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Gray Skies

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Maybe it was due to the smell of medicine and antiseptic. Or the whiteness of the room is getting to him. Either way, it’s not helping the slight, constricting twinge he feels in his chest, and no amount of caressing it seems to make it go away.

“How are you today Nii-chan? The weathers really nice, all sunny and breezy. Do you want to come out and enjoy it with me? ” Luffy once again tried strike a conversation with his brother, but like all previous attempts for the past 10 months, he was met with nothing.

“I see, I guess you want to stay here, huh? Well, anything’s fine with me. Thatch is an awesome cook, and the meat he cooks isn’t bad, but Sanji’s food is better!” he grinned, but is once again met with silence.

He can feel the pain in his chest grow as he looked at his brothers’ dull, onyx eyes, black messy hair, and freckles adorning his uncharacteristically pale face. He was staring at the door behind Luffy, his body lying on a soft bed, awake, but not moving.

The doctors can’t really tell what’s wrong with him, which is like rubbing salt to the wound for Luffy. They would diagnose him with PTSD; then they’ll change their minds and turn it to Manic Depression. And suddenly they will throw Schizoaffective Disorder to the mix. Luffy’s pretty much tired of trying to figure out what’s wrong with Ace, all he wants is for his brother to talk normally to him again.

Ignoring the eerie stillness of the room, he began to blabber. He would recount old memories of childhood; like how they would spend summer on the countryside, climbing trees and terrorizing the forest animals. He remembered his brother’s narcolepsy, and teased him about the trouble he caused for falling asleep face down on his food. He talked about almost everything, hoping to bring his brother back his lost senses. Hoping against all hope to make him remember that, yes, Luffy is still beside him, reminding him that he’s waiting for him to recover.

Luffy tried to disregard the pain. “Anything is fine with me Ace, so please, please, please talk to me.” He didn’t realize it, but his voice came out as a broken, desperate plea. Tears are now prickling the corners of his eyes, and he tried really hard to push them back. He can’t look weak in front of his brother again. Not here. Not now.

Because this person in front of him is not the brother he grew up with.

Ace won’t ignore him. Ace won’t lie there all day or just stare blankly doing nothing. He won’t be so….

Quiet… Empty… Broken… Haunted…

And most of all, he will never leave Luffy to deal with all of this alone

. But what’s done is done, and what hurts the most is that Luffy can’t do a single thing about his brothers’ condition.

Luffy noticed the clock on the far side to his left, and stands up from the chair he’s been sitting on for the past two hours.

“I need to go now Nii-chan. I still have to visit him. I’ll tell him that you say hi. Bye Nii-chan, please get better soon.” He held his brothers’ hands and kissed the ashen knuckles from lack of sunlight exposure. His other twirling the black locks. “They grew longer.” He notes inside his head. He said as he gets up leave, but paused on the door to whisper one last farewell. “And when I come back, I hope I can hear your voice again, Ace-nii.” And with that, he left the door.

 

The pain in his chest didn’t disappear; in fact, it seemed to increase as he walked along the seemingly empty hallway. His feet seemed to know the way to go, because before he knew it, he’s already in front of the door of one of the rooms he would frequently visit.

The pain in his chest seemed to increase as he gazed at the sleeping body; hooked to wires and tubes ensuring him that this person, his brother is alive, and that his heart is still beating. He held the pale hands, and almost winced at the unnatural lack of color.

“Hello nii-chan. I just finished visiting Ace-nii, and I’m sure he would want to visit you too. But he is sick right now, and I don’t know how long he’ll be like that.” His voice toned down a little.

“But you know nii-chan? Jii-chan says he plans to retire in a few years! Can you believe it? I always thought he’ll be a marine forever.” He voice once again picked up his cheerful tone, and with that he kept jumping from one topic to another, like how Sanji won this cooking contest, or how Usopp nailed the international art competition with this painting he submitted. He doesn’t seem to mind that he’s the only one talking, and that this room is once again being filled by that heart wrenching beeping sound that overcame not too long ago.

