The Contract: Sign Your Life Away
"It sure has been a long time, Ace," The man said. His tall figure ominously loomed in the doorway as his shadow seemed to consume the child. Ace looked up at the man with a strange look. His facial expression was blank, but the look in his eyes was a mix of many emotions. Fury, fear, determination, and something akin to resignation flooded his eyes. Law had never seen such a plethora of feelings in the child's eyes before, and never in such a combination either. "He's going to be so pleased when he learns we managed to capture you again."
"Who are you?" Law demanded, glaring at the man before him. The man turned his head. His long, angular chin jutted out sharply, casting a shadow similar in appearing to a knife on the wall. His narrow eyes became slits and he glowered at the young teen.
"I believe a better question is who are you," The man sneered, stalking closer to the injured teen. "To think you can interrupt my conversation?" The man brought up his leg quickly then smoothly and swiftly brought it down. His foot connected with Law's abdomen. Law's eyes widened. Law thought he heard a crack. He gasped for breath, spit flying out of his mouth from the force of the kick. The teen began to cough. His body instinctively curled up around his stomach once the man took his foot away. Law turned his eyes to the man, hazy yet defiant. The man scoffed, then turned to Smoker. Smoker was glaring at the man, his lips pulled back into a tormented grimace.
"I'm sure you know perfectly well who I am," The man cackled, staring Smoker dead in the eyes. "It sure has been a long time, hasn't it?"
"Not long enough," Smoker growled. "Where did the other one go?"
"The other one?" The man mocked before laughing somewhat maniacally. "He left the day he captured you. He's long gone, taking care of more important business. Besides, he wanted to grace Ace with his presence only after Ace was taught how naughty he was to have run away," The man said, turning to the child. With his hand, he grabbed the child's chin, lifting his head to stare the boy in the eyes. The man smirked. "He's left me to be the teacher."
"Why would he leave someone like you to do this, Mi-"
"I don't go by that name anymore," The man announced forcefully, staring at Smoker out of the corner of his eye. He grabbed Ace's arm and straightened his back. Ace was forced to stand. He glared at the man holding him. "Call me Arlong."
"I thought you only liked to hurt people who could put up a good fight, I thought you wanted to help those who needed it," Smoker stated, voice firm despite the pain coursing through his bones. Arlong scoffed.
"That was middle school. This is now. No one puts up a decent fight anymore, and besides, no one will help you except for yourself," Arlong said, voice bored. He walked swiftly out of the room, dragging Ace with him.
"Fight back Ace!" Law yelled. Ace turned, just barely catching the teens eyes before the door slammed shut. Law began to struggle even more, ignoring the occasional flickering of the lights as he tried to break free of the chains. "Fuck, why? Why is this happening?" Law yelled in their lonely room. It echoed off of the walls. To Law, it felt like a smack in the face. He cursed himself as some tears began to fall down his cheeks. "Dammit! Fucking shit!" Smoker, who had already expended all of his energy and was exhausted from his untreated wounds, could only sit there and watch Law. His body was already slumping over. He stared at Law, frustration building in his heart as the teen cried tears of anger and hurt. Smoker felt like the shittiest guardian in the world.
"Ace? Ace, wake up! Ace, please wake up!"
Ace stared ahead, eyes focusing on the person talking to him. However, Ace couldn't tell who it was. They were covered in shadows. The only thing he could clearly make out was the person's mouth. And then behind the person. Behind the person was a field of flowers. The sky surrounding them was beautiful, like the rising sun. A soft breeze blew over them, and it smelled so sweet for a split second. The person smiled. "Thank God," the person said. "Ace, I thought you decided you were going to fight?"
"I can't anymore," Ace replied, eyes taking on a fearful shimmer. He felt like he was three years old again. "I don't wanna be hurt again."
"Ace, look at me," The person said as Ace tried to avert his eyes. Hands came up and held his cheeks. "Ace, despite everything that has happened in your life so far, you've made it so far. Everyone that has loved you and loves you now, they don't want you to die. Don't you remember Ace, we said no regrets, didn't we? That day we found each other again, you promised me that no matter what you would try your best to live. You can't die now, Ace. There's still so much ahead of you, you can start a brand new life and live happy and free."
