Sabo is probably the smartest person Ace knows, and the coolest, and the most put-together, and Ace’s first draft pick when he needs a partner-in-crime.
But sometimes Sabo is an idiot, and Ace has seen firsthand that he’s got a blind spot the size of Australia when it comes to their baby brother.
“This is, by far,” Ace says slowly, “the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”
Sabo has the gall to look surprised, standing there in the checkout with his shopping cart full of four industrial sized packs of premium triple-ply toilet paper.
“How do you mean?” he asks with real interest, and Ace struggles not to lift a hand and rub the bridge of his nose, because he’d feel too much like Dadan if he did.
“I mean – look, dude, you work in a fancy twenty-third floor office downtown and you’re standing here in the food mart with a cart full of stupid shit, because Luffy decided it was a good idea to prank a guy who could easily kick both our asses.”
To his credit, Sabo appears to think about that for a moment.
Then he says, “Would it be different if my office was on the twenty-second floor?” and ducks Ace’s fist with a shit-eating grin, looking so out of place in his three-piece suit that it should be impossible for him to be standing there among ordinary people at the corner grocery.
Then a bright voice pipes up, “Look what I found!” and Luffy is there, with a ridiculous amount of rhubarb, that he promptly dumps into the cart without waiting for permission or approval.
“What,” is all Ace can think of to say.
“It’s the red celery Sanji needs for his pie,” Luffy says, folding his arms on the handle with a big self-satisfied smile. “I don’t know why you’d put celery in a pie, or why it’s red, but Sanji’s the cook, not me!”
Which, again, what? But Sabo only says, “You should have put them in a bag, Luffy,” and that’s that.
So they buy the rhubarb – and the toilet paper, and the spotted lilies Luffy picked out for his archaeology professor, and Nami’s favorite brand of cinnamon chewing gum – and Luffy insists on carrying the bags, walking backwards to the car so he can talk a mile a minute, and Sabo watches him with a stupid look on his face, and Ace has to be the adult, again.
“You know this is a bad idea, right?” he tries for the third time, while Sabo fishes his keys out of his pockets with the hand Luffy didn’t shove Robin’s lilies into for safe-keeping. “I mean – it’s dumb.”
“That’s never stopped us before,” Sabo says, with that look of interest on his face again. “Have things really changed so much while I’ve been gone?”
Ace doesn’t know how to answer that. He thinks it over while he climbs into the car, and Luffy bounces into the backseat, and Sabo scans the radio for a good song to listen to on the four-minute drive home.
Ace checks the rearview to make sure Luffy puts his seatbelt on, and for some reason it makes Sabo hide a smile.
And, okay, the last two years have been – kinda hard. He all but pushed Sabo out the door when the promotion came up – at twenty years old, working abroad for Dragon, of all people, was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you just don’t turn down.
Granted, it’s Luffy’s dad, and Luffy’s dad probably would have given Sabo any job he asked for because he’d have Luffy to deal with if he didn’t, but – Sabo earned it. Ace wants his brothers to have everything, but it’s even more important when it’s something that they worked for, something they deserve.
“Of course we’ll miss you,” he told Sabo what must have been a hundred times back then, when Sabo was waffling back and forth about accepting the new position, “but we’re not going anywhere. We’ll be right here when you come back.”
So he went. And those two years felt like forever.
It was like someone cut a big chunk of Ace out and hid it away somewhere, and the feeling only got worse with time. Like he’d misplaced a lung or an eyeball.
And Sabo’s been back for about a month now, but for some reason that feeling hasn’t gone away yet. For some reason, Sabo does stupid things, like help plan a stupid prank with stupid Luffy, and Ace is left wondering what the hell happened to cool, responsible Sabo.
“Ace, are you gonna help tonight?” Luffy pipes up over dinner.
He’s sitting on the island, feet swinging back and forth, a bowl of stir fry in his lap. Sabo is behind him, going over the finances with a pen, and Ace glances up from the dishes with an expression he hopes is answer enough.
It isn’t. Luffy keeps on looking at him with those bright eyes. Sabo is hiding a smile again. Ace huffs out a sigh that he hopes sounds aggravated and says, “I’ll drive.”
One of Luffy’s friends – and it’s hard to keep up, at this point, Luffy’s surrounded by people who look at him like they would go to war for him – is a surgeon, and got Ace on a good prescription at Luffy’s behest. Ace can drive around for half an hour without worrying about falling asleep behind the wheel, and the site of Luffy’s prank is hardly ten minutes away.