But Luffy doesn’t seem undaunted by it. He combed his thin fingers on the long, golden locks; brushed his hand on the pale face and the scar that marred the left portion. An old injury, but it still tightened his clenching heart. Luffy began to talk again, hoping to reach his brother and drown out the antagonizing sound of the machines inside the room.

“Nee, Sabo-nii, college is really hard. I’m already on my last year, but Math is so confusing and Science has a lot of words that I can’t spell. I almost flunked the test the other day. If you were here, I bet you’ll chew my ear off for not studying well.” His face suddenly darkened, grin fading away. “I can’t do everything alone Sabo-nii. Please help me.” A tear managed to escape the defenses, but he wiped it quickly with his sleeve. “Please wake up, Sabo-nii.” He whispered, voice cracking, unshed tears flowing through his words.

I want to hear your voice again.

I want to see you open your eyes and smile at me and Ace-nii.

I want you to teach stuff from school that I don’t understand.

But most of all… I want you to wake the hell up!!!

He glanced at the clock on the wall by the foot of his brothers’ bed. ‘Time to meet up with them huh’. He kissed his brother’s knuckles, and turned to leave, closing the door with the plastic sign ‘ICU’ in big bold letters.

 

 

Laughter can be heard from a long rectangular table where nine people are seated. If their appearances and some members aren’t eye-catching enough, then their laughter and noise is definitely an attention-grabber.

“Ha ha! And remember the time Sanji has detention for 2 months with Iva-sensei?” a long-nosed, 19 year old boy, Usopp remarked, earning snickers from everyone on the table.

Said blonde man shivered as an image of an okama with horrifying body proportions resurfaced in his mind.

“What are you talking about? Iva-chan is a nice teacher. But your reaction was really funny Sanji! Shihihihihihi!” Luffy grinned and his laughter seemed to warm up the temperature to the room, making his companions smile fondly. The officially unofficial captain of their group never failed to cheer them up with his warm smiles and cheeky grins, even in the direst of situations.

“So guys, now that most of us graduated, what are you plans for the coming summer vacation?” an orange haired woman, Nami asked, placing her elbows on the table and resting her chin on the back of her interwined fingers.

“Yohohohoho! The Rumbar Pirates Orchestra and Chorale will be going on a world tour! Manager Yorki-san is determined to work us hard this year.” A very lean man, Brook said. He is too thin; sometimes people would mistake him for a walking skeleton. It led to an interesting meeting with the rest, which involves Halloween night, a dare, and an abandoned mansion.

“And my co-workers from Water 7 are starting a new SUPER project!!! I will be one of the people in charge, so I’ll be SUPER busy!!!” a large man with light blue hair and shades said, probably on the oldest aside from Brook, is Franky. They started out on the wrong side, with stealing and a little beating up on the way, but they started over, and eventually, he became close to the group.

A woman with dark hair and blue eyes set down the book she was reading and smiled gently. “I was invited by a group of researchers to excavate some ruins in Egypt. We might last there for more than two months.” She gently took a sip from her tea. Robin is always the calmest person in this ragtag group of friends. She got in trouble with some dangerous groups in the underworld, but with both of Luffys’ help and connections; they managed to untangle the mess, and Robin is now safe from the mafia.

“Really? Say hello to Vivi for us ok?” Nami said. It’s been a year since they last saw their friend, who was an exchange student at that time in their school.

“Doctorine, Hiluluk and I are going to attend a doctors’ conference in Canada! Although I’m just tagging along.” A 17 years old teen with brown, mousy hair said. Chopper is the youngest of them, but probably one of the smartest. They met him when Nami got sick, turning out to be the doctors’ apprentice. They managed to make him open up to him, and they became close friends.