"But it hurts. It hurts so bad right now, Lucy," Ace cried, tears starting to fall down his cheeks. The blurred edges sharpened the second he said her name, revealing the fourteen year old girl. Her eyes held concern as she stared at the child. She wiped away the tears on Ace's cheeks, a look of concern heavy in her eyes.
"I know it hurts Ace, but don't you have people you want to be with now? Don't you have brothers to protect, friends to play with, and people to protect you now?"
"But Lucy, if they know who I am they'll want me dead, just like everyone else does," Ace sobbed.
"Ace, they don't want you dead. You're not your father, Ace. The people who have told you to die, and called you the Devil's son, they're pieces of shit, you understand me?" Ace looked directly into Lucy's eyes as tears welled in his own. She smiled at Ace. "You can make a name for yourself, Ace. The people who care for you now, they look at you as Ace, not as the son of Roger. They want you to fight Ace, they want to be with you. And those of us already gone, we want you to live, Ace. You have so much ahead of you, so don't you dare come to stay with us until you have at least 1,000 fun adventures to tell us about, okay," Lucy demanded, her voice becoming fainter and fainter, wavering yet happy. Ace felt lighter and lighter. He heard the pounding of his own heart become louder and louder. He watched as Lucy turned to dust as he finally returned to reality.
The halls were so familiar. The cracks, the dust, the ugly orange tiled floor, Ace remembered it all vividly. He never thought he would see it again though. But now that he had, all of the feelings of terror and loathing flooded back into his body. He stiffened a bit, lips tensing into a straight line. The fingers of his left arm, the arm free of Arlong's intense grip, formed a fist. His nails dug into his skin. He had to try to keep himself in the moment. He repeated it to himself over and over again, he mustn't forget where he was or why. He couldn't forget that he had to fight.
Someone came up to Arlong and started talking to the man. Ace noticed he was distracted. He wasn't looking at Ace at all. Ace's eyes widened. This may be his only chance.
Ace sunk his teeth into the flesh of Arlong's arm. He bit so hard and deep that he drew blood. Arlong's grip loosened a bit as he yelled in shock. With his free hand, Ace pried Arlong's fingers off of his limb quickly and then he sprinted away. He heard shouts follow him as he ran from the men, ducking between the legs of others who had run to the scene.
"Get that fucking brat!"
"Get back here!"
"Hurry up, grab him!"
Ace evaded several hands with quick reflexes. He ran in a random direction, trying to remember where there were possible hiding spots. He ran as fast as he could. He was quite fast too. He had been running for half of his life just to live, and though the people here ran they didn't have to run nearly as fast or as long as the child did.
Ace turned a corner and his eyes widened. There was an open vent in the wall. The cover was on the ground in front of it. The screws had rusted and it looked as though the cover had been forcibly torn off, most likely during the men's drunken rampages.
The footsteps got louder, as did the yells as Ace sprinted as fast as his legs could to the vent. He dove inside, scrambling to get as far in as possible. The metal walls rattled as he crawled frantically into its depths. He heard yells and banging behind him. He rushed faster, going all the way to the end of the tunnel. The hands banging on the walls behind him had missed catching him by a hair. He looked back once he was in a safe area, listening to the men.
"Fucking shit! The brat got away!"
"He's in the damn vents! What are we supposed to do now?"
"We can't fit in there!"
"Come the fuck out you damned brat!"
Ace panted. His complexion was pale yet his cheeks were red from exertion as sweat dripped down his face and back. His chest shook with every deep breath he took. His eyes were wide, he stared at the entrance for several moments in shock and mild relief. For now, he had gotten away. Now though, he had to figure a way out of this predicament.
Ace looked left and right. Each way tapered off into other tunnels. He had six or several possible directions he could go in. For now, at least. Ace didn't know where any tunnel would take him. Taking his chances and hoping he went somewhere that would be useful, Ace turned left. When he came across the intersection, he continued straight. He was lucky that the vents were somewhat small. Only a child like himself could fit in them, but at the same time he had problems with how much noise he made. He tried to be quiet, but crawling on a metal surface on your hands and knees made it impossible for it to be a silent journey.
