Bad Tastes and Cheeky Brats
"Tell me again why we're staying at Elvis and Pineapple's place for the weekend again?"
Law had an annoyed look on his face as he leaned back in the leather seat. He was glaring at Smoker in annoyance. It had all started that morning when, out of nowhere, Smoker got a call that he had to go to some conference meeting – Law didn't even understand why he had one, he was a police officer, were they even supposed to have conference meetings? – and he had to go out of town to attend it. Tashigi couldn't watch them and when Law said he could watch them alone, Smoker said "No way in hell am I leaving you alone with them. For all I know you'll dissect them or something like that." Law found it a somewhat valid point, but still, he wanted to stay home, not at his uncle's cousin's house.
So there he was, sitting in his uncle's truck on a Friday afternoon, on the way to his annoying uncle's annoying cousin's house.
"You know exactly why Law – hey, stop fighting back there!" Smoker looked at the rear view mirror. Law looked as well and smirked slightly at the sight. Sabo had tufts of dark hair in his hands, sticking his tongue out at Ace, who glowered at him. They loved each other, but it didn't mean they didn't fight.
"Ace started it!"
"You started it! It was your fault for saying-"
"It's not like you haven't said it before!"
"Enough," Smoker sternly said, just as Ace was about to shout back. Sabo suddenly yelped and Law looked back, chuckling at the sight of Luffy pulling on the blond's hair. Ace laughed a little as Sabo began to whine while Luffy was cooing.
Smoker just groaned, causing Law to smirk at his misery.
Smoker's truck pulled up into a driveway on the edges of the city. It was in a neighborhood full of houses, not the most well kept of them all but in pretty decent shape. There was a truck in the driveway and in the garage was a man crouched down next to a motorcycle wearing a dirty white tank top and stained jeans with dark boots.
Smoker put the truck in park and took out the key, opening the doors to let Ace and Sabo out so he could struggle with Luffy's car seat. Law got out, grabbing his bag and Luffy's, as Sabo ran around the car to stand next to Ace. The kid looked a little nervous. Law really couldn't blame him. It was rare for either of them to go outside – Sabo was downright paranoid – and they hadn't been away from Smoker for more than a few hours before. Law figured that Ace would revert to his fiery self during this stay because of it. They seemed to trust Smoker and only Smoker.
"Smoker! You're a little late," A man with reddish brown hair, for once not stylized but simply pulled into a ponytail, walked out from the front door and over to the car. This was Smoker's cousin, Thatch, or as Law liked to call him, Elvis.
"Had some trouble with this car seat," Smoker grumbled as he finally managed to get Luffy out of the truck, sighing. Thatch laughed as Marco, Thatch's cousin he was raised with but not Smoker's cousin, walked over.
Law's family was way too confusing for him sometimes.
"Law, why don't you go show them around," Marco said as Smoker began to talk to Thatch and Marco about medicine and other stuff for Ace, Sabo and Luffy. Law grumbled before smiling an evil smile as Marco turned around and dragged Ace and Sabo into the house with him.
"Welcome to chez les deux hommes qui sont bêtes. This is their "humble" living room," Law smirked as he watched the looks of confusion come over the boys faces. Thatch and Marco both had very different senses of taste, so their whole house was quite…eccentric, so to say. Their living room furniture was all neon colors of orange, yellow, blue, and green but the walls were bright red. The wood floor had a black carpet over it. There was a small TV on the wall across from the couch. And then there was that evil bird.
"And that's Phoneix," Law grumbled, glaring at the bird as it squawked at his face. He would never understand why Marco liked birds so much. Polar bears were ten million times better than the feathery beasts.
"Don't harass the bird, Law," Thatch's voice scolded him. Law grimaced and turned to the man who merely grinned at him as he held Luffy. He turned and crouched before Sabo and Ace then, a smile spread across his face.
"The name's Thatch. It's nice to meet you. Ace and Sabo, right?" He grinned at the two boys. Ace said nothing while Sabo hesitantly nodded. Thatch's smile did not falter. "Come with me. I'll show you to your room."
Law had a feeling this was going to be a long stay.
Ace sat on his bed, paper in front of him and pencil in hand as he once again traced over the letters dotted out on the page. Sabo was on his lap, snoring as Ace copied the dashed lines on the page over the surface Sabo provided. Luffy was lying on his back a little ways away from Ace, between the wall and the ten year old's legs. On the couch across the room, Law was playing candy crush, his angry curses filling the air every once in awhile.
After Thatch had given them a tour of the house and showed them their room, the boy's hadn't left. Ace still hadn't said a single word. Law didn't know if he would.