“My shitty old man wants me to go to France to polish my cooking. I’ll be gone for a month.” Sanji, said crushing his cigarette on the ashtray. Sanji is a cook and also a culinary student. He was adopted by the owner of this restaurant, Zeff, when he was young and took him in as an apprentice.

“I, the great captain Usopp, will apply for animations in a company in Japan! With this, I’ll be ready when I graduate this year!” Usopp is an aspiring artist, even though he would always lie about things, his friends believed he is definitely talented enough to apply as an animator in Japan.

“Hmm, me and Nojiko are going back with Bell-mère to the province to check on the orchards. We want to see how th oranges are doing.” Nami said, sipping her orange juice. She used to work for a nasty guy named Arlong, holding her mother and sister as hostages, using her navigational skills to draw him accurate maps and layout of banks to rob. With Luffy’s help, they kicked the man’s ass to jail.

“Mihawk planned to send me away to some dojo to get me to help train some brats with swords. Then I’ll pay a visit to the old man and Kuina while I’m at it.” A green-haired man said after a moments’ hesitation. Laughter followed his statement.

“Marimo with kids!? Ha! Who would imagine?” Sanji teased, opening the bickering stage.

“Shut up ero-cook. As if you could do any better.”

The insults resulted in an all-out brawl, with Nami the winner by whacking their heads, berating them for fighting in a public restaurant.

“What about you Luffy?” Chopper asked, and all eyes immediately landed on the straw hat-wearing boy. He lowered his head and said in a sad voice. “I don’t have any plans, aside from taking care of them.”

The cheery atmosphere disappeared instantly. It reminded them of their captain’s current predicament in life. It pains them to know that their friend is silently suffering, yet they can’t do anything about it.

They all tried to help him, accompanying him to visits and spending more time with him. It puts a great strain in their schedules, but for Luffy, they’ll do anything.

“I’m hungry! Let’s order something already!” Luffy whined, knocking them out of their short musings. “Do they have meat here?”

“Of course they have, you idiot. What kind of restaurant like this won’t have one? It’ll be a disgrace to the culinary industry.” Sanji murmured under his breath.

“Slow down Luffy! Do you have money to pay for all this?” Nami screeched when she heard Luffy’s order being written by the exasperated waiter.

Luffy began to think way back before he met them. “They’ve gone through so much already.” He thought, his brain unconsciously memorizing their smiling faces, the sound of their laughter, and the air of relaxation around them. All thoughts of asking for help about his brothers disappeared. “I can’t be selfish and dump my problems on them. After all the shit they’ve been through, they deserve a moment of peace and happiness in their lives.” He continued eating with much gusto, so that no one else would notice the raging thoughts inside his head, the way his heart would seemingly scream in pain because. . .

“I guess I’m all alone this summer huh?”

 

 The house is dark, but surprisingly clean and dust-free. After what happened with his brothers, Luffy kept himself busy for the first four months, tiring himself and earning the concern of his friends. He only stopped when he collapsed due to exhaustion, sending his friends worry to the next ten levels.

Anything to occupy himself.

Anything to stop his mind from wandering back to that damned day.

Luffy arrived at the foot of his bed, enjoying a short shower to relieve his body from all the dirt, and now relaxing his tired body on the soft mattress.

Ten months ago, the three of them Ace, Sabo, and Luffy went on a vacation somewhere on an island in the Caribbean. It has a forest with lots of wild animals, and they once again bonded through their favorite sport since childhood: Hunting anything bigger than them by a few feet.

“Nee, Sabo, why can’t we just go to Brazil or something? It’s bigger with lots of rainforest!” Luffy whined for the umpteenth time.

“I told you Luffy, there are a lot of people there who are scientists, ecologists, and zoologists. They won’t take it too well with us beating up wild animals all over the place.” The blond said patiently, while holding some papers from his work.

“Just suck it up Lu. You’ll love the place.” Ace interjected, ruffling the younger ones hair.

Luffy just pouted, then smiled. “As long as I’m with you guys, anything’s fine with me. I’m happy!”

