It's Complicated

When the Unexpected Happens

It was quiet reading time and Ace literally had no idea what he was reading. He stared and stared at the word but he just did not know what those letters combined were supposed to be – he didn't know how to say it either. What the heck was a "yacht"? What did it have to do with the sea?

"Do you need help, Ace?"

The boy jumped in his seat and turned to his teacher, trying and failing to keep a petrified blush off of his face because he just squeaked. What kind of man squeaked? Ace didn't know of any men that squeaked. What made it worse was that Kidd was laughing and Ace knew the redhead would never let him live this down.

Miss Nico gave a stern glance, a warning, to the red head and then turned back to Ace's book. "What word are you having trouble with?"

Ace pointed his finger at the word and was secretly glad that his teachers asked him when he needed help. At the beginning of the year, he had quickly come to the realization that he didn't know how to ask for help. For so long he had only himself to depend on so it was a foreign concept, asking for help. He was truly relieved that Miss Nico was able to tell when he was confused, otherwise he might've been failing the class.

Miss Nico hummed and smiled a little before speaking. "You know what a boat is, correct?" Ace nodded his head, immediately thinking to pirate flags and the sea and the sky. "Think of a really big boat, one only a rich person could buy that may need one hundred workers. Some can hold three hundred passengers or more."

Ace gaped and nodded, mind rolling. That was a big boat. He really wondered what it would really look like, to see a boat that large. He wondered what it had to do with the story he was reading.

Suddenly Kidd sniggered. "You don't know what a yacht is?"

Ace really felt like punching the smug redhead.

"Mister Eustass, I remember helping you read the word "superhero" before, correct?"

Ace bit his lip to keep his laughs at bay as his friend flushed, embarrassed, and glared at their teacher. Miss Nico merely stood with a smile and moved to help another student.

"Miss Nico is such a great lady," Sanji whispered, gushing and staring at her with a wide smile.

"You're such a weirdo, staring at her, dumb curly brow," Zoro mumbled as he looked up from his book, looking at the blond with a frown. Sanji frowned and turned to glare at the other child.

"What was that, seaweed head?"

"You heard me. What, can't think of any better insults, Cyclops?"

"Zoro, Sanji," The group of four all looked over at where there teacher was. All of them, excluding Sanji, shivered at the smile she was giving them. "I suggest that you continue to read." Zoro, thoroughly creeped out, nodded while Sanji smiled, agreeing loudly and turning back to his book, ignoring the look Zoro sent him.

But right then, before Ace himself could go back to reading, the recess bell rang. All the other kids began to cheer and Ace's concentration officially broke. He actually liked reading that book, too.

"Ace, c'mon! We won't wait forever!"

Ace looked up and saw his friends had already put their stuff away while he had been thinking. The boy quickly lifted the top of his desk and shoved the book inside its messy confines. He stood, slamming the cover as he began to run after his friends who had already left the room.

"Oi! Wait up!" Ace yelled as he ran further down the hall where they were running despite Miss Nico's reprimands. It wasn't like they were the only kids running.

Just as Ace caught up to his friends, they all burst out the open doors to the schoolyard. And, just like every other day, they began racing across the green to the basketball court farthest away from the doors.

Ace, of course, won.

Ace stood on the asphalt with a smug grin, arms crossed as he watched his friends running towards him.

"How are…you…so fast…Ace?" Sanji – the second fastest person in their class after Ace – asked between pants.

"I've always had to run a lot. I don't see how that distance makes you lose breath," Ace said with a shrug of his shoulders, grin still in place.

Zoro, who had just run up, grimaced at the older boy. "You're not even out of breath."

"I'd say you're cheating but there's no way you could do that every day," Kidd muttered between heavy breaths as he rested his palms on his knees, glaring at Ace. Ace looked at the red head with confused eyes.

"How would I cheat at running?"

"I dunno, I bet there's a way though," Kidd replied, looking a little unsure about it.

"Oi, Ace," Zoro suddenly said, looking at the freckled boy with questioning eyes. "You once said you had to run every day and that's why you're so good at running, but why are you running every day if you don't play a sport?"

The freckled boy's eyes darkened and he looked away. He looked outraged and terrified all at once, but his fury was more palpable; the pure rage was what made the other boys have to suppress a shiver that tried to run up their spines. They'd never seen another child look so threatening before.