There was a soft knock at the door and Law told them to enter as he put down his IPad. Marco entered, clean of oil and sweat, a smile on his face.
"It's time for supper," He said. Law stood and stretched while Ace shook Sabo awake. The five year old woke up, yawning widely and whining about not wanting to get up. Ace shook him again, causing him to sit up. Upon seeing Marco, he crawled off the bed. Ace grabbed Luffy gently and clambered down from the queen-sized bed. Marco tried to take the infant from the boy's arms, but he growled threateningly, glaring up at the man with defiant, terrifying eyes. Marco merely blinked and pulled his hand back. Inwardly, he was wondering how a child knew how to make such a face.
Law stared out of the corner of his eye as Luffy began to whine and squirm. Within a split second, Ace's face had returned to the calmness and gentleness of a big brother. The baby began to coo as Ace eyed Marco once more before walking around him, Sabo trailing after him like a little duckling following its mother.
Law's brow furrowed with confusion and annoyance.
Had he just called Ace a mother duckling?
Something was obviously wrong with him if he was beginning to think in the form of childish similes.
"You coming Law?"
"Yeah, I'm coming," The young teen replied, shaking his thoughts away as he moved out of the door, heading down the stairs with Marco not too far behind.
The kitchen was truly an interesting sight to behold. The two men were far from rich, and Marco was a college student, so they had very little money to spare. As a result, most of the furniture was quite old. It worked well, but it was just odd. Their refrigerator looked like it was from the fifties – there was a strange story behind that fridge, something about it coming from some more of their family (which was fucking huge) from some guy named Vista? Or was it Haruta? But then their wall paper was from the retro seventies in a hideous orange, green, and yellow pattern. Law thought it clashed horribly with the purple counter tops from the sixties. And then the floor was checkered black and white tile.
They truly had horrible taste, in Law's eyes.
He sat down at the table – a fifties diner table, red with the chrome and all the uncomfortable seats – with a grimace. The food smelled good but he just hated this whole room. It was so…tacky!
His brow twitched. Since when did he become a fashion expert?
This was not good.
Tashigi was rubbing off on him.
He looked over at Ace as the child bit at Marco's hands, preventing him from helping put Luffy into the baby seat that Thatch and Marco for some reason mysteriously had. Smoker told Law that it was often the subject of their many drunken teenage adventures and they refused to throw out the object of many of their fond, blurred, alcohol-filled memories. Turned out that was a good option now.
Thatch placed down a plate filled with delicious food. Law's mouth watered a little bit, but he hid it. Elvis here was a fantastic cook. Today, he had made steak, green bean casserole, rice, and – ugh. Bread. Law hated bread. Nothing would ever make him eat such unsavory food.
He began to eat, well mannered, cutting his meat neatly, napkin on his lap, elbows off of the table. Sabo's food had been cut up for him, and he was eating sloppily like he expected any five year old would do, with steak sauce and other pieces of food all over his cheeks. Thatch and Marco ate normally, as they always did, not caring for etiquette but still eating with manners. Ace, however, was a black hole, just like Luffy. Law was always slightly horrified by how much the ten year old could eat. He could tear through a steak for an adult in five minutes and still be hungry. He figured that it had to do with living on the street for most of his life.
But then, as always, Ace would feed Luffy. Thatch had offered to, but Ace acted like a protective mother bear the second he got close to the baby. Thatch had given him the baby food and Ace was feeding him. He always looked slightly softer whenever he did this, but Law never said anything about it, knowing it might cause Ace to act more hostile than he already was. That wouldn't be good for anyone.
No one talked during the meal. They were all left to their own thoughts. No one made a sound until, while Marco was grabbing dishes to clean, Sabo burped. Loudly. Law grimaced, but it just caused Thatch to chuckle and made Marco smirk. Ace looked at the blond boy and then let out a huge burp. It made everyone but Law laugh.
What's so funny about burps?
"Law, help me with the dishes," Marco said. Law grumbled, muttering something about pineapples and birds under his breath, standing and helping to put away food. Thatch turned to the three younger boys.
"Do you guys want to watch a movie?" Sabo nodded eagerly. Ace sighed and nodded as he pulled Luffy out of the baby seat. "Alright, let's get you guys cleaned up first."
It was around ten o'clock at night. The house was dark, lit only by a few stray lights. Footsteps moved quietly up the stairs. A head of blond hair was visible as he approached the top, holding a child at his waist. He entered the spare bedroom, door already open, and walked to the bed. A smaller boy, with curly blond hair, was already snuggled under the covers, sound asleep.