Ace blushed slightly “Stop saying embarrassing things!” while Sabo just laughed.

There was no way they could have known that an insane, psychopathic serial killer made his fucking base on the same godforsaken island.

He was a smart dude too. Introduced himself as the islands’ caretaker and befriended them, smiling all the time, not even twitching with the lies.

“Caretaker? Why aren’t I informed of this?” Sabo asked, looking suspiciously at the man before him.

“I just arrived here a few months ago, so I’m a bit new at this. Nice to meet you.”

“I see. Well, let’s go, Ace ,Luffy. There’s supposed to be a sturdy cottage here somewhere.” Sabo said, all doubt in his mind before gone in an instant.

They had fun for the first few days, staying in a cottage made for tourists, and basically enjoying themselves. Then the man invited them over dinner, and that’s where everything went downhill.

Sabo began coughing, stopping noise and making Ace and Luffy look at him worriedly.

“What’s wrong Sabo-nii?” Luffy asked, black eyes filled with concern.

“I-I can’t b-breathe.” Sabo wheezed, his coughing getting worse by seconds.

“Oh, it’s working.” Their host calmly said, face void of any emotion, calmly placing his spoon down on the table.

Ace didn’t need to put two and two together to realize what just happened. He glared vehemently at the offender. “What did you put in there? What did you do to Sabo?”

Luffy went to his brother’s side, rubbing circles on his back, hoping to help ease his hacking, but apparently not helping.

Ace and the supposed ‘caretaker’ of the island began fighting, with the man wielding a baseball bat embedded with rusty nails, Ace counting on a mere kitchen knife for defense. Ace cringed at the thought of meeting the protruding nails.

Meanwhile, Sabo collapsed, causing Luffy to panic further.

“Ace! Sabo passed out!”

Aces’ brain short circuited for a second, and then cursed for letting his guard down. But unlike what he expected, the maniac didn’t club him.

He went for Luffy.

“Luffy watch out!”

Luffy preoccupied with his unconscious brother in his arms, failed to notice the oncoming blow. The last he saw was his brothers’ horrified expression, before he and Sabo tumbled down the floor, their consciousness dead to the world.

When he woke up, he was in a hospital with his grandfather by his bedside. According to him, he’s been asleep for 2 months due to a severe case of concussion and other head injuries he received from the spiked bat. The doctors ran a test on his body, and the results are not pleasant. It turns out that there were bits of poison, (the same poison from his brothers’ food) in his system. Luckily, it was only in small amounts, affecting the time he would wake up from his short induced coma.

Sabo wasn’t so lucky.

The poison in his body was too much for it to handle, it just shut down. Thankfully not killing him, but enough to send him in a 50:50 chance situation. Machines are the only things keeping him alive now. They couldn’t identify the poison, and because of that, Sabo is in a deep, unknown coma.

Ace is a different matter altogether.

Terrifyingly, it’s a small stroke of luck that Thatch and Marco paid them a visit. They helped Sabo Choose an island for the brothers’ vacation, and the cottage of the supposed ‘caretaker’ is near the shore. The lights were on, so they decided to get to know this caretaker first before paying their co-workers a visit.

Imagine their shock when the first thing they saw is Sabo on the floor with Luffy beside him with a small pool of blood by his head. A man is lying on his back meters away, bleeding to death, on his hands a spiked club. Ace was on the corner of the small room, muttering incoherent sentences under his breath. A kitchen knife coated with thick sticky blood a few feet away from him.

They immediately took them all to the hospital, and with Ace getting treated and all of them unconscious, the police can’t move the case to the court and get things done.

Ace won’t respond to anything they would ask. He won’t talk to anyone, not even Thatch and Marco, his friends, Garp, or even Eduard Newgate, his superior and father figure at work. The incident shook him so bad, his mind broke.

After all, he was the one who stabbed the insane bloke.

