Why is he so annoying? Ace thought grumpily as he stomped through Mount Corvo's undergrowth with a well-dressed, blond four year old right on his heels.
This had been going on since the day they'd first encountered each other and gained the “blessing” of seeing colours. (Personally, Ace wouldn't have minded not having colours again if it got rid of the brat behind him who just wouldn't shut up.) Every attempt to outrun the boy had ended in failure and on the rare occasion that he did lose him, it only took a few hours to a couple days for their unfortunate reuniting to occur. And the kid acted like he didn't notice Ace's almost-desperate attempts to get rid of him!
“Would you just beat it?” Ace finally snapped, spinning to face his shadow, who almost bumped into him. “Go away. You're scaring off all the animals I could be eating right now!”
Both boys' stomachs growled at the mention of eating, but they ignored the noise.
“But we're soulmates!” the younger boy protested.
“I don't care!” Ace stubbornly pretended not to notice the hurt expression those words caused, or the twinge in his chest. “Stop following me or I'll beat you up!”
Then he turned around sharply and stalked away, feeling muted satisfaction when he didn't hear irritatingly clumsy footfalls behind him.
Sabo felt his lips tug down as he watched his other half leave. It wasn't until he could no longer hear or see him that he let a full frown form on his face. His situation was an absolute disaster! He had been so happy to find the one person he was meant to be with at an early age. He thought it would take some time to warm up to each other, but it was like Ace (it'd taken a decent amount of pestering to get his name) didn't even want a soulmate and didn't care, just like his parents didn't care, about him. No one cared about him and that sobering thought made his eyes sting with the threat of oncoming tears.
But no, Sabo refused to cry. He stubbornly glared at the sky, blinking back the moisture gathering until his eyes were relatively dry again. Ace was all alone out there on Mount Corvo, and seemed to have been alone for a long time, and Sabo was all alone, despite being surrounded by people back in Grey Terminal. Ace had to be feeling just as lonely as him, even if he refused to show it. So he wouldn't give up. He would be the best soulmate ever! Ace would never have to feel alone again.
“Hey! Ace!” he shouted, charging up the mountain in the direction the brunet had gone. “Wait up!”
I thought I got rid of him, Ace thought, eye twitching.
It took a week for Sabo to track him down, so Ace thought he'd been safely out of reach, and now the blond was, once again, following him like a lost puppy, though a lot more quietly than before. It was a small blessing, but not enough of one to change Ace's mind about him. So he went back to his attempts to lose him, usually when it began to get dark. That turned out to be a bad idea for multiple reasons, but none more so than when in the cover of night, Sabo actually managed to sneak up on Ace. His cold hand on Ace's arm startled the freckled boy and his shadow earned a well-aimed pipe to the face.
A loud wail of pain poured from Sabo's mouth, and Ace swore he could see the beady eyes of hungry predators in the distance, so he crouched and slapped a hand over the noisy boy's mouth. It took until Ace was sure they were alone to realize his hand was wet with something warm while Sabo made soft, muffled noises and his shoulders shook. He pulled his hand back with a disgusted noise – the asshole licked him! – and was fully prepared to yell when he realized that Sabo was sobbing quietly, not laughing like he previously thought. In the few rays of moonlight that made it through the thick leaves above, he saw that his palm and Sabo's lips were dark red.
Ace had seen blood before plenty of times, but never from another human being, and not in colour before. When it came from animals, it didn't bother him, because he usually was going to eat them. But he was floored with the sudden realization that humans could bleed as well. He was quite willing to beat up another human, he'd proved that to the bandits plenty of times, but a pipe to the skull would've only knocked them out, even with his unnatural strength. Had the pipe hit any higher or lower, he could have killed Sabo.
“Shit...” Ace whispered to himself, wiping his bloodied hand on the ground next to him and standing, pacing and muttering to himself. He could feel Sabo's eyes on him as the kid's sobbing died down and only the occasional sniffle escaped him. Ace growled and stomped over to the blond, holding out a hand and ignoring the constricting of his throat when Sabo flinched. “Come on,” he prompted tightly. “I don't have all day.”
Sabo sat up slowly, wiping his lips on the back of his hand as he used the other to grab Ace's. Ace pulled him to his feet and began to drag him further into the forest.
“Wh-where are we going?” Sabo asked, words slurring a little.
“To get water. Maybe there'll be some animals around there.”
Sabo's face hurt, a lot, especially inside his mouth and around his lips. But Ace was holding his hand, willingly, and was even hinting at feeding him. He felt bad for what he did, and that was more than Sabo could've hoped for so soon after becoming determined to get Ace to accept that they were soulmates.
When they reached a small stream, Ace pushed him down next to a thick tree and tugged off his shirt, dipping it into the water.
“What are you--” Sabo began to ask, but was cut off when the wet shirt hit him, quite painfully, in the face.
When he pulled it off, he saw Ace was still standing by the river, arms crossed tightly and face turned away.
“Wipe your face,” he ordered. “I'm going to see if I can find a bear or something.”