"There are things out there you don't need to know about. Count yourself lucky that you don't know about them."

He sounded so cold that they didn't dare ask him again.

It was one of Smoker's rare days off. He had just finished putting away the groceries and was secretly really glad that Law hated dirt because it meant he didn't have to use extra energy to clean.

He leaned back into the couch cushions with a relieved, contented sigh, tilting his head back onto the plush surface. When was the last time he relaxed? He couldn't remember. But right now the kids were all at school, Luffy was fed and napping in his crib, and Smoker had the baby monitor for when the baby woke up.

A short rest was something he really needed.

He didn't realize he had fallen asleep until he woke up to loud, piercing cried that Luffy had never made before. His eyes opened and he rubbed at them as he reached for the monitor to take with him to the bedroom.

The sound of a man cursing over the device reached his ears and Smoker momentarily felt his heart stop.

Before he even realized what was happening, Smoker had opened the bedroom door and stormed into the room. He was staring straight ahead at the single window in the bedroom, where a man was somehow holding on, trying to reach in and grab at Luffy with his large, rough hands. Smoker regretted leaving the window open to allow the baby to have fresh air now, but it was too late for that. He was more focused on the fact that the man kept shoving the window, trying to break the child lock.

How the man got there, Smoker was dying to know, because they were not on the ground floor and the nearest fire escape was three windows over. When Smoker reached Luffy, he pulled the crib out of the way. The man tried to pull his hand out, but Smoker grabbed his wrist with bruising, bone crushing force before he could retreat. The man looked up and paled at the murderous eyes of the white haired man before him.

"You're messing with the wrong family."

Smoker was glad he kept his phone in his pocket at all times, because it made this job fifty times easier.

Law knew something was wrong when, instead of being greeted by Smoker in the parking lot, he found a slightly shaken Marco tapping impatiently on his steering wheel.

That was not something Marco was prone to do.

"What happened?" The teen asked, brows furrowed in worry. His friends, sensing the tension, left with quick good bye's. Marco motioned for the hat wearing youth to get into his old beat up truck and as soon as the door was closed he put the car back into Drive.

Something was really wrong if Marco didn't tell him to put his seatbelt on.

"Marco, what happened?" Law demanded, staring at the blond with hard eyes, daring him to not answer. But at the same time, Law's heart was pounding with anxiety – Marco never acted like this in all of the years he had known the man, and that was around seven years. He would see this man on a weekly on monthly basis depending on how busy Smoker was. He knew everything that made Marco tick, what annoyed him, what made him laugh, his favorite foods and favorite shows and all of his stupid stunts he pulled as a teen. This was not something Marco would ever do – he didn't even do this when Thatch had to go to the hospital for food poisoning because, as he told a then very young Law, Thatch was strong and would come out of it better than before.

So what was wrong right now to make him so nervous?

Marco was silent for a few moments, as though he was struggling with words. When he spoke, it was quiet, choked, and made Law's own heart stop.

"Someone tried to kidnap Luffy."

Law stared at the grimacing blond, watching his larger hands clutch the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. The teen's eyes were wide, mouth in a firm, disbelieving line. He didn't know what to say. Marco didn't push him and as he drove through the winding streets of the city, he waited for the teen to make sense of what he had just said.

"You're joking, right?"

Marco shook his head, silently cursing the red light because he just wanted to get the other two and head to the station where Smoker was with Luffy and whoever it was that tried to kidnap the baby.

Law leaned back into the worn leather seat, fists clenching in his lap as he stared out at the familiar scenery. He didn't know what he was supposed to do. Rage, terror, and shock were invading his every thought and anxiety was being born as a result. He had to fight off the urge to shudder. The emotions hit him like a tidal wave – all consuming, killing him on the inside.

It sounded like Luffy was safe, but still, it had happened. It had probably happened under Smoker's watchful eyes. How was he feeling?

And then there was Ace.

Law was terrified to tell Ace.

When Sabo was picked up, he was concerned, confused, and scared. He didn't get to say bye to Koala because Makino rushed him out after getting a phone call. It just made him feel even worse, since she looked scared and he didn't know why, but it felt like he was supposed to be scared too.

