horrifying crunch. Ace flinched at the sound, gripping onto the jacket of the older child next to him. The eight year old knew they were cruel, but he had never seen this. He was surrounded by older kids right then as he took in the harsh facts and disturbing sights before him.
He was now the youngest of them all.
"Did you all really think you could hide this trash from me, you little fucker? Did you truly think you could lie to me? Huh?!" The man sneered at them as he lifted one of the three corpses with his hands already covered in blood. Ace felt himself shiver as he tightened his grip on the other child in front of him, eyes wide as he watched their enraged owner before them, because truly, that was what he was in Ace's mind.
The body was tossed carelessly to the side. The sound of flesh on pavement sounded painful, but when the body rolled to a stop, they only saw blank, glassy eyes that showed no signs of pain except for the remnants of tears streaming down cheeks.
"You defied me."
The child Ace was holding onto was yanked forward. One of the other kids grabbed Ace and held him back when the child tried to go help. A hand came up and covered his mouth. Ace could feel the fast beating of the heart against his back.
The child was tossed to the ground, landing with a yelp. The man's foot came down on the small head. A shout of pain echoed off of the walls. And he stomped again.
Ace was crying silently by now, gripping tightly onto the other child, who was shivering. They were all trembling as they were forced to watch the repeated stopping, since there truly was no way out, not until they were allowed out.
The child's head was lifted then by their overgrown, tangled mane of hair. A groan emanated from the child's mouth. The man sneered again, glaring down at the child with pure rage.
They were slammed against the floor, but this time with a loud crack.
Ace never knew a person could make a sound like that.
The man turned the body around and started doing something to the corpse's face. Ace clenched the fabric in his hands as he heard the disgusting squelching, but he knew he couldn't look away. If he looked away, he'd end up like that, too.
Something spherical was pulled out of the body. The man turned to the children, a malicious glint in his eyes and a fierce smirk on his lips, as he tossed it at them. It landed right at Ace's feet.
The hand immediately came back up to cover Ace's mouth, as the eight year old almost shrieked at the sight of the eyeball at his feet. The other children were shaking violently, yet they didn't seem surprised.
Ace wondered how many times they had seen this.
The man walked over and kneeled down before Ace, a sickeningly sweet, fake smile on his lips. He picked up the eyeball and yanked Ace forward. Ace bit his lip to keep from making a sound as the man brought up the eyeball, pressing it to his face and rolling it around his cheeks. Ace had to fight back a cringe at the slick feel of the organ against his flesh. He was really glad his stomach was empty, too - that way he wouldn't vomit.
"You haven't seen punishment yet, have you Ace? At least not like this. No, normally you just get beaten. This is different though." The man's eyes were hard like steel as he stared at Ace, and Ace knew, right at that moment, that if he ever defied this man, he would die. "If I ever find out you were hiding a child from me, like those four were, you'll be punished. Do you understand?" He pulled Ace forward and brought his mouth to his ear, whispering with putrid smelling, hot breath into Ace's dirt-covered flesh. "I own everyone on these streets. If you hide anyone from me, I can do whatever I want to you, and no one will bat an eye. After all, who cares for the homeless? Obviously not this city. If you die, no one will care."
The man pulled back and ran his hand through Ace's hair in a disturbingly soothing act. Ace stared at the man with wide, terrified eyes. He then cupped Ace's face with his large hand, staring at Ace with this look in his eyes that the boy didn't understand, but he knew it was bad and it made his instincts scream at him to run.
"Do not ever defy me, Ace. You're my favorite. It would be a shame to see you die."
After that day, Ace took extra care to make sure Sabo stayed in their hideout under the bridge. He didn't ever want to subject the child to what he and the other children then became witness to several more times, until Ace was the only original one left, and he was the oldest watching out for the younger kids as he watched his friends, one by one, get killed by the cruel hands of fate.
The raven haired child looked up towards the door and saw Kidd standing there, a concerned look on his face as Ace clutched at his hair was such force that his knuckles turned white. Ace's lip trembled as his eyes watered.
Ace couldn't tell Kidd. If Kidd knew, Kidd might get killed too. But those other kids didn't know either. He just killed them because he knew it would hurt Ace.
It was because he was mad with Ace. That was why he left them in the middle of the street. Normally when he killed, the bodies were burned to a crisp. That way no one would know. But this was to get Ace's attention. It was a message to the boy that he was angry. Ace knew why – he thought he killed Ace. But Ace lived, and he almost killed Luffy as punishment, but he must've found out he lives with a police officer now. Or maybe it's because one of his men is in custody now. Ace didn't know. All he knew was that it was his fault.
He felt arms wrap around him and he felt himself shaking. It was odd, he thought, since Kidd said he hated hugging others, yet here he was, hugging Ace.