Sabo is keeping up with Luffy’s excited, stream-of-conscious chatter with an ease only Ace (and Zoro, and Usopp) have ever matched. They pile into the car when the dusk is dark orange, and Ace rolls his eyes when a familiar Jeep pulls into the lane behind them with a friendly honk.
“Should’ve known your crew would be in on it, too,” he says without ire, and feels his mouth tug into an involuntary grin at the sound of Luffy’s giggles in the backseat.
They pull up in front of one of the biggest houses in the city, one of the few with an actual yard and a wrought iron fence. Privately, Ace thinks the Newgate property is bigger.
“Okay,” Luffy says, in his best attempt at a whisper. He’s leaning forward over the middle console with a grin too big for his face. The brightest thing in Ace’s whole life, not that he’d ever say as much out loud. “You ready?”
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” he says by way of answer, and Sabo laughs, and the three of them pile out of the car like a squad of Navy seals.
Luffy’s friends are laughing, hushed and ridiculous, and dig into the trunk with eager hands for the rolls of toilet paper. And they get to work, going to town on the manicured yard – Zoro is lobbing rolls up into the tree with scary precision, and Carrot and Chopper are wrapping the little flower garden up with utmost care. Nami is leaning against the Jeep and taking pictures, and Sanji brought snacks, and Ace isn’t sure whether he wants to laugh or groan.
Soon enough, the prank devolves into pure shenanigans, and Luffy and his friends are throwing toilet paper at each other and wrestling around in the mess they’ve made. Ace finds himself hanging back with Nami and Sanji, and eventually Sabo comes back to join him.
His clothes are disheveled and his hair’s a mess, but he’s shining with happiness when he leans against the car next to Ace. And finally Ace has to ask, with nothing but fond exasperation, “What’s up with you lately? You’ve been weird since you got home.”
Sabo pauses in the act of taming his hair. He doesn’t pretend not to know what Ace is talking about this time, but it still takes him a minute to answer.
“Is it so strange that I missed you?” he finally asks, in a careful, quiet voice. “I know you wanted me to go – and I wanted to make the two of you proud – but I missed you. I’m so happy to be home. And I just – want to be home.” He sounds embarrassed, but he still meets Ace’s eyes the way Ace wouldn’t have been brave enough to. “I want to feel like your brother again.”
Ace stares at him. At this person, the smartest person he knows, who’s simultaneously the biggest dumbass Ace has ever met.
“If you were gone for a hundred years,” Ace says, “if you left and I never saw you again, you’d still be my brother. You’d be my brother every second of every day.”
Sabo rubs his face, looking decidedly more pink than he was a few minutes ago, but he nods. And he moves over, until their shoulders touch, until he’s leaning against Ace, until Ace is the only thing keeping him upright. And maybe Ace wasn’t missing a part of himself, after all. Maybe Ace was just missing this, the weight of his brother and best friend, one of the two people in this big world that Ace loves above all others.
“You idiot,” Ace adds, on principle.
At about that moment, the porch lights go on, and the front door blows open with enough force to crack against the side of the house, and Luffy shrieks in a complicated combination of stark terror and breathless glee.
“You little brats!” Shanks roars, thundering down the porch steps.
And everyone breaks rank and runs. Ace and Sabo both swear and lunge back toward their own car.
“Holy shit,” Ace is saying, heart racing, “holy shit, holy shit.”
“I’ll get you for this, kid!” Shanks is yelling after them as Ace peels out of the driveway with Nami’s Jeep riding his bumper, and Luffy wheezes with laughter in the backseat.
“He’s gonna kill you,” Sabo says with what sounds like horrified awe.
“Shanks? No way,” Luffy says, wiping his eyes. “You couldn’t tell? He thought it was funny, too. And now he won’t have to buy toilet paper for a year.”
Which is more than a little hard to believe – but Nami posts a video on Instagram what feels like two seconds later, as Sabo finds out when he checks the notification, and Shanks is one of the first likes to pop up, and Ace just has to resign himself to having no fucking clue how the hell Luffy’s friends operate.
Luffy is still giggling as he taps away on his phone, and sooner than later, Sabo joins in. And with both of them smothering chuckles, Ace’s heart settles, too, and he shakes his head with a reluctant grin of his own.
“You’re a menace,” he says, and he isn’t sure which one of his brothers he’s talking to. Maybe both. Because Luffy shoots him a winning smile, and Sabo leans over from the passenger side seat with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
“Let’s prank your boss next.”
Somehow, the idea of showing up at pop’s place and pulling the same kind of stupid shit he just helped pull at Shanks’ makes Ace throw his head back and laugh.
If Sabo and Luffy were there, he’d do anything. He feels like he’d follow them anywhere.