(Maybe) Not all Adults are Bad. (Maybe.)
Smoker looked down at the picture on his phone, his brows furrowed with confusion. When the hell did the brats come to like each other so much that they would sleep all cuddled up like that? And how did Thatch even manage to get a picture of them like that? And for the love of all that's holy, why in the world does Smoker dare to think that it's cute?
Oh, another picture. Looks like the flash woke up Ace after all, because there he is, eyes ablaze with fury. He really hated being woken up, didn't he?
Ah, there's another picture. Smoker's really glad Ace hasn't kicked him in the balls yet, because Thatch just looks pathetic curled up on the ground like that. But since when did Ace know how to work a cell phone? Oh, wait, it's from Marco. He's probably having fun with this.
Smoker decided not to question it. He was walking to this stupid meeting about the increasing drug activity in the cities. Honestly, the information he was learning made him concerned for Ace. He knew that they would use teens as drug runners, but apparently they had sunk even lower to start using children to do the work as well.
It kind of made sense. Ace had absolutely no trust for adults other than Smoker. Smoker had no idea why the brat put such trust in him, but he was going to be careful not to break it. He had a feeling bad things would happen if Ace lost his trust in the only adult he trusted.
Smoker sighed as he approached the building for the meeting, watching as other members of the police force trickled in through the door. Time to face more upsetting revelations about drug dealing.
Ace coughed and sniffled. It felt like he was getting sick. He really hated getting sick. It always felt like there was a heavy weight on him, pushing everything against his chest painfully.
"Here, this should help with your cold," Marco said, sitting next to the child on the couch with some Dayquil kids medicine in a small cup. Ace looked at it with apprehension and slowly took it. He stared at it for a few seconds, and Marco wondered if he thought the adult poisoned it, before swallowing it whole. He stuck his tongue out in disgust after a few seconds, causing the blond to chuckle. He stood to go wash out the cup and put the medicine away, leaving Ace in the room with Sabo and Luffy.
Ace didn't want to get near Luffy, in fear of getting the baby sick, so he just watched over Sabo and the baby as Sabo played with him.
It had been around three months since they found Luffy and two months since Smoker took them in. Luffy was finally gaining back that weight he lost (or never had) while they were on the streets. He was still small, but that was because of his premature birth. Still, he was like any normal baby.
Ace smiled when Luffy smiled a wide, gummy smile, reaching out for Sabo, who took the baby's hands in his own before picking him up into his lap.
Something hard was tapped against his head. Ace looked up and saw Law, who was holding his folder right next to the younger boy's head.
"You think you're up for this?"
Ace grunted and nodded, taking the folder, paper, and pencil from the teen. He realized he knew most of the letters, but he began to write them on his own anyway. Law wasn't paying attention anyway, instead grumbling to himself about stupid growing chocolates as he tapped his finger on his IPad.
Marco walked back into the room and sat next to Ace, grabbing the clicker to turn on the TV. He flipped through the channels and sighed when he found nothing.
"TV these days is so bad," Marco mumbled, handing the clicker to Ace. The younger didn't really know what to watch and he couldn't exactly read what any of the shows on the guide were anyway, so he just furrowed his brows in confusion and anger as he looked for something that didn't look stupid.
He looked up when he heard Luffy beginning to cry. Marco stood, walking over to the younger boys, as Ace watched with apprehensive eyes. Sabo looked up at Marco curiously as he gently picked up the baby. Marco mumbled something to himself before he walked out of the room, moving up the stairs. Ace assumed that the baby just needed a diaper change…
But his instincts were still running on high.
He crawled off of the couch, since his head felt heavy, and quickly and quietly trailed Marco up the stairs. He never saw Law's eyes following him as he left the living room. He focused solely on the vulnerable baby.
As expected, when he reached the room they were sleeping in, Luffy was on a changing mat on the floor and Marco was getting out diapers and wipes. Ace sighed quietly before backing away from the door and moving to go back down the stairs again.
But as he was at the top of the stairs, his vision suddenly went black. He cursed himself. He was falling asleep again, wasn't he? This always happens at the worst of times.
He wondered whose arm it was that wrapped around him.