Ace couldn't hold back his tears anymore. They spilled over his cheeks as he burrowed his face into his friend's shoulder, gripping at the front of his shirt with his fingers as he sobbed out of fear, guilt, anger, grief, and far too many other unnamable emotions the child had no words for.
Marco held Luffy in his arms as he stared worriedly at the TV screen in his room. The baby seemed to know something was wrong, since no matter what Marco did, he wouldn't stop crying. It broke Marco's heart to see Luffy cry so much, but nothing worked.
The woman on the news station was talking about the three dead children and the teen who went missing this morning in the background, as Marco looked from TV to baby, trying soothe the baby by humming a lullaby, his absolute last resort.
That didn't work either.
Luffy just stared up at Marco, reaching his pudgy hands up and staring with his big eyes. Marco held the baby close.
"Even you can tell something's wrong, can't you?" Marco softly asked the baby, who only stuck his small fist into his mouth in response, tears still streaming down his cheeks as he cried silently.
Marco looked back to the screen, staring worriedly at it.
"Something's coming, isn't it."
Smoker stared down at the three bodies as the doctor told him how the children had died. He was deep in thought about what was happening, because there was no way that everything that had happened within the past 24 hours was unrelated. It was all highly disturbing when he thought about it.
Ace could've ended up like this if he stayed on the streets longer than he did.
"These children didn't get a peaceful death. The poor things," The woman said as she reached out and began to pull white sheets over the heads of the children. "We don't even have names for the two homeless kids. There's no family for them either. They'll probably end up in an unmarked grave."
Smoker looked down at the bodies with sad eyes. No one should ever have to suffer what they suffered.
"Smoker!" Smoker and the woman looked to the door and Tashigi stood there, a regretful look on her face. A frown came over her features and she looked down, hands gripping on the doorway harshly. Then, so quietly they almost didn't hear her, she whispered, "We found her."
Smoker moved past the caution tape, flashing his badge as he walked through the swarm of policemen, detectives, and the forensics team. He stepped up to where the body was, carefully stepping around the labels on the ground.
Tashigi stepped up next to him, staring down at the girl's body with watery eyes.
"The poor girl."
Smoker nodded his head in agreement as he looked down at her mangled body. He had seen murders before, but this was probably the most brutal one he had ever seen. Her neck, one of her arms, and both of her legs were bent at odd angles. It looked as if she had also been stabbed several times, if the blood staining her corpse was any indication of it. And her face…she was unrecognizable.
"Children and teens won't be allowed to be alone anymore. Not with things like this happening."
Tashigi nodded in agreement as she bit her lip, looking away from the body on the ground.
"What are we going to tell her parents?"
"We'll tell them the truth, but it will be better if they don't see the body. I don't think they'll be able to take it."
Tashigi nodded and was then called away by one of the forensics specialists. Smoker stared at the body before closing his eyes with a heavy sigh, his brows furrowed. This, having to see the dead bodies, was probably the one of the worst parts of his job.
The absolute worst had to be informing the family.
Sabo was really curious about where his classmates were. There were only three other kids there aside from him. Miss Makino was currently comforting one of them, who was crying after falling down and smacking her head on a Lego, which, in Sabo's opinion really, really hurt.
"Sabo?" The blond looked behind him where his dirty-blond haired friend was sitting. Koala was coloring on the ground with a bunch of orange, blue, and yellow crayons, staring up at Miss Makino. "Why's nobodies here?"
"I dunno. D'ya think something happent?" Sabo said, tilting his head to the side as he sat up, leaving his book open on the ground. Koala nodded with a concerned look on her face.
"Do yah think somethin'll happen ta us too?" Koala bit her lip, looking down. "Sorry if that's a stupid question."
"Questions aren't stupid!" Sabo said, turning around to face her fully. She looked up at her friend who grinned at her widely. "Sides, my Daddy won't let anything happen to us! I don't know him for too long, but I know he'll p…puh…per…protect us!" Koala blinked at his loud exclamation before grinning widely at him.
"I believe you!"
Sabo laughed. "Good! Neh, do you wanna see if we can use finger paint?" Koala nodded and the two stood up, running to Miss Makino to ask her about the paint, leaving behind a picture book open on a page where the main characters were about to enter a storm.
The sound of the television droning on the in the background was a minor nuisance to Law. The teen was sitting at a table in one of the two hotel rooms, doing his math homework quickly and with ease. Over on one of the beds, Sabo and Luffy were napping, curled up next to each other and both blissfully unaware of the bad things happening in the world at the moment.