Marco was there with his brother's instead of Smoker, and for some reason that just made his heart feel all weird in a bad way. He didn't understand why though, he liked Marco, so why was his heart all tight?

Maybe it was because Ace was really angry. Someone was keeping secrets, Sabo knew that for sure. Sabo knew because whenever he lied about taking a piece of emergency gum, Ace always made that face. He was frowning, staring to his right, and his cheeks were puffed and red from something not anger but at the same time it was anger – Sabo didn't know the word for it, but he thought it was fostated. The longer Sabo stared at his brother's cheeks, the more he thought they looked like strawberries. It kind of reminded him of how Law called Marco a pineapple head (Sabo thought he looked more like a banana, to be honest). Speaking of Marco and Law, both looked scared. Marco was all serious and his forehead was wrinkled from frowning. Law looked really pale though, like that one time that he didn't sleep for five days in a row.

That was why he was scared. They weren't being happy. Sabo had learned at an early age that if people aren't happy, something bad had happened.

He didn't try to ask as Marco put him in his car seat, buckling him in silently while Ace glared at Law. Sabo had also learned not to poke at things that made people sad. He did that with Ace one time and the older boy had started crying and Sabo had no clue what to do that time, so he never asked again. So Sabo kept his mouth shut despite the fact that Ace's glare was one he had only seen a few times before and he just wanted to wipe it off of his big brother's face. He hadn't seen it in months and seeing it now honestly made the five year old want to cry.

That glare reminded him of the day that they found Luffy.

"They're despicable, Sabo. Adults…I don't ever want to become one, if this is all they're capable of – hurting and abandoning and destroying everything."

Sabo didn't ever want to go back to that day. He didn't ever want to relive the pain that happened after, and he most certainly did not want Ace to have to suffer like that ever again. Most of all though, he didn't want Ace to lose trust in these people. He didn't want to go back to the Ace that these people didn't know.

Sabo was scared.

Ace was holding Luffy, listen to the baby babble as Smoker fought with Law and Marco not too far away. Ace was trying not to focus on their argument, instead playing with the wriggling baby in his lap as Sabo stood in front of him, playing peek-a-boo with Luffy.

Ace still didn't know what had happened, but he had a feeling it would be something bad, something that would rouse memories he didn't want to remember. Why else would Luffy and Smoker be here on his day off? Ace was not stupid – he knew that whatever happened, it had to do with Luffy, otherwise Smoker wouldn't have been holding onto the baby as securely as he was when they got there; he wouldn't have looked so concerned.


The ten year old looked up to see Smoker standing there before kneeling down to be at eye level with him. This immediately set off warning bells in his head. Smoker probably wanted something, but what?

"Ace, I need you to come with me for a moment. Can you leave Luffy here? Sabo and Law will be with him the whole time. Marco will be here as well."

Smoker knew Ace was nervous, Ace could tell. Maybe something in his eyes was giving it away. Nonetheless, he handed Luffy over to Law, glaring at him with warning eyes. Law seemed to understand as he sat down, allowing Sabo to crawl onto the seat next to him and continue playing with Luffy. Ace barely managed to catch Marco's warning glare aimed at Smoker before the white haired man led him away.

The police office was very busy as Smoker led him through it. People were flipping through paperwork, looking up things on computers, yelling at each other from across the room, taking phone calls, and doing whatever else it was that policemen did while at their desks. Ace wondered if Smoker did this every time he went to work.

"Ace," The boy looked up upon hearing Smoker say his name. "Something happened today, something I'm concerned may be linked to you."

"What happened?" Ace asked while glaring up at the man. He was hiding something, but what?

"Someone tried to kidnap your brother today."

Ace stopped walking. Smoker walked three steps more before he stopped, turning back to the ten year old. He was looking at Ace with concerned eyes, but Ace couldn't think. This had to be a lie, right? No, no, no, no! They got away! They thought Luffy was dead! Why were they going after his baby brother? How did they even know he was alive? This couldn't be reality. They could only go after Ace. After that day, he had vowed to never let them get hurt again. So how? Why? Luffy and Sabo had nothing to do with what Ace had done in the past, so why?

"Ace, Ace! Ace, you need to breathe." Ace blinked, snapping out of his chaotic thoughts to see Smoker, looking at him with deep worry that made Ace bite his lower lip out of anxiety.

