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Flame Emperor

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Dazzling white moonlight flooded the wooden floor before his feet, the squeaking of the door hurting his ears. Where the light hit the nails hammered in the wood it got reflected dully and made it seems as if from another universe.

Ace brought his right leg to his body, dragging it angrily, removing it from the revealing light. He felt like it didn't deserve to be seen by the world - or maybe it was the other way around he wasn't quite sure about that.

He lined his feet up next to one another, pulling them close to himself, basically hugging himself and exasperatedly narrowed his face to them.

He didn't even bother to look up at whoever walked in on him. It was impossible, that it could be his little brother already and his little brother was the only person currently staying at this ship Ace was interested in talking to. Plus he knew that he got treatment right now.

So if it wasn't for Luffy there was no reason for Ace to lift his face.

Without being conscious about it a smile spread across his face, cracking up the grievous expression he'd shown off since entering this crazy ship.

As he recognized it, he immediately bit down on his lips mentally scolding himself for it. How could he dare to smile during a night like this!

How could he dare to ever smile or laugh ever again - besides it being for Luffy?

Instead of his head, Portgas D. Ace decided to raise his voice.

"Is he awake?", he asked.

Whoever had entered the room hadn't said a word since, nor made another kind of sound. It remained silent, but Ace was able to feel the presence of another human body, probably a man, since he heard heavy boots crossing over to the room he was practically hiding in.

It must be a cubby and that seemed about appropriate to him. Portgas D. Ace in the cubby.

He was on looking for a quiet place to just spend some time alone, hiding from the world outside, trying to escape the thoughts on his mind or at least the curious looks of what seemed to be crew members.

He had nothing to say to them. All he wanted to do was drowning in his own guilt and shame. He was so damn weak. None of the night's events would have happened if only Ace wouldn't have been so weak.

Reluctantly he gritted his teeth, willing the tears away that had gathered in his eyes without permission.

From outside he heard some calm shouting, but besides the human voices, there was no sound other but the wind in the sails. An all too familiar noise.

All that Ace knew was that he was not at all in the mood to talk nor see someone.

"What do you want from me? Get out!", he hissed between teeth.

Whoever it was sighed heavily, then he heard those boots stalking out of the room again leaving him finally alone again.

Since their great escape, he hadn't spoken to anyone, not even the doctor performing some crazy form of treatment on him. He only directed some words to his brother Luffy, who had already passed out by that.

Ace somehow magically was not only alive but also conscious so he sat with him until someone took care of his woundings. Those last days had been rough on his body and he would probably take some weeks to discover fully.

He heard the door doing another of its squeaking sounds, as it was shut.

The sudden darkness that fell back above the room all at once felt off and scary as it reminded him of its new meaning. There was no point in denying just how much Ace hated darkness due to the recent events.

Caught up in his thoughts he winced in horror as he heard a muted breath followed by nearly soundless footsteps aiming right at him. It really was as faint as there was no noise at all, but to Ace, it was like a hurricane had gotten off beside him.

The next moment he felt the warmth of another body to his left side, a head sinking on his shoulder and ruffled hair, tickling his nose.

But before he could jump into action, he heard his name said quietly by the other.

"Ace..."

Disbelievingly he lifted his head in the direction of the voice, staring blankly into total darkness as if he'd only looked closely enough he could see the other one. That hair, the all to well-known voice mumbling his name.

Even without really looking at him, he could picture the other's face clearly.

The expression in his voice, all eager and desperate, nearly killed something inside of him. And the silence that was followed by his name lying heavily in the air, stretched out with every second going by.

Contemporary it felt like a heavy burden was lifted off his shoulders and relief rose in his chest accompanied by a huge wave of gratitude and something else that could only be described as heavyset fatigue.

But instead of closing them Ace willed his eyes open even wider, while a small harmless flame sparked from his little finger, just bright enough to enlight him and the man that sat on his left side.

There he sat, smiling a tired sad smile, his eyes gleaming with relief.