Now normally, stabbing someone won’t bring a strong-willed person like Ace into a fit of madness. But he has been through a lot in life. Both of his parent’s died when he was young, stuck with a mindset that he doesn’t deserve to live in this world (until Sabo and Luffy argued with him that yes, anyone deserves to live in this world), only his brothers are the ones anchoring his sanity. The doctors studied his case meticulously, and came up with a logical conclusion.

Seeing his sanity anchors on the floor unconscious and bleeding, all stress in his life came flooding back accumulating to a dangerous amount, it put a great strain on his overall mentality. Ace simply snapped.

He’s been staying at the Moby Dick Mental Hospital and Mental Institute, owned by Eduard Newgate, or more commonly known as Whitebeard. He’s been confined in there with Sabo, and it took a handful of people to stop Luffy from living in the same building.

Luffy glanced at the window, the soft sweet glow washing over his room, dyeing it with vibrant orange. He fell asleep facing the falling sun, basking on the comforting light

 

When Luffy woke up, it was already in the middle of the night, with millions of stars studded on the sky, the full moon in ethereal glow. It was a very peaceful night.

“Grandpa is away; he’s at work and won’t be coming home till next week. Shanks is getting himself drunk in a bar somewhere. I’m the only one here.”

Luffy went to their storeroom and grabbed the thick, white rope from the top shelf with a wooden chair. He looked at the chair, contemplating for a minute before grabbing it and heading back to his room. There’s a ripped part in the ceiling in his room, so he can tie the rope in one of the beams inside the roof.

Perfect.

He gave up on passing college a long time ago. He wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box; he’s probably the dullest of the all. So he doesn’t know what went through his Grandfathers’ mind and forced him to take a degree in engineering. He made through three years, with the help of his friends and siblings, but with failed results test after test this year, he simply accepted the fact that he will never reach his grandfathers’ expectations he can never be like Ace and Sabo.

“I’m tired of everything. I’m tired of fighting everything life throws at me, and also trying to be strong for them. It can’t depend on everyone anymore; they all have lives of their own. I can’t just selfishly call them and ask them to carry my problems as well.”

He finished tying the rope to the ceiling’ pushing back the short cabinet he used for leverage back to its place by the wall. He held the end of the rope, and let his hands work as his mind wandered astray.

“Brook will be on a world tour with his orchestra. He can happily make wonderful music with them. At least he won’t be alone anymore.”

“Franky can make fantastic houses and super ships. With his brothers and sisters in Water 7, he’ll be very busy.”

“Robin is now living her dream, and she can finally walk out in the open without being gunned down by Luccis’ men.”

His hands finished tying a knot, frowning at the length. He went up the chair, undid it, and tied it again, his mind wandering.

“Sanji is already a great cook; he doesn’t need a degree to prove that. He now has a father-image in Zeff. Someone will definitely support him in things we can’t.”

“Usopp may keep lying about a lot of things, but he’s definitely a greart artist. He’ll definitely get accepted in Japan. And Kaya is there to support him all the way too.”

“Nami and her family are free people now. With her smart brain for Math, she’ll definitely have a bright future ahead of her.”

“And Zoro… he already won a lot of kendo championships. He will defeat Mihawk one day.”

He tugged onto the rope, satisfied with the stability. Luffy proceeded to wear it like a necklace.

“I’m so sorry everyone. For being weak. For escaping everything. For leaving. For being selfish. But I just can’t take it anymore.”

He took a deep breath.

“ Goodbye.”

He kicked the wooden chair under him away from his feet. The resounding thud echoed across the empty, silent room.

 

 

When Shanks arrived home that night, he expected the light in the kitchen still on, the black haired teen attacking the fridge for a midnight snack. He somehow half-expected everything to be dark and quiet.

He sighed. These months have been cruel to the boy. With his first brother mentally ill and the second brother under a coma, not to mention college finals, it’ a very stressful time for him. He would still smile, but it looks more like a grimace compared to his older grins. He tried to help the boy, but he can only do so much, and just wait for the two’s recovery.