"Who was it?"

"We don't know. That's why…we were going to have you have a quick look, just to see if you do know him."

Ace nodded, heart pounding. He really, really didn't want to see if he knew the man. This was too soon. He wasn't prepared for this. He didn't want his past to catch up with him this quickly. It terrified him.

Still, he tried to keep his face blank. His fists were clenched, but his lips were in a flat line. He let Smoker lead him down the halls until they reached a black door, large and looming above Ace. Ace felt like an ant next to it.

Smoker turned the knob and opened it, revealing a dark room with a large window in it. The window opened to a bright room, one with near white walls that Ace could just barely see from the doorway. Smoker gently led Ace into the room, his hand on the child's back.

"He can't see us, but we can see him. He can't hear us either. You don't have to worry. He won't get near you."

It still did little to calm Ace. Still, he nodded and approached the window. Smoker stayed in the doorway, watching him as Ace looked over the ledge and into the next room.

The man in there looked quite normal, but Ace could tell just by looking at him that he was part of his old…group. His clothes, the tattoos he had – those tattoos were initiation rights. Ace absentmindedly gripped at his arm just thinking about it. He was supposed to get them this year.

"I don't know him, but he knows people that I know."

"How are you sure?"

He turned to Smoker and saw the man staring at him with concerned eyes. Ace backed away from the window, trying to get the image of the tattoos out of his mind.

"His marks. Smoker, can I go home?"

Smoker looked very conflicted. Ace could tell by the slight furrowing of his brows and the very quiet grunt he made. But then, to Ace's relief, the man nodded and began to lead him out of the room back down the hall.

Ace hoped that he couldn't feel his heart pounding.

That night they didn't return home. Whoever it was after them, they knew where to find Ace. Smoker didn't want to risk another attempt to capture the children. They would've gone to Marco and Thatch's, but they didn't want to risk that either. The boys went there often, so they probably would try to go there next. As a result, all of them – including Marco and Thatch just in case – all ended up at another relative of Smoker's. She was apparently some distant aunt and she owned a small hotel on the edge of town. It wasn't anything special, but it was comfortable. At least, that was what Smoker said. None of them knew the woman. He did give them a warning though, right before they got out of the truck as Thatch pulled up in his car next to them.

"If any of you say as much as one word about her looking like a man, I am not saving your ass."

Ace really had to wonder what this woman looked like.

He waited with Law and Sabo while the adults got Luffy and their messy luggage out of the back of Thatch's car. Ace ended up taking a backpack while he held Luffy. Sabo had the smallest bag and Law had three bags, all of which had clothing for the four of them. Smoker grabbed the bags with Luffy's baby necessities and immediately began to walk for the door, motioning for the kids to follow him and ignoring his cousin struggling with a bag that had exploded because Thatch, as Law had mumbled, is a dumbass who doesn't know what moderation is.

Ace tried to handle the squirming, squealing baby who was gripping his hair and tugging hard as Smoker knocked loudly on the door. It wasn't the office door, so he wasn't surprised to hear grumbles and yelling from behind the door.

Sabo tugged on his sleeve. He looked down at the blond who was pointing up at Smoker, who was silently cursing the woman as the ruckus behind the door got louder and Ace only now realized it was more than one person behind the door.

"Ace, what's a bitch?"

Ace stared blankly at the five year old for a moment, trying to process what his little brother had said.

"Don't ever say that word to a woman, got that?" Ace said, sighing when the curly blond haired boy nodded. Ace glared at Law when he snorted in amusement.

The door suddenly slammed open, causing Luffy to grip harshly to his hair in surprise. Ace hissed and looked around the baby's body, glaring at whoever it was that just slammed the door open.

And there in the doorway was truly one of the manliest women he had ever seen, and trust Ace when he says he's seen many manly women.

"What do you wa – Smoker, what the hell are you doing here? Whattaya want?"

Smoker sighed. "Nice to see you too, Dadan. I was actually wondering if we could stay here for a few days."

Dadan, as Smoker called her, looked behind the white haired man at the rest of the group, focusing on the kids.

"When did you become a father?"


Dadan merely grunted and came out of the door, closing it behind her. She had them follow her to the front office where she and Smoker began to talk about rooms. Ace was wondering if they would be introduced, but decided that at the moment it didn't matter. They could do introductions later if they were staying for a few days.