They sat what felt like the longest seconds of his life, kindly encircled by the light of Ace' flame, who couldn't stop staring speechless.

"Ace.", the blonde said again this time sounding less hurt.

The way he said his name was soothing and calming, and this time Ace couldn't stop the tears from dripping out of his eyes, while pulling the man at him, sobbing.

"Marco!"

He just pulled the man in to let go of him the next second, shaken by the warm and sticky blood that had touched his chest while making contact with Marcos.

"You're hurt.", he claimed an undeniable terror crept in his tone.

"They told me I'd find you here. I was close to having a heart attack when I couldn't find you right away.", Marco answered his voice as calm as before, not even bothering to react to Ace assessment.

Ace rummaged through his memory but couldn't find one containing the Phoenix bleeding heavily. It seemed as if the commander of Whitebeards first division was invulnerable. If there even was a division left to command, Ace thought all bitter.

"But you injuries- you need a doctor!", he insisted.

"I wanted to see you first. Making sure you are okay...or at least alive, yoi.", the blond man whispered, locking his eyes with Ace's before pulling him back at him.

Ace wanted to protest- he really did- but he couldn't help but feel hot teardrops emerging from his eyes, moving their way down his cheeks until they dropped from the edge of his chin onto Marcos' shoulders.

He had no idea how long they sat like this, all silent, hugging each other.

His flame had faded and was replaced by the Phoenix blue flames, dipping them both into a blueish light. It was for the better since Marcos flames weren't going to hurt one of them as Ace's would probably.

It actually took Ace some time to figure out that the noisy sobs actually came from himself. His throat burned and acked from the huge knot that had formed in it, snot bulged from his nose and the tears streamed his face.

It felt like they burned his skin as if made of fire.

The muffled hiss it was that brought him back to reality, realizing his tears actually were hot, turning into steam as they hit Marcos cooling back.

Once again alarmed the let go of his friend, trying to gain back some strength, feeling like he had just been falling apart.

He saw the tears piercing at the corners of Marcos' eyes too and recognized the wet paths down the Phoenix cheeks, his lips and chin, gleaming even more than the rest of his skin did, in because of his flames, from the wetness.

Neither of them said a word while Ace tried to sort through his thoughts, getting them back in order and regaining some more strength to ask Marco all the yet unanswered questions, that floated his mind.

He dropped his mouth open, willing out what he was so afraid to ask:

"Father?"

Marco clenched his teeth, lowering his head. The relief that had been drawn to his face completely dissolved, now replaced by a look Ace had never seen on his friends face before.




Trafalgar D. Water Law leaned back against the wall, his sword propped on one of his shoulders as always, his eyes closed.

One could easily assume he was sleeping while standing there.

Ace kneeled down next to his friend's bed, watching as his bandaged chest raised and lowered in a calm rhythm indicating he fell asleep.

"You too should get some rest, Portgas D. Ace", he heard the man standing behind him say. He had been quiet enough for Ace to almost forget his presence.

Ace had turned to him by the sound of his full name, trying to figure out the other man. His voice was really low and all everything about him seemed so severe, he had a hard time believing they were around the same age.

Even without saying so Ace knew how unhappy he had to be, having them all on board. Especially him. The world government would hunt him down relentlessly until they finally had him back to execute him. To them it was a shame he managed to escape. He lowered his head, sighing deeply.

His head felt dizzy with tiredness, while at the same time he heard the thoughts running wild in it, being anything but tired. Before his inner eyes, he could see pictures of the war, no matter how hard he squeezed them shut, no matter how eagerly he tried thinking about something else they always found their way back, hunting him. He saw pictures of Whitebeard coughing up blood, tumbling. Of Luffy getting hurt by Akainu. Of the Admirals fist sticking out on the front of his body, piercing through his body. It nearly burned him from the inside, if it would have stayed in place for just a few more seconds he wouldn't be standing here.

Ace shook his head in resentment, feeling like he had a nightmare while being awake.