Thatch, who had just woken up and was heading downstairs, dashed forward. He wrapped his arm around the boy, whose legs just seemed to stop working, and pulled him back to his chest. He sighed deeply and looked down – the brat was asleep. Didn't that mean he had narcolepsy? He didn't think Smoker knew about that. He'd have to tell him about this.
Thatch stood up shifting the child to rest on his hip. Ace was the height of a normal ten year old, but the child was very thin. He knew that Smoker was getting the kids to eat more – he heard they were all like black holes, actually he knew, he saw them eat yesterday and they were like little monsters when it came to food – but it was difficult to fix years of malnourishment, years of damage.
As he walked down the stairs, Thatch wondered about the boy's life. He was on the streets the longest out of all three of the kids. He had saved Sabo and Luffy and according to Sabo, who had told Smoker, who told Thatch, all food went to himself or the baby first. Ace always got the smallest, last, least appealing portion of food. One thing was for sure – this kid did not mess around. He knew how to survive on crime-ridden streets. Thatch wondered how, though. Where did he get the food, the clothes, how did he know what Luffy needed, how did he know what was safe? More importantly, how and why was he on the streets in the first place? It worried the man.
He set Ace down on the couch, laying down so he could sleep properly. Law glanced down at the boy before looking at the Ipad again, reading something. Sabo watched as he set the boy down before turning back to the TV as soon as he was safely set on the couch. The kid had strong survival instincts as well, but without a doubt Ace's were the strongest.
He sighed as he went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Really, such deep thoughts in the morning just made to give him a headache.
Breathing had never hurt so badly.
His feet dragged across the ground as he took every step with a sway. His hand was against the brick wall, supporting him as he moved. Everything was blurry, the gray and brown ground mixing with the brown and red buildings while the black bags containing trash became blobs in the street, monsters reaching to eat him.
His bare foot – because somewhere along the line, he lost one shoe – caught on a piece of cracked cement. He didn't gasp as he tripped and fell to the ground, face planting in a puddle of mud. He lifted his arms to the ground and slowly pushed up so that he was supported on his elbows. His face was wet, dirty, covered in city grime. He sniffled as he felt tears begin to form in his eyes and gulped harshly, but it couldn't stop the choked sob from escaping, loud in the lonely alleyway.
He saw something glint out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to the side. It was a penny. He reached out for it and with his shaking hand, he grasped to it. It felt solid in his hand and he marveled at the feel, at the fact that something so small could be so strong.
A sob, not his own, echoed in the alley. His head shot up and his eyes roamed nervously, fearfully over the dark, dank, smelly alley. He heard it again. It sounded young, younger than he was, and it was close. It was followed by another sob, and a whimper, and Ace knew that whoever it was, they were crying, they were in pain.
Slowly, so as not to aggravate his injuries or waste too much energy trying to move, Ace moved himself to his feet. He trembled for a moment once he was standing, and it took all of his might to not let his legs give out below him. He blinked his eyes several times before everything, through great focus and effort, became clear again. Before he moved, he shoved the penny in his pocket – every cent counted when it came to finding money.
He took a shaky step forward, listening to a hiccup and a gasp as he continued to move. He walked along the alley, eyes roving over the trash bags and the boxes that plagued the downtown "drug district", before he came upon the source of the sobs.
The child was young, he was a toddler, and he was injured. He was covered in bandages, all of which lost their white shine due to the wet ground and the dirty surroundings. His small body was curled up around itself, small gangly arms gripping tightly to thin, discolored legs.
Ace knew this child. He knew that the toddler had no clue who he was, but Ace had met his parents more than once. They were not good people. Actually, they were quite despicable. They'd do anything for money, those druggie, alcoholic, cruel child abusers. When Ace was working, he was often times forced to go there to make a delivery. They never greeted him kindly, and whenever the woman answered the door, Sabo was at her hip, baby eyes innocent, unknowing of all the danger his parents were stupidly, knowingly putting him in.
So Ace was not surprised to find the toddler here, crying his eyes out. Sabo had older siblings, to tell the truth. Ace had met them all as they lived on the streets, running away from that abusive home, to a world hopefully better than this one. He never saw them again. They never came back, because they were free.