Ace heard the yells coming from all ends of the vents. He wondered if they were yelling into the vents or if they were just nearby, looking for him to come out of one entrance. He definitely didn't want to fall for a trap like that.
Suddenly the vents became larger. Ace stopped in place. It was so big...big enough for an adult to crawl through. He could turn back, go up, or go down, or continue through the larger vent. Ace looked up. It went to another floor. It looked like there were handles too, for some reason. It was also a larger vent. Maybe it was for maintenance? There were handles for the way down as well.
There were voices in the vents. Ace gasped, but then silently cursed himself. The gasp was loud enough that it echoed through the vents.
"Did you hear that?" He heard a gruff voice yell. Ace panicked. He couldn't go back, they'd see him. Down or up, down or up…
The voices got closer. The vent walls shook. Ace quickly grabbed onto the handles and started to pull himself up. He pulled himself up as fast as he could, hurrying without being quiet now because there was no time to be quiet. They heard his gasp. He heard their yells approaching, the trembling of the metal walls. Ace moved faster, using his feet and hands to climb as fast as possible. If he could just get over the ledge fast enough, he would be safe, even for just a few minutes.
"Fuck, we lost him!" A voice yelled, seconds after Ace pulled himself over the ledge. He held his breath, heart pounding in his chest. He licked his lips, staying curled up without moving a muscle. "He went up or down! You go up, I'll go down!"
The path he had taken began to rattle. He quickly got onto his hands and knees again and crawled as fast as he could away from the ladder, throwing caution to the wind. He turned a few corners, ignoring the voices he heard behind him, taking random turns in his attempt to flee.
Ace saw an opening. One of the vents wasn't covered. Ace didn't know what would be worse, getting caught in the vents or out there...out there, he could run and be quiet even if they tried to ambush him. Ace moved swiftly forward to the opening, panting as the space became more cramped. Or at least, it felt like it was becoming more cramped.
Ace crawled out into the dark room. Surprisingly no one was there, not behind him or standing. Ace made for the door, but then on the ground he saw something valuable. Under a table. A dagger. It didn't matter how or why it go there, all that mattered was that it was there. Without thinking Ace grabbed the weapon and then ran for the door. He sprinted out, going straight after he saw shadows on the walls from the two halls at either side. Going straight seemed to lead to a stairwell. Ace ran to it. He had to go down a floor. They didn't cover his eyes so he knew exactly where they were holding Smoker and Law. If he could get there and pick the locks, they could escape. Together.
Ace pushed the door to the stairs open. The door slammed against the wall, but Ace didn't care for being quiet anymore. He had to get to Smoker and Law. He needed to hurry, he wasn't sure how much time he had left.
Ace bolted, jumping down the steps. He staggered a bit at the landing between floors and then continued, breath coming quickly as he pushed his body to the limits. Just as he reached the end of the stairs, he heard the door on the floor above open with a resounding crashing sound. Ace pushed his body forward, shoving the doors before him open. They slammed against the walls, joining the cacophony of noise made by the men chasing him.
Ace ran down the hall. He felt his body starting to slow down from exhaustion, but he forced himself to keep running. He wasn't done yet. He hadn't saved Law and Smoker yet! He forced his legs to keep pumping, running in the direction of that room, the door was in sight now, but then he stopped.
Cries that sounded so, so familiar were echoing from the hall behind him now. The cries bounced of the hideous walls and cracked floors, surrounding the child with the absolutely frightful sound. It felt like he was trapped in a cramped, dark tunnel and the cries were the light he was supposed to follow. He turned his head around. It sounded like Law. Ace had to think fast, his pursuers would be upon him any minute now. He heard a loud scream, filled with agony and strife. Ace turned his whole body and bolted.
Ace felt it was strange that his pursuers hadn't reached him yet. They would've been faster than him by now. He figured that this was all a set up, a trap. That he would be in inescapable trouble once he entered that room. If he entered that room, something would change forever. But either way, he would do it. He could still hear Law's screams, and all he wanted to do was make them stop.