"Ee! E!" Ace looked down at Luffy as the baby snuggled into his chest. Ace smiled down at the baby, who smiled right back up at him.

"Luffy!" The baby turned his large eyes to Sabo, who grinned and reached out to poke his tummy. Luffy squirmed and giggled a little bit, something that made Ace and Sabo laugh in response.

"Alright, let's head up to our rooms," Smoker suddenly said, startling Ace a little. Still, he nodded and followed after Smoker, watching as Sabo ran ahead and began tugging on Law's sleeve.

Ace was bitter and outraged and absolutely terrified with the whole situation. He despised the fact that he had to run. He hated running. Running always meant someone else got hurt, it meant he was weak. But there was nothing he could do about this situation. He didn't want to lose anyone. He hugged Luffy closer and felt the baby grasp onto his shirt as he made raspberries with his lips. Ace smiled softly at the sounds. Luffy really was growing…out of everyone, losing him or Sabo would probably destroy him, Ace knew that well. He frowned at the thought and stopped as he waited for the bedrooms to be opened. He knew he'd do anything for them.

"C'mon, Ace," Smoker said, gently putting his hand on the child's head and leading him into the room. Ace wondered if Smoker would be able to save them from what Ace knew was a past that would cling to him like a leech. Ace felt it was only a matter of time until they sunk their claws into him again.

Still, he tried not to think of it as he began to help unpack. He had a home now, all he had to do was figure out how to keep it.

Ace couldn't bring himself to fall asleep that night. As soon as everyone had gone to bed, his mind had begun to spin. What if they found him here? What if they tried to take Luffy again? Or Sabo? Would Smoker, Marco, and Thatch be able to do anything? Especially if they brought their weapons. That would be the worst. Ace had seen them at work. He knew what those weapons did, and he never wanted to see them again.

His mind was going back to the past. Ace didn't want that. He sat up and kicked off his covers, jumping out of bed as quietly as he could. Sabo was still sound asleep and Smoker was snoring in the bed nearest the window. Luffy was sleeping next to him in a travel crib. Law, Marco, and Thatch were in the room next door. Ace wondered if Law would be up and willing to talk.

Ace tiptoed to the door and slipped on his shoes, fixing the backs when they folded in against the skin of his heel, and carefully opened the door. He was glad it was really quiet, otherwise he would've woken Smoker.

Ace stepped out into the hall and shut the door quietly behind him. He turned to where the hall opened out into the open and blinked when he saw Thatch standing there, leaning against the railing. His hair was down for once and he was in gray sweatpants and a white tee shirt, standing barefoot on the tiled floor. He turned around upon hearing the door make the small click and smiled softly upon seeing Ace.

"Yo, Ace. Couldn't sleep?"

Ace nodded a little. He may have stayed with the man for a weekend and seen him several times since, but he was still slightly skeptical of Thatch and Marco. Unless Law or Smoker was there, he felt nervous around the two men. He figured it was irrational, but at the same time, after living like he did, he didn't know if he would be able to so easily accept these men into his life.

Thatch motioned for the boy to join him. Ace stood still for a moment but then a light breeze went by him. It wasn't strong at all, but it was cold against his bare shoulders and his lower legs since all he was in were shorts and a tank top. Thatch must have seen him shiver as he walked over to Ace. Before Ace could do anything, the older man took of his coat and placed it on the kid's shoulders. Ace blinked and looked at the jacket lined with fake fur and then turned his eyes up to Thatch.


The man grinned at him. "No problem." When he walked back to the railing, Ace tentatively followed after him. Ace brought his hands up and looked over the edge of the railing, taking in the city to one side and the opening to a park on the other. He'd never, in all these years, been to this part of the city. It was odd now, realizing that there was a lot to his home that he didn't know.

"How do you like everything so far?"

Ace turned his head up to Thatch and blinked before registering the man's question in his head. He opened his mouth and said nothing for a moment before speaking quietly.

"It's different."

"In a good way?"

Ace smiled softly. "Yeah. In a good way."

Thatch smiled back down at him. "That's good. How are you liking school so far?"