With one hand, he pulled back the covers and carefully laid the boy down on the mattress. He put the covers back over them and watched with a fond smile as the two unconsciously snuggled into each other. The baby in the makeshift crib (a laundry basket filled with blankets underneath) was sleeping soundly on the ground near the bed.
"What are you doing Marco?" The blond looked back at the teen standing in the door. He looked exhausted, the bags under his eyes more prominent than normal. His pajamas were also a little large on him, making him look slightly younger than he really was. Marco smiled at the teen.
"They fell asleep watching the movie. I was just putting them in bed. What are you still doing up?"
"I'm an insomniac. Do you expect me to sleep a lot?" The teen said, aggravated. "I'm probably just going to play games all night."
Marco's brows furrowed. "Is it really that bad?"
Law nodded, suddenly looking uncomfortable, his eyes going dark. "The nightmares won't let me sleep peacefully. Better to not sleep at all than to sleep and suffer."
Marco frowned, walking over to the teen and patting him on the shoulder. "You can stay in the living room if you want, watch TV."
"Thanks," Law said quietly. He turned after a few seconds, moving to head downstairs. Marco watched him disappear down the stairwell with understanding eyes. He sighed, looking back into the bedroom where the kids were sleeping. He blinked in remembrance then, reaching into his pocket. He kneeled down next to the door, putting the ship-shaped nightlight into the outlet. He stood, looking back at the children sleeping peacefully once more, before quietly closing the door behind him.
Ace sat up in the bed violently, panting. Sweat rolled down his forehead and he shook, gasping for breath. His eyes couldn't focus for a few seconds, and it was dark. He inwardly panicked for a few moments before he remembered where he was. His eyes narrowed in on the nightlight and, after a minute of calming down, he sighed.
Even after a month of being somewhere safe, Ace still felt utterly exposed, completely vulnerable. His memories were still haunted by that man, his followers, what he had Ace do. It made the child shiver.
He heard the beginnings of crying and looked down. Luffy was fussing about in the makeshift crib. Ace got off of the bed, trying not to disturb Sabo, and picked up the infant. He rocked him, holding him close, humming comfortingly. The baby stopped fussing and stuck his tiny hand inside of his small mouth. His innocent eyes stared up at Ace curiously.
Ace felt something painful in his heart then. He pulled the infant closer to his chest, listening to the small sounds he made, as tears began to fall from his cheeks against his own will. He curled into a small ball on the ground, biting his lip.
What would happen if he was found? What would they do to him? Or what about Smoker and Law? Or worse, Sabo and Luffy? He never told anyone what he did during those many years he lived on the streets. There was no place for him to go. He didn't live to be ten years on his own by himself. It wasn't as if he could've lived without some sort of…protection, if it could be called that. It kept Sabo alive, and that was all he cared about at the time. But as the years went by, worse and worse things had to be done, until Ace felt as if living was worse than death. He could find a place safe for Sabo, and then just be done with everything, the pain and the madness. But then they found Luffy. Luffy and Sabo, together, gave Ace a reason to live. As long as they were alive, everything would be okay.
Then Smoker found them, and everything seemed to be turning for the better. They had a home, and Smoker was someone Ace could trust. He was an adult he could trust. Ace didn't trust adults, hadn't for years until that day in the mall. Everything seemed to be getting better.
But Ace had forgotten how stubborn that man was. He was always there, in the back of his head, taunting and torturing him. And he was terrified that he would try to find him.
A hand landed on his head and he jolted, looking up. It was Law. He hadn't even known the teen was in the room. But then again, maybe he wasn't. He realized that the door was open, not much, but still open.
Law sat down next to Ace, saying nothing, but gently pulling him closer. Ace looked up at him, gulping harshly. Luffy snuggled against him in his arms. Ace felt his back hit the bed as he relaxed against it. He felt a smaller hand against his head then, followed by snores and mumbles of his name.
Law didn't say anything about his tears.
"Law, you in there?" There was a soft knock on the slightly open bedroom door. No answer. "I'm coming in. What do you," Marco stopped speaking, blinking, slightly shocked. But then he smiled fondly, leaning against the doorway.
The makeshift crib had been moved and Luffy was in it, not asleep but content looking, holding onto the hand next to him with his small fingers and sucking on his binky. It was Ace's hand, and he was sleeping against the side of the bed, leaning on Law. The teen was asleep too, his arms crossed, head tilted down, but he looked peaceful. The blankets of the bed had been pulled off and, lying in on their legs was Sabo, curled up in a small ball.
Marco grabbed a blanket from off of the couch and put it over the two older boys chests, chuckling slightly when Ace made a happy sigh.
"I guess you cheeky brats understand each other more than I thought they did," Marco whispered fondly, standing and walking back to the door, closing it softly behind him.