The set of doors at the end of the hall were slightly ajar. The cries came out of the opening, and the closer Ace got, the worse the screams sounded. Ace's shadow stretched out along the floors, the fluorescent lights making it appear multiple times at once, chasing him and leading him. The sound of his footsteps on the broken tiles were ringing through the halls with their dull, thudding sound. Ace felt the air become thin for some reason, yet he also felt that there was tension thickening the air with each step he took in the direction of the door. And finally, as a scream of absolute torment rang out, Ace could finally touch the door.
Ace forced the doors open with the small amount strength he had. Both were heavy, they barely budged, but Ace managed to pry them open enough to squeeze through. Once he was in, his eyes widened at the sight before him. Law was on the ground, but no one else was in the room that was completely bare, frigid due to the cement floors and walls. The room stretched about three floors tall, and there were windows where the walls met the ceiling. The light flooded the room void of electric lighting, barely lighting the outline of the teenagers frail body on the ground.
Ace rushed forward, approaching the teen. He didn't notice the doors close behind him with the push of a man's hand. When he was a few feet away from his housemate, his friend, his brother, when Law finally noticed him and whispered his name in what seemed to be despair and his eyes and mouth wavered, a shot rang out behind Ace. Ace thought he was safe, his torso wasn't bleeding, but then his leg gave out. Law screamed, first in anger and then agony and Ace wondered what they did to him as he fell to the floor. He barely saved his face by bringing his forearms up and letting them hit the ground first. The blade of the knife landed flat on the ground, inches from his eye yet still secure in his hand.
Ace quickly forced his body up, using his uninjured leg and his arms to crawl forward. A trail of blood and tears was left in his wake. Tears streamed down Ace's cheeks as he bit his lips together so he wouldn't cry out. Law was shaking his head, trying to say something, but nothing could escape his dry, scratchy throat after all of the screaming he had done. Any saliva that would've soothed his throat was dripping down his chin and cheek to form a puddle on the floor next to his head.
It was then that Ace realized what was causing the pain. On his neck was a collar, but it wasn't a normal one. Ace had seen them use it before. A shock collar. Somehow Ace reached Law quickly. Ace hurriedly lay his body over Laws, who was currently lying on his side. Ace dropped the knife with trembling hands behind the teen and focused his attention completely on the offending device around Law's neck. With shaking fingers, Ace unclipped the collar. He gripped it with one hand and then threw it far behind Law.
Footsteps, loud and strong, permeated the air behind the two minors. Ace quickly grabbed the knife and one of Law's hands, shoving it between their bodies so that the man, most likely Arlong, couldn't see. Law, catching on somewhat quickly despite his injured state, curled up just a bit around it. He tried to say something despite the fact that blood dripped from his mouth, but Ace never got a chance to hear it.
Hands grasped him tightly, like the jaws of a predator sinking into prey, and tore him away from the injured teen. The hands slammed Ace against the cement floor a few feet away. His head hit the firm ground hard. There was a high pitched ringing sound in his ears and everything became fuzzy. Outlines no longer existed and colors mixed together in a sickening display before his eyes. It made him want to vomit. When something viciously smashed into his face, his world went black for a split second. He heard sounds, something that wasn't high pitched, but it was so distant. Ace couldn't understand it. His face was wet, and he wondered what was on it. Ace wondered if these blows, which made him try to curl into a ball, would be the last thing he felt.
Law was struggling to get up. He never took his eyes off of Ace and Arlong. That man was absolute trash. He was beating Ace to death with a sickening grin on his face. Law wanted to kill him. Keeping his weight off of his left side and arm, Law pushed himself up. He grunted and groaned, gritting his teeth together, eyes glaring at the menace he was determined to kill, even if it would be his own end.
Arlong seemed to be entranced with the way Ace's body was limp, accepting the blows without resistance. It sickened Law. He managed to push himself to his feet, holding the knife in his right hand, fingers curled around the hilt with determination. He staggered, the world somewhat muffled and blurred and he cursed that collar, he would destroy it with his own hands once Arlong was dead and Ace was safe.