He didn't know why, but for some reason, Ace just let everything out. Ace didn't realize he had so much to say until he began talking to Thatch. He didn't know why, but the words were just able to pour out – how his teacher didn't pity him, how his friends didn't treat him like a weakling because he had a cast for two weeks, how he was actually able to read, and how he actually liked school. It truly wasn't so bad. He heard other kids complaining in class, but then he would remember life on the streets, back when their dreams were unattainable.

It was Christmas. At least, that was what the people on TV called the time when the city was lit up by colorful lights, ornaments covered trees, and people went on shopping sprees with money Ace could only ever dream of having. He could vaguely remember celebrating the holiday with his parents, but the memories were blurred, only bright colors and disjointed voices mixed together into nonexistent words.

It was also the one week a year that Ace got off without having to worry about being punished for slacking. He didn't know why he was given the week off, but he knew it had to do with his boss going south to the Caribbean, whatever that was. All he knew was that, with his boss gone, he was free, even if it was just for a few days.

"Ace! Look'a wha' I finded!"

The freckled child looked down at his little brother from his seat on the freezing cold bench. It was dark out and they were alone in a public playground, both shivering from the cold. Ace had to count his lucky stars that somehow, one of the other street children had gotten their hands on warm jackets and gave them to all who were there. Sabo was practically drowning in the jacket he had on, the sleeves far too long and the fabric brushed the ground whenever he moved. The younger boy didn't seem to mind though as he held up a stuffed teddy bear. Ace remembered having one when he was really little, remembered the comfort it brought him.

The one Sabo held in his small, dirt-covered hands was brown, slightly damp from the snowfall. One of its button eyes was missing and the bow around its neck was ripped, hanging on by mere threads. Ace smiled at the blond whose own smile was lighting up the sky more than those Christmas lights ever could. Ace scooted forward on the bench and then reached his arms down, grabbing Sabo under the armpits and lifting him onto his lap so that the two could share body heat.

"That's your teddy bear now, Sabo."


Ace nodded, smiling fondly as he pulled the toddler closer. "Yeah, yours."

Sabo's face lit up like the shining moon. Ace understood well – on the streets, nothing was ever 'yours'. To survive, the two boys shared a bed (not that it could be called a bed, more like a nest of stolen blankets), shared food, shared clothes, and then they did it when they were at the secret spot where all the homeless kids gathered. The only thing not shared between them was the secrets Ace kept – his job was a mystery to the blond boy and Ace intended to keep it that way.

Sabo hugged the bear and then shivered as a cold gust of wind brushed across the two. Ace pulled his brother closer and hugged him tight, burying his face into his curly, muddy locks.

"Ace?" Ace grunted in response so Sabo knew he was listening. "Do ya think that I could go ta school someday? I hearded the other kids talking bout school and it sounded fun! I wanna learned about the world and, and meet people and I wan' haf money so you don't haf'a get hurt anymore!"

Ace stared, with wide, unblinking eyes, down at his little brother. Sabo was clutching his stuffed bear and was still talking excitedly into Ace's chest about how he would make Ace proud and how maybe Ace could go to school too and they could learn and they'd have a home and –

Ace gulped when the lump in his throat became unbearable. Sabo felt the movement and looked up when he felt something wet – not snow, it was warmer than snow – fell on his cheek. There was water welling in his older brother's eyes. Sabo didn't like that at all. He reached a small hand up and tried to wipe away the tears, brows furrowing in worry.

"Ace? What's wrong?"

The older boy said nothing as he gently pushed Sabo's head against his collarbone so he could bury his face into the top of his head once more.

Why was this happening? Sabo had all of these dreams that Ace knew might never come true for several reasons, never finding a home and death being the top reasons why they would probably never get to go to school. Ace wasn't educated, but he wasn't naïve or stupid. He had seen other kids die on the streets. No one made any attempts to help them either. It wasn't just that though – Sabo wanted to do all of these things, and he wanted Ace to have them too. He wanted to earn money so Ace didn't have to.

How could a three year old be more selfless than an adult?

Still, he didn't want to worry his brother right now. He put on a shaky smile and blinked his tears away and rubbed the little boys back softly.

"I'm sure that someday you'll become one of the smartest people in the world, Sabo."

"Do ya r'lly think so, Ace?" Sabo exclaimed, wiggling in Ace's lap with joy. Ace smiled widely, resting his chin on Sabo's head as he looked up to the cloudy sky above.