Then he took up his pipe and disappeared. Sabo was afraid that he wouldn't come back, but if he wasn't back by morning, he'd just go looking. For now, he did as he was told and gently dabbed the wet clothe around his mouth, mindful of the areas that throbbed. When he was done, he crawled up to the stream and washed the blood off the shirt as best as he could before leaning down to drink. The cold water hit his gums and pained lanced through his face. He quickly spat it back out, and with the water came something white. It sunk in the water, likely drifting away, and it was too dark for him to try and find it. However, it didn't take a genius to know what he just dislodged and with a gently prod from his tongue, he confirmed his thoughts: he just lost a tooth. Prematurely, too, but it was still a baby tooth. It would grow back...hopefully.
By the time Ace got back, dragging along some kind of canine, Sabo was curled back up against the tree and dozing. He woke when he heard rocks clacking together, however, and saw Ace was starting a fire. Or, trying to, anyway. He quickly grew frustrated, but before he could throw the rocks away, Sabo got up and walked over, taking them from his hands.
“I can do this,” he said happily, as if they hadn't been playing cat and mouse for almost two weeks and he hadn't almost had his face broken.
While he sparked the fire, Ace found a sharper rock and began skinning and gutting the animal, digging a hole afterwards and kicking the guts into it, but leaving the fur be.
“I can sell it,” he explained with a shrug when he saw Sabo watching. “If I can find someone to sell it to.”
Sabo finally got the fire started and Ace showed him how to cook the meat with more patience than thought possible. Though, Sabo was a quick learner.
Maybe he's not as much of a burden as I thought, Ace decided reluctantly as they dug into and finished the wolf meat in record time. If I find another pipe and teach him how to fight, he can stick around. As long as he doesn't talk my ears off. So, with bellies full and warmed by the fire, the boys settled down for the night, back to back on the ground.
Starting by dawn, with an armload of guilt brought about at seeing the dark purple bruise across Sabo's face and the missing tooth, Ace taught Sabo how to survive in the forest. By the time Sabo's fifth birthday rolled around, he knew how to fight properly enough to hold off Ace's impromptu training attacks and even impressed Ace by showing off the fact that he was stronger than the normal child as well. He could take out the abnormally large animals on Mount Corvo with ease, with a little help of Ace, and returned to the Grey Terminal to stake out someplace to sell his and Ace's impressive collection of animal furs. Ace voiced his desire to become a notorious pirate a week before his sixth birthday and his description of a life being free sparked Sabo's own dream of setting out to sea. They made a pact that they would become pirates together and set sail one day, buying their own ship and gathering a crew worthy of the sea and adventure.
“I'll be the captain,” Ace decided as Sabo flipped through a book he'd snagged off a passing man when they went to sell furs that day. It was about sea charts and how to make them; he found it fascinating. “And you – you'll be my navigator,” Ace added, peering over Sabo's shoulder at the book he had. They were sitting in the tree that held their slowly growing trove of treasure, shoulder to shoulder.
“You'll let me be on your crew?” Sabo asked, surprised.
He knew they'd set out together, but he'd thought Ace expected him to form his own pirate crew eventually.
“Of course,” Ace huffed, looking away and crossing his arms. It was a habit of his when he got flustered or offended or was about to say something he thought was embarrassing. “We're... We're soulmates, after all.”
The book slid from Sabo's hands and over the side of tree branch to the ground below, but he didn't care (he had a very good memory and had already scanned the book more than once). He gazed at Ace with wide eyes that were quickly growing watery. Ace had never brought up the fact that they were soulmates, and now he was voicing that he accepted it and Sabo hadn't felt so happy since he gained the dream of being a pirate. His attempts to rid himself of tears – Ace hated crybabies – was foiled when Ace reached over and grabbed his hand tightly. Ace's hand was sweaty, showing he was more nervous than he let on, and Sabo couldn't stop the few tears that escaped as he gripped Ace's hand back.
“Of course. I-I'm your soulmate, and your future navigator,” Sabo agreed with a wobbly voice and when Ace looked over and smiled, Sabo couldn't help but beam in return.
Sabo. Sabo. “Sabo-kun!”
Sabo snapped out of his slight reverie at Koala's voice, finding himself face to face with her. She looked mad, like she usually did when he spaced out when she was going over their mission objectives.
“Sorry,” he coughed. “Continue.”
She sighed, then frowned and pinched his cheeks. “Forget it. You're not going to listen anyway. Just don't space out when we get there, okay? This mission is important.”
They were going to retrieve government documents that could help prove that the World Government was corrupt. It was vital that they succeeded without any unnecessary incidents.
“Yeah, got it,” he mumbled as his face was stretched painfully.
Once Koala released him, she disappeared out the door to go to the upper deck. Sabo remained where he was, thinking hard. He didn't often space out, but it happened more when he was out at sea than on land. This time the memory(?) was more clear than most of the ones he had before, but he was already forgetting the face of the boy he was with, and their conversations.
“Sabo-kun, get up here!” Koala called.
“Coming,” he replied, pushing off the wall he was leaning against.
He'd write down what he could remember later, when they returned to the base after the mission. Right now, his thoughts had to be firmly locked on what they were doing. Even if his heart was reaching for the memory with such a longing it was painful.