Law looked up at the TV when the news changed from the weather to the events surrounding the city. No one else had gone missing since this morning, which was good, but it still did little to soothe Law's nerves. Maybe it was because he knew that it probably had something to do with Ace, maybe because he could be easily paranoid, but he doubted anyone could listen to this and not be at least a little disturbed.
The bathroom door opened and Ace walked back into the room, staring at the screen with anxious, terrified eyes. Law pressed the power button on the clicker and the screen turned black. Ace turned to Law, blinking as he slowly said the words Law could tell he didn't want to say.
"Didn't…didn't they say to leave it on?" He asked quietly, not looking away from the teen. Law shrugged.
"They're not here right now, and besides, why should I listen to them?"
Law said nothing about the easing tension in the younger boys shoulders. Ace then walked up to Law and stared down at the paper in front of the older boy.
"Whatcha doin?" He asked, looking down with furrowed brows at the numbers and variables on the page.
"Algebra. Factoring, to be specific."
Ace stared at the page for a little longer before he tuck out his tongue in disgust. "That makes no sense. Why are there letters in there?"
Law smirked at the younger boy. "They're variables, something your peas sized brain probably won't' be able to understand," Law teased, pulling on the boy's freckled cheek just to annoy him. Ace grunted and freed himself, glaring up at Law with annoyed eyes. But then, to Law's utter confusion, the boy looked down with a confused, upset face, staring at the floor while biting his lip. "Oi, what's wrong?" He asked, turning away from his homework to focus completely on the younger.
"I'll never understand."
Law's brows furrowed. "If this is about the variables, then-"
"It's not that." Law blinked as the boy looked up at him, mouth in a tight line. "Why do adults do such bad things, Law? I don't get it."
Law stared at the younger for a moment before turning completely in his chair and enveloping the other in a hug. Ace gasped and protested, saying that he wasn't a baby who needed hugs when he was upset, but Law didn't let Ace go.
"I don't know why adults do bad things. I wish I could tell you. All I can say is that there are adults out there, a lot more than you think, who want to help kids like you and your brothers. Not everyone is scum. Remember that, Ace. Then, maybe the world won't seem like such a bad place."
Ace stopped struggling and blinked. His eyes were wide, with shock and disbelief. But still, he couldn't remember the last time he felt this safe. He hadn't gotten a hug from someone else that made him feel this safe in years. So Ace decided to relish in it for just this once, to allow himself to feel the comfort from protection like this, and allowed himself to sink into Law's arms, secretly wondering if Law would allow Ace to be his brother.
The woman looked down and smiled and it made Ace feel all warm inside. He lifted his arms up and she bent down gently grabbing him and lifting him to rest on her hip. He clutched to her tighter when the sound of thunder echoed outside. He shivered.
A hand came up and began to trace soothing patterns on his back. She was humming also, a calming sound. He buried his face into her shoulder as she leaned her head against his, rocking the toddler gently until he fell back asleep.
Thatch walked into the room, carrying a few bags of fast food (don't get him wrong, he despises fast food, but Dadan won't let them use the kitchen and Thatch really doesn't want to risk taking them outside right now, so it was either fast food or nothing) and blinked at the sight before him. Sabo and Luffy were asleep on the bed, which wasn't out of the norm, but what was out of the norm was the fact that Ace was sleeping in Law's lap while the teen did homework.
"Law?" The man asked, staring at the teen. The teen looked up, glaring hard, eyes daring him to say anything. Thatch knew that look. It was Law's if-you-say-anything-I'll-open-you-up-and-perform-heart-surgery-on-you look. Thatch lifted his hands in a surrendering motion and placed the many bags on the table before sitting down in one of the chairs. He opened a bag and pulled out a McDonald's hamburger, inwardly cringing about the fact that he was eating this, and took a bite. He looked up and saw Law smirking at him and he frowned.
"You have to eat this too, you know," Thatch said, grinning smugly when Law looked at him with irritation.
"I'm not eating that."
"We have no other food."
"Order room service then."
"Smoker left no money, I have no money, Marco left no money too, and Dadan said she's only cooking for paying customers."
"Then I'll starve."
"Smoker said I have to make sure you eat. If it means shoving this down your throat, I'll do it."
Law glared at Thatch, and the man had to bite his lower lip to keep from laughing because truly, teasing Law was too fun. Thatch reached out and grabbed the clicker, pressing the power button. The newswoman was thankfully, for once, not talking about what had just happened in the city. Thatch wasn't sure how much more his mind could take of listening to stories of murdered kids.
"Thatch? Why do adults do bad things?"
The man turned and looked at Law, who was staring at him with curious yet hard eyes as he shifted Ace to a more comfortable position in his lap. Thunder suddenly sounded outside and the two turned to look out the window. Rain started to fall down on the city, turning the cityscape gray.
"I wish I knew, Law."