On unsteady feet, Law stepped forward. He knew exactly what to do. If he struck the spine with the knife, the man would probably go down for good. It would be difficult to do so, a bullet would be a better option, but for now all he had was a knife. He hoped that he wasn't loud, he couldn't tell. He felt like he was deaf. He could see though it was somewhat blurred, but his ears seemed to have sustained damage from the electricity. He wondered if he would be the same after this, if he would ever be able to hear again.
Arlong raised a fist just as Law managed to reach him, half collapsing on his back and half holding him in place. The man seemed too surprised to move as Law used the knife, shoving it in the area of his spine. It took a great deal of force, and his collapsing body seemed to help push the weapon further into flesh, muscle, and bone. Arlong coughed, gasping as his legs began to shake. Law mustered what little strength he had left to push him to the side, forcing the man down on his knees a safe distance from Ace. Law pulled the knife out, allowing Arlong to fall to the ground. His breaths came fast, his torso moving unsteadily as he tried to breathe. Law turned the man onto his back and looked at his leg.
Law reached the holster before Arlong did. He took the pistol in his own hands. Arlong was staring at him, digging his sharp fingers into Law's abdomen. Law coughed, gasping and trembling. With several tries, he finally pulled the safety on the gun, though in the process he fell to his knees and somehow managed to keep Arlong's hands away from the weapon. He couldn't hear it, but the click made a resounding sound throughout the room. It was as if someone clicked a pen, about to sign a contract that would change their fate. And in a way, that was what was about to happen.
Law aimed the pistol right at Arlong's forehead. The man's sharp teeth were visible in his sneer. The nostrils of his pointed, sharp nose flared. His eyes narrowed, pupils locked onto the teen. He said something that Law couldn't hear. Law took in a few deep breaths, gritting his own teeth. Then he pulled the trigger.
It was a loud sound. It echoed through the oddly empty building and off of the cement walls, a looming and ominous sound that sealed Law's fate like a signature on paper. Blood dripped from the small circle in Arlong, but there were also signs that it had splattered. Small droplets of blood were all over, on the cement ground, parts of Arlong's face, and Law's hand. A couple of small drops lay just by Law's lips. His eyes were wide, arms shaking violently as he breathed quickly, hyperventilating.
The gun fell from Law's limp hands, which remained in the same position even after they released the gun. It landed on Arlong's chest with a dull thud. Law stared at him for several moments and then turned his head. He looked at Ace, a bloody mess on the ground, curled up into a ball. Law barely managed to get to his feet and then staggered over to the child. When he reached the younger boy, he fell to his knees and then covered Ace with his torso. He took the boy in his arms and held him beneath his body, wondering if they would die there. He closed his eyes and allowed the darkness to swallow him.
Men lay before them, stacked on top of each other. Injured and groaning, they lay defeated on the tiles, refusing to look the victors in their eyes. Not that they could. The two wore masks, ski masks with decoration. One was blue and gold, the other white and gold. Their eyes were covered in a sort of mesh, allowing them to see but preventing others from seeing them.
The sound of a gunshot echoed throughout the building. The men's heads whipped up, looking around to find the source, or the direction where it came from. The two looked at each other. The man with the white mask pointed at the other man, and then in one direction. He then pointed at himself and another direction. The man with the blue mask nodded and the two separated.
The man with a white mask pulled a knife out from the sheath against his side. He snuck down the hall, staying close to the shadows as he pulled a black hood over his head to hide the bright white mask. He treaded lightly, footsteps making only a whisper of a sound.
He reached a doorway, the only one in the area. Behind it he thought he heard a rustling sound. He looked left and right and then snuck across the hallway. He stood flat against the wall, shuffling just a bit to the door. Placing his hand on the handle, he pushed down. The handle moved soundlessly. The masked man pulled the door, and it opened with a loud creak. He whispered a curse to himself as he quickly moved and slipped through the doorway, pulling it closed behind him.