He stumbled a little, cursing his drinking habits. He didn’t drink enough to make his brain crazy with alcohol, but he drank enough to make his vision fuzzy at times. He got home easily than the last time.

He climbed the stairs, intending on visiting the black-haired youth. He has a nasty, foreboding feeling in the pits of his stomach the moment his foot landed on the first step. The dread seemed to grow as he scaled the stairs higher, nearing the top. Only when he reached the slightly opened door did he realize how his stomach seemed to sink at every second. He placed his hand against the door and pushed it inward.

“Luffy?” “Maybe he’s asleep already?”

He caught sight of a slightly large, swinging object directly in of his peripheral vision. After his eyes got use to the darkness, his blood ran cold when he realized what the hanging object in front of him was. No, it’s not an object.

It can’t be… No, not him. He won’t do something as reckless as this. No, not Luffy.

His knees gave out under him, his breath in short gasps. It took him several minutes to calm down. He whipped out his phone, and called his trusty friend, Benn. Then the police, then the paramedics. And he doesn’t know how he’ll do it, but he’ll eventually have to tell Garp.

It’s going to be a long night.

 

Gray clouds decorated the sky, covering the blue hue. A wide green field stretched out, coming to a halt with black, iron, gothic gates. Tombstones littered the field in an orderly manner, names blurred and long forgotten.

In the far corner, a white slab of marble with a cross standing on it can be easily picked out from the rest, seeing how this particular grave marker seems to be a new addition. White polished marble gleamed, with wilted flowers flanking both sides. A pale hand reached out and removed the dead blossoms, replacing them with a fresh bouquet.

“It’s been a month huh?”a blonde man said, voice hoarse from disuse, glancing at the person beside him.

The black haired man beside him nodded, staring at the tomb in front of him. He reached out, fingers trailing the deeply engraved letters on the delicate, marble stone. “It must have been really hard for him. He’s a graduating student; of course he’ll be under a lot of pressure. Heck, look at us back in college, I almost failed it.” his voice scratchy and guttural.

The blond continued “His friends are all moving on in their lives, so he feels he is obliged to leave them on their own, didn’t even bother asking for help. What an idiot.” He spouted the last part vehemently, filled more with self-loathing than anger at the person he is supposed to be talking about.

“I know Sabo, and most despicable part of it all?” onyx eyes glared wearily to the one beside him. “We couldn’t, we didn’t do anything. He was our brother, we swore to protect him, and while I’m enrolled in a nut house thanks to my weakness, he was suffering! He was suffering Sabo! And I wasn’t there to help him!”

“And what about me Ace!? I was asleep for 12 months! A fucking year! I’m just as bad as you! We’re both at fault! Stop taking all the blame!!!” Sabo screeched, making Ace flinch. Sabo rarely loses his temper, and it’s been a long time since he saw him this angry. He went back to studying the white marble in front of him.

The silence that followed that went unmeasured, but after a while, Ace whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Sabo didn’t know if he was referring to him, or the person buried six feet under in front of them. He just gazed blankly ahead. “Yeah. I’m sorry too.”

“I’m sorry, Luffy.”

They stood up, and exited the graveyard. Gray skies still lingered above, the sun never showing itself. The wind picked up its pace, ruffling their clothes, cold chills passing them. But they didn’t even mind, their body never showed any signs of the cold. They kept moving forward, their bodies on auto-pilot, leaving behind the white marble and patch of grass they’ve been sitting on a while ago. Their faces blank, emotions uncaring. No birds nearby, leaving the field empty and silent, void of anything but sadness.

Before reaching the gates’ exit, they turned back, one last time, and stared at the tombstone from the direction it came from. They could no longer read the words due to their distance, but the letters have been carved deep in their minds, to forever haunt their dreams at night.

Their world will be dull like that for a long, long time.