"Yeah, I do."

Back then Ace had only said what he said to give Sabo hope. The boy deserved to have some sort of happiness in his life before he fully realized their situation. But now…now, maybe, Ace could say those words with more confidence than before.

Ace didn't realize he had stopped talking and was practically falling asleep where he stood until Thatch picked him up. Ace complained and protested, but his movements were sluggish and his eyes were closing. He felt rather than heard Thatch chuckle and barely heard the whisper of "sleep" next to his ear. His body gave up after a few seconds as he let his mind shut down, feeling safe in the man's arms.

Law was flipping through the pages of his book with abject boredom. For some reason, he could not bring himself to enjoy reading at the moment, even if it was about how the heart worked. It all seemed mind numbingly dull in the face of what was happening right then. He was sitting in a bed on the other side of town in a dimly lit room, Marco in the next bed and Thatch outside, Smoker with the younger three, and his world felt as though it was going to fall apart. Law could tell from Smoker's expression that this wouldn't be a normal a normal case. This had to do with Ace and it was likely dangerous.

Law would never admit it, but he had paranoia problems. He knew that it probably stemmed from his childhood, but even now he felt his paranoia was just. The only thing truly bothering him about it was that it was refusing to let him sleep and feel at peace when he tried to read, the only thing that was ever able to soothe him.

He didn't know what to do.

The doorknob turned and Law looked up as it slowly opened and closed, revealing Thatch who, for some reason, was carrying Ace on his hip. The man closed the door and turned, smiling softly and understandingly when he saw Law awake.

"The book didn't catch your interest?"

Law was grateful he didn't bring up the fact that he wasn't asleep yet. "No, not interested right now."

Thatch sighed exaggeratedly. "Ah man, thought you'd like that. Guess I'll have to try harder next time!" Thatch grinned and Law, despite his tired and grumpy state, smiled. Then Law eyed Ace. Thatch's grin turned into a soft smile as the child unconsciously snuggled closer, burying his face into the man's shoulder. "He couldn't sleep so he came out of the room, but he completely forgot about grabbing the key! Didn't want to wake Smoker, he's always crabby when he's woken up. Do you mind sharing a bed for the night? I don't know how Marco will react if he wakes up with a kid in his bed. Knowing Marco, he'll probably kick poor Ace here out of the bed! Marco can't sleep soundly for his life."

Law had to agree. The blond, for all his calmness and reasonableness, was probably the most erratic sleeper he had ever seen. He'd been asleep for three hours and already one pillow was somehow in the bathroom doorway, one was on the ground, and his head was at the foot of the bed. Thatch sighed as he looked at his younger cousin.

"He worries way too much," Thatch said, frowning slightly. "I know college exams are awful, but you think he'd know he wouldn't have to worry too much with his work ethic."

Law was really glad that Thatch just seemed to know what were touchy subjects. He was very attentive that way, only bringing up those topics when they needed to be talked about. Right now though, they would only keep Law awake.

Then he remembered Ace.

"I don't mind if Ace shares with me."

Thatch grinned widely. "Great! Pull the covers back? Ah, thanks," Thatch spoke quietly as he lowered Ace underneath the sheets with Law. The boy was drooling in his sleep, and it left a wet spot on Thatch's shirt, something the man only chuckled about. Immediately after the covers were pulled over the child, he snuggled up to Law. Thatch grinned. "Didn't realize he was a cuddler." Law grinned softly before yawning widely. Thatch's hand ruffled his hair softly and the man spoke with a quiet, comforting voice. "Try and get some sleep, alright? You need to be awake for school in the morning."

Law nodded and shuffled down beneath the covers, putting an arm around Ace when the kid tried to bury himself into Law's chest. Thatch walked over to the couch that was next to the only lit light and smiled in Law's direction as he sat down on it.

"Good night, Law."

"Night, Elvis."

The lights went out. Law began to feel heavy exhaustion weigh down his body. Maybe now he would actually be able to sleep. He always slept when there was someone beside him. He didn't know why – maybe it was just the comfort of another body, or maybe it was the childish part of his mind looking for something to cling to –

He couldn't continue his thoughts as his mind finally shut down after four days of almost no sleep.

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