The masked man turned around. Only Smoker, heavily injured, was in the room, laying on the ground on his side. He yanked off his mask and shoved the hood off as he approached the other quickly, getting behind him once he saw the chains. He reached into his hair and pulled out a bobby pin, swiftly bringing it to the lock in an attempt to unlock it.
"Smoker, thank god you're alive. What happened?"
"They took Ace and Law," Smoker rasped out, coughing at the end of the short sentence. Thatch helped the man to sit up, brows furrowing at the pained gasps he let out.
"Marco will find them," Thatch said quietly, conscientious just in case Smoker had a concussion. "For now I'm getting you out of here."
"But the kids," Smoker began to protest, only for Thatch to pull the mask over his head.
"Marco will find them," Thatch repeated steadily as he pulled the hood over his head. He quickly maneuvered Smoker onto his back. The white haired man slumped against Thatch, who strengthened his stance as he stood to keep steady. Thatch pushed forward, kicking the door open with his foot. He then went back the way he came, trying not to jostle Smoker too much.
They passed the fallen men on the way out. There were some cops and EMT's at their sides, performing emergency care and transferring them to stretchers. The cops were reciting laws and trying to subdue the unruly ones so they could cuff them and finally get medical attention. Thatch wished they could've left them there to die but he knew they were needed for the case that would likely be made in court, which would hopefully happen soon.
It didn't take long to escape the building. There were already cop cars, ambulances, and firetrucks at the scene. They were immediately flocked by some EMT's, and Tashigi was there too. Thatch helped Smoker onto the stretcher, watching as they quickly wheeled him into an ambulance. Tashigi removed the mask quickly as they pulled Smoker away. She clutched it in her hands, watching as the doors closed and the ambulance lights and sirens turned on as it drove into the distance.
"Do you think they saw your face on the cameras?" Tashigi asked, voice soft.
"I don't think so, but even if they did, it's not like they can do anything right now," Thatch replied, gently removing the mask from Tashigi's hands. He slipped it back on over his head, moving over to a motorcycle that was barely visible in the shadows. "I can't go back in now, I'll be over here though in case you need me."
Tashigi watched him walk off in the direction of the motorcycle, and then turned around to the abandoned, or at least once abandoned, factory on the edges of the city. She heard a voice call her, and she looked towards the doors. She was being called in. She swiftly began to walk towards the other officer, hoping that Marco had found the two boys already.
The watch on Marco's wrist was ticking.
The light in the room was oddly serene. The sun had escaped the clouds outside the windows, so now the light in the room had turned a bit brighter. The particles of dust that floated around in the air were illuminated by the sunlight, pretending to be snow in the room made of gray.
The blue and gold mask lay on the ground. It had been tossed aside, a crumpled mess by the door. It had been pulled off in a hurry, callously in favor of something more important. The gold on it, made of glitter, sparkled dimly in the bleak lighting.
The silence was broken by the sound of a man calling for help. It was the only loud sound in the room. He pressed down on Ace's chest, trying to make him breathe because he wasn't breathing right now. Law lay right next to Ace, chest barely moving with the indication of life. The two boy's were bloodied, their clothes now rags and their bodies covered in shades of reds, blues, purples, and blacks.
And Ace wasn't breathing.
The watch on Marco's wrist was ticking.
Marco yelled again, turning back to Ace. He was keeping his tears at bay. This was no time to panic and become useless. He pushed again and again, trying to revive the child, hoping that he hadn't been too late.
The watch on Marco's wrist was ticking.
Medic's ran in through the doors Marco had shoved open earlier. They sprinted, some with stretchers and others with equipment. Marco yelled at them to hurry. Their shadows splayed across the floors as they ran over. Marco was shoved out of the way as they started to perform emergency care. Marco could only watch, hoping and praying that everything would turn out ok. He sat on his butt, resting his elbows on his knees as he bent over, finally letting the tears flow. His blond, sweat covered hair glistened in the soft light. His body shook as they transported Law onto the stretcher, but not Ace. They couldn't put Ace on the stretcher, not yet. Not yet.
The watch on Marco's wrist wasn't ticking.