Not of all the pictures in his head were real and he knew it. Some originated from his darkest phantasies: Luffy being killed, Whitebeard getting killed in the cruelest ways, everyone he loved and cared about dying. It was as if those memories made up and real, were screaming at him for being such a pushover. All those deaths - his fault. The blood and the screaming. And all due to his damn weakness. All of it because Ace wasn't even able to protect those he loved. What did he work for his last years if not for that?

Hot floods of rage rushed his veins and he could feel his cheeks heating up and his finger began to tickle as they always did before the fire sparked out of them. It took him a lot of self-control not to explode into flames.

Instead, he felt shame and guilt mixing together ins his stomach causing him to feel rather nauseous. Which was a feeling Ace clearly wasn't used to.

It was such a silent and peaceful night, no sound other than the calm ocean being parted by the ships was to be heard. Everyone besides him and this Trafalgar-guy probably were asleep already.

The whole world seemed to be calm like nothing had happened. It just kept revolving around itself, as if everything was normal like it was okay. Ace felt like abandoning it. How was it even possible everything could look so normal when it was all so wrong?

With the world outside calm, he felt even more shaken on the inside.

"Your heart", Law stated out of nothing, continuing: "it is very weak. I guess I'll be able to fix it, but I won't promise a thing. If you want to make it through you should rest."

As if to underline this statement Ace heart pounded once faintly in the doctor's hand. Shooting him a look, Law set it aside.

Ace had to admit his heart did indeed look bad, but not hopelessly lost.

The only problem was that Ace felt like he was the one being hopelessly lost. Normally Ace would have been furious, realizing someone dared to take out his heart an keep it, leaving the power over his life to his hands, but he couldn't get himself to be bothered. If Law wanted to kill him he would, and if not he would survive. There was no other chance for him after all so he just accepted it. Probably his self-hatred was to be held responsible for his indifference.

"Mugiwara-ya is lying next door if you want to go see him. But do not try waking him up if he does not rest properly his wounds will open again and then he could die. I will take care of your friend.", Law nodded in Marcos direction.

A little baffled Ace stood up, heading for the door. He tried to gift a thankful glance to the other - there wasn't much he could do right now to return the favor. Actually Ace doubted there was a thing he could do to pay him back in general.

Law broke free from the wall, his eyes still shut, making his way to Marcos bed, letting himself drop beside the blonde.

"If there is an emergency, I am right here."

Ace nodded even though Law wasn't able to see it. He hadn't changed his stance on the subject of talking.

"Why?", he asked unwitting, the words just slipped out of his mouth.

"Why?", Law repeated after him. " You wanna know why I am helping you?"

The underlying sound in his voice remained passive.

Instead of giving an answer Ace stood and watched him, waiting for a response.

Ace casually leaned in the doorway, his body adjusting to into the common pose on its own.

"Go to bed, fireboy."

Not being prepared for such an answer, Ace screwed his face up.

"Fireboy" that was what Ivankov called him. He didn't really bother since it seemed matching to someone known as "Okama King", but coming from Law it caught him off guard. This guy seemed too austere to use such a word.

Normally Ace would have either gotten angry or laughed about it, but for today he decided to just leave it at that.

After all, Trafalgar D. Water Law was not only one of the coolest names he had ever heard, he also helped him and his little brother escape and took care of their wounds as well as Marcos. Plus he carried his heart with him anyways and he clearly was not the enemy. Actually, he had gotten himself into a lot of problems just rescuing them and Ace started to grow a liking for that kid's grave attitude.

"Yeah right.", he said lightly and turned around ready to join Luffy.

"Oh and Law.", he paused to try take all of the biting out of his tone "thank you for saving my brother."

"Won't you thank me for saving your heart?"

"No. Keep it if you want."

He left.






Chapter Text

Meat. That was what woke him up from what felt like it must have been a real deep sleep. His stomach grumbled not only a little bit but with a fierce intensity, it actually hurt and he would have jumped at. He would have if he could, but he felt oddly stiff and unable to move even the slightest bit.

Irritated by the bright light that fell through the open door inside the room, he started blinking, aiming at rubbing over his eyes, but his hands seemed unable to move too. His face felt hot and it took him some seconds to put things back together. As he realized him being unable to move was due to something that was wrapped around his body. All of a sudden he was wide awake, he could feel the adrenalin kicking in, reading his body to put up a fight to break free from whatever held him hostage. Something was wrapped around his body tightly holding onto him, squeezing so hard warm fresh blood seeped out of his wounds socking up the bandages on his chest. It felt tacky in the most disgusting kind of way. The more Ace tried to move the tighter he was squeezed. Something wet dripped onto his right cheek and he turned his head in response.

Meanwhile, he started slowly regaining some memory. This was not the Moby but he clearly wasn't imprisoned again. The sun falling on his face and the smell of the salty sea told him so. He clearly had a sense of foreboding, regarding the recurring pictures with horror. Something wet connected with his nose, but Ace was all worked up trying to differentiate between reality and the horror his head had made up. He couldn't quite tell what had happened for real and what not. As he tried figuring that out he realized in a sudden how damp the sheets felt in the few spots they made contact with his skin. He must have had some terrible nightmares.

Ace could finally make out some outlines, as the lights dancing before his eyes were decreasing. A human silhouette appeared right before his face and he could make out a head next to his own.

And then it eventually hit him as he realized what should have been obvious from the start. He finally realized why there was heat radiating from beneath him and movement of something touching and untouching his body made sense. Luffy. His sweet little brother Luffy slept next to him looking so much like his own self when they were younger. All the bad memories and the terror were whipped of Ace mind, seeing the face of his beloved little brother in front of him. A little smile had settled on Luffy's lips and some drool. Just having him there alive, sleeping peacefully, drooling at him was enough to cheer him up a little. He was likely to smell the meat too, Luffy's nose would never miss the smell of food, especially not if there was meat.

Ace doubted that there was anyone out there in this world having a larger appetite than his brother, Ace included and Ace himself was greedy enough.

But he could easily imagine his little brother blowing all of his money on food - he had overheard a conversation between him and the navigator of his crew, her getting all fed up about it. Thanks to his devil fruits ability he could eat until getting all huge and round. One time he ate too much and rolled down a hill, not being able to stop himself. It was Sabo who saved him in the end, while Ace was still shaken with laughter. And sometimes the three of them had engaged in some eating contests "borrowing" the food from Dadans stocks. Dadan. Ace hadn't seen the old witch since he left to become a pirate. That was already years ago. Around seven, he realized not without feeling a pinch of guilt. He had always calmed guilty conscience by telling himself he'd have plenty of time for that later, what a fool he'd been!

All touched and caught up in his childhood memories Ace even made a promise to himself to visit Dadan soon. Suddenly he felt like he couldn't wait to reunite with the people from back then, but he knew they'd have to hide first for a while.

Luffy had wrapped his long stretched arms and legs around Ace body, each of them circling his body more than only once thanks to his devil's fruit ability, like he was afraid the older boy could leave him alone. Apparently, that's how both of them spent the night and Ace let out the air he hadn't realized holding in.

More of his memory came back to him and he remembered talking to Trafalgar Law, the pirate on whose weird ship they were staying. He also remembered Marco being there and felt another invisible weight lift of his chest. Right after Law had taken care of Marco he literally sent him to bed and Ace had crawled up next to Luffy, hoping to find some comfort in the presence of his brother. But he didn't guess he'd actually fall asleep. It felt a little childish to him to share the bed - they were both adults after all, but apparently, Luffy's presence worked wonders.

Ace had listened to his calm breathing, he had listened long. Eventually, it must have done the magic and he fell asleep.

It was quite obvious that it hadn't been a good night for Ace, some extracts of his nightmares dreams were still haunting him down and he could tell Luffy wouldn't cage him up like that if it weren't for the best.

Thinking of whom, he just snored right into Ace ear and it was even louder than the rumbling noise his stomach manufactured.

There was no denying the fact that Ace wouldn't get away from him any time soon, so he'd better just accept the situation for now and made himself comfortable. Only by thinking about waking up his injured brother to stuff himself with food Ace felt like a horrible brother. Because only thinking about Luffy's injuries made his eyes water again. Which caused him to do some serious thinking about how much freaking lacrimal fluid one human being could have, without it getting ridiculous or him withering like an obliviated pot plant. Ace had to admit, he owned a lot of such pot plants, there was a pretty impressive number of them standing around his room on the Moby Dick. Without a doubt, they fell easy preys to the war, but then it wasn't really sad for them, because they were actually dead a long time.

Just by thinking about some dumb plants in his room, watching for him to not water them was the last straw and he felt the teardrops dripping out of his eyes again. Shaking his head he tried to focus on the matter again: he seriously had never cried this much, especially not in such a short period of time. But Ace already suspected there was no such thing as an end of tears for a person as tough as him. His fate sealed him to be an infinite source of tears and he would most likely do well as a substitute to a fountain. By that thought, Ace made a face. If this really turned out to be his call he was lost.

He felt like betraying everyone who died at the battlefield just by lying there. He ran away. That was the first time in Ace life he had done it and it felt horrible. But otherwise, he would have died. Because he was too weak.

Not even his escape was his own merit. Luffy's escape - not his merit.

Both of them surviving in the first place - not his merit. The death of too many of his crewmates and befriended pirates - his merit. His fathers death - his merit. Of course, Ace knew he didn't kill them himself, but he also hadn't been strong enough to do anything about it.

He had been too weak to save his father. Just another favor he was never able to return and now it was too late. Whitebeard had saved him over and over again and he saved him in the most important way - from himself.

He had been too weak to save Luffy. He even had been too weak to defend his father's name. His own life and pride.

He should have been strong enough to win against Blackbeard in the first place. Or he should have listened to his father and everyone else, telling him not to go after this man. Whitebeard was his captain after all. But he disobeyed.

Once again he couldn't hold back from releasing the sobs that had built in his throat over time. Pops. He really lost him. He cried at the thought, even though his brain was not ready to progress the information and realize what it really meant on its full.

He remembered talking to Marco in the cubby.

 

Marco captured Ace glance with his, locking their eyes. A serious and heavy expression spread across his face, his gaze eager enough to make it impossible for Ace to look away even if he wanted to.

Against all sanity he still hoped for words he knew, Marco wasn't going to say. Unable to let go of the last small glimpse of hope.

He wasn't stupid enough to assume the other would really say something he wished for, he just needed to hear to believe it.

In fact, he could read it right from Marcos' eyes, from the expression on his face, both telling Ace what he already knew ins his head. But he couldn't feel it, refused to believe it until someone told him for good.

He really needed to hear it from Marco. Without confirmation, he couldn't allow himself to give only the slightest thought to it.

All he knew was, that he wasn't capable to end the sentence in his head.

Ace needed words to conceive what happened.

"Ace..", Marco began and his voice had that hurting tone again. He could hear how uncomfortable he was and see him struggle to get the words out.

"Speak!", he demanded while being all too aware he was jelling at his best friend without reason and thought. He was also aware he had grabbed the collar of the Phoenix' shirt and that he was about to shake him next.

"Say it already! Tell me, Marco!"

Ace did not feel in full control of himself anymore. He couldn't hold back from being hostile against the person being closest to him.

Shocked and angry about his own behavior, Ace let go of the blondes collar. The rage that had inherited him only a second ago vanished within seconds and he could feel desperation getting a grip on him instead.

"It is not your fault, Ace.", Marco said, being as always perfectly aware of why Ace reacted the way he did. His voice still calm, like Ace did not just behave like a complete moron. How could he remain so calm? How?

Ace couldn't even...he couldn't, he couldn't even finish this damn sentence. Not in his mind and clearly not out loud.

He would decide on his own who's fault it had been.

"Pops, Marco. Pops!", he yelled. He was completely out of his mind. Feeling like he lost his sanity. He wasn't able to think straight nor act in a rational way. But he knew even at that moment, it wasn't Marcos fault.

Marco didn't deserve to be treated like this, he didn't deserve the yelling.

He was even aware that everyone on this ship, who hadn't gone all deaf was able to hear his meltdown and in a way, it only fueled to his anger.

Suddenly, Ace could picture all too well how those wild beasts must have felt, that he and his brothers haunted down as kids. Powerless and delivered.

Preferably, Ace would have ripped his heart out of his chest - but Law had already done that for him.

He saw Marco inhaling some air, preparing for whatever Ace would do next.

Under normal circumstances, such a thing would have Ace back within a second, making him calm himself right away, but it seemed nothing worked.

He felt cornered. And everything Marco did seemed to make it worse.

To Ace' surprise Marcos facial expressions hardened, making space for a sinister look on the usually so nice face, Ace knew.

Nothing in his gaze was to be reminded of compassion towards him as he finally spoke:

"Pops - is dead."

Ace saw Marcos' lips forming the words, he was able to read them from his lips and knew what they would sound before they reached his ears. He tried to catch a breath but failed.

He wasn't able to cry, to scream, to breath. All he was able to do, was sitting there, feeling himself going from flaming rage to complete numbness.

Ace had sailed under this mans flag like there was no tomorrow. But he never thought that there would really be no tomorrow. For him. For everyone else. Ace could only picture them all with a tomorrow.

He had been arrogant enough to believe he would be able to protect them all. Including his father. Turned out he wasn't even in control of his own survival. His father, however, defended him until the end. And he died for him.

 

With force, Ace willed the memory away. There was no way in losing it right here and now, next to his little brother. Ace had always been the oldest of the brothers. He was their leader, even though none of them ever said it out loud- he was. It never really hit Ace that he was a grown-up, he never felt much like a grown-up or he simply never gave a thought to it but around Luffy, he felt much more like an adult. It was as if he switched into parenting mode once he saw him. Ace never allowed himself to grief in front of anyone when their brother Sabo died. He needed to be strong for Luffy, for them both. Only when Luffy had cried himself to sleep, probably thinking Ace didn't hear him, he was able to sneak out and into the woods where he could cry and scream as much as he liked. Noone had to know. Sometimes a few trees fell easy victims to him, other times he went haunting after the creatures of the woods alone -Ace had always been ridiculously careless with his own life. Only in the woods, Ace felt safe to cry.

He tried making it back in time before Luffy would wake up, but sometimes he fell asleep right where he was, exhausted from his emotional pain.

In that case, he normally gathered a few supplies acting as if he was awake for so long he got bored and needed some activities. In conclusion, Ace only tried to hide his own feelings, his weakness from his brother, because he didn't want to worry him. If Ace would have lost it back then, Luffy would have been scared. Ace never showed weakness and as soon as he did he could see the angst in Luffys gaze. And to Ace Luffy would always be his little brother, he would always try to protect him, although he knew that Luffy was perfectly capable of doing that himself.

He just wanted to be someone his brother felt like relying on.

"Oh good. You woke up.", Trafalgar Law brought Ace back to the room by stating the obvious.

The rookie leaning in the frame of the open door, his shadow falling over the floor to the bed and over both of them as he moved.

Law entered the room and Ace made a face, feeling uncomfortable being in watched by someone while in a situation like this. But he soon recognized that despite the bored as ever looking expression on Laws face he moved from one foot to another, clearly feeling as uneasy as Ace.

"I need to take a look at Luffy.", he finally offered and Ace noded, because there wasn't much he could have done other. He was after all still unable to move much.

"Hey, Luffy.", he whispered to his brothers face. "Luffy."

A snorting sound was the only response he got from him.

"Don't try to wake him up. He won't yet.", interfered Law.

"In all honesty, I am surprised you are up already. Your injuries are a lot worse than his. You should take better care of yourself. I am the Surgeon of Death, not a faith healer."

Somehow Ace always felt like a little kid being scolded by a parent, when talking to the man. He may look like being in his twenties but he clearly acted as if he was already close to death.

"Got it.", he replied, still being unable to do anything but give nods or speak.

He would just do as Trafalgar told him.

Ace felt awkwardly cramped on this ship with a lot of people he didn't even know while feeling out of control of himself. He was scared of himself- even if it was just a little by now he felt that way and only by feeling that way he felt even more anxious and cramped.

All that I want is for Luffy to get better, he mentally told himself.

He heard someone clear his throat, coming from the direction of the doorway. Looking up this way Ace was able to make out the quite unique silhouette of Marcos' hair. He showed up behind Law, wearing an orange overall he didn't care to zip up at the front, showing his bare chest with the whitebeard mark on it. He still looked bad, all bruised and cut up.

Considering his own condition and in the bad dim lighting the other night, Ace hadn't realized how wounded Marco really was.

Law crossed his arms, turning only his eyes to the Phoenix, even though Ace couldn't imagine he was able to see the man properly from the corner of his eye.

"Ace.", said Marco. His voice was low, only loud enough for Ace to hear him and he didn't know how to react. Would he just go by calling his name in return? He wished Law would get out to leave them alone.

"Well, looks like you have been captured again, yoi. How did you make that happen?", he asked joking, a little smile on his lips while he stepped next to the bed.

Ace couldn't think of a funny answer in return so he just smiled at him. Normally he always had a punch line on his lips, but a lot of things weren't exactly normal right now. He could see Marco thinking the same thing because he made that sorrowful face again. Ace hated it when people looked at him like that like they were pitying him. Even Trafalgar sort of looked like that.

Marco stood next to them, changing into his phoenix form then he held one of his wings under Luffy's nose to tickle him a little. It worked.

Ace could feel the grip on him loosen and he watched careful not to move, so Luffy wouldn't have a reason to tighten it again. His arms let go of Ace first, scratching his nose, his legs followed right after, as he turned onto the other side of the bed. Marco easily transferred back into his human body, looking at Ace little brother smiling mildly.

"Thanks for the rescue.", Ace mumbled, but even in his ears, it sounded weak. Marco smiled at him anyway, his expression brightening up a little.

"Don't make it a habit.", he responded and Ace had to admit the teasing was comforting since he was so used to it.

He knew he couldn't hold up this smiling and acting as if it were okay.

Right now he could feel his body aching in pain and heaviness, but he was a logia user. His wounds wouldn't take forever to heal. But for now, he had to hold it together. Sooner or later they would disembark on some island.

"You should eat something. ", Marco suggested and Ace nodded, sitting up.

"Sleep well, Lu.", he whispered to his brother, before standing up, ready to follow Marco to the food.

"What the hell, Marco! You wanna bite the dust?!", Law screamed suddenly enraged and completely different from his usual detached self. "Put those bandages back on!", he demanded.

Ace looked back at his friend and couldn't hold back from staring at the overall in confusion. Rarely had he seen Marco wearing something different from his usual clothing, but never something as extra as that orange thing.

The color seemed to rival with Marcos blonde hair.

Marco shooted a glance at Law, before waving the doctor's concern off, with a simple hand gesture.

"I heal quick.Besides, I need to leave soon." His voice sounded icy and Ace could tell without a look he had raised one of his eyebrows and dropped the corners of his mouth.

"W-Where are you going?", Ace stammered, unable to prevent himself from sounding like a little kid.

On one hand, Ace really wanted everyone to go away and leave him alone. He couldn't stand their presence, their talking, just everything.

But on the other hand, the thought of being alone only accompanied by himself made him anxious. He mentally slapped himself for sounding all winery.

"