But Sabo didn't look free. He looked abandoned, and though people may say he's away from cruel parents, he never was. There would always be that place in his heart that loved them, wished for them to come back. Ace knew because even he felt some sort of loss for his parents he barely got to know before they were separated (not his rotten caretakers, but that was another story). But Ace knew they wouldn't. They had done this before, too, abandoned children when they were low on money. But those children were old enough to somehow survive on their own - and by old enough, he meant around six years old, able to talk and old enough to understand that the world was cruel.
Sabo was two.
He would not survive this on his own. It reminded Ace of two years ago, how he was suddenly thrust onto the streets, alone and scared. The circumstances were different, but the idea was still the same. He was still alone.
But maybe they didn't have to be alone anymore.
"Are you alright?" He asked, voice rough from previous screaming – but the toddler need not know about that. No, no. That was Ace's secret.
Large eyes turned up to Ace, bloodshot and still wet from tears. As Ace thought, there was no recognition in those eyes as to who he was. Still, the child responded with a shake of his head, sniffling loudly because of the snot dribbling down to his lips.
"Where are your parents?" Not that Ace cared, but he had to know. He didn't want to be victim to any…unsavory acts.
The child pulled out a five dollar bill.
"They gived me dis an' says I old 'nuff to live lone," The toddler whimpered, wiping at his eyes. His cheeks were tear stained, red, and Ace felt fire burning inside of him. He really hated adults, doing what they want without caring how it will affect others. (Ace knew what he did was bad, but at least he felt guilt for doing it unlike those bastards who had chained him to them with a promise that he would survive. Still, he couldn't regret it because he was alive, and he didn't have time to feel regret on the streets. Guilt for one moment, focus for every other. That was how it worked.)
Ace put his scarred hand in front of the child. The toddler looked up at him with confused eyes. "Want to come with me? You don't have to be alone."
Sabo smiled, and Ace felt the sight warm his heart. How long had it been since he had seen such a genuine smile? Too long, too long.
The toddler grabbed onto his hand and Ace, despite his unsteady limbs, helped the other boy to stand. Ace didn't let go of his hand and instead gently tugged on it. The toddler got the idea and walked with the other, who once again had to put his hand against the wall, as they walked toward the end of the alley, where land met water, where Ace's haven under the bridge was.
"I'm Sabo! Was your name?" The toddler asked, looking up at him with ecstatic eyes. Ace smiled down at him – and for once, it was real.
"My name is Ace. It's nice to meet you Sabo."
Ace opened his eyes to see a blond head of curly hair, to feel a small body curled up against his. He hugged the smaller boy closer as he yawned.
"Sleeping Beauty has awoken," Law's voice said from next to Ace. He looked up with a glare at the teen, who only smirked down at him. Suddenly, Luffy was being held over Ace. Ace blinked and looked up at the smiling baby, who disappeared a moment later. He looked up and saw Thatch standing there, holding the baby in his arms as he grinned down at Ace.
"Almost took a violent plunge on the stairs, kid."
"You caught me?" Ace immediately asked, to which the man replied with a nod. "Thanks." Thatch's grin widened as he kneeled down on the ground next to Ace and Sabo, holding Luffy up.
"This little guy's happy that you're up."
Ace smiled fondly at the drooling baby as he reached a hand out, softly petting the baby's head. Luffy made a few sounds as he smiled once more, reaching his hands out for the boy. Ace sighed and sat up carefully, so as not to wake the five year old, and took the baby in his arms, holding him close.
Thatch's name was called from the kitchen and the man grinned and pat Ace on the head before moving to answer the call. Ace smiled again and looked down to nuzzle the baby's head.
Maybe these two weren't so bad after all.
Law looked at Ace as he seemed to relax a little for the first time since they got there. It was that same look he had when he first relaxed around Law because for some reason that Law just didn't understand, the boy fully trusted Smoker. He knew these two dolts of oddly extended family (seriously, how big was his family) were slowly warming up the boy's heart. Law could only hope that nothing came back to turn Ace back into the hostile child who had nightmares every night, because right now, after warming up to the kid, Law didn't think he'd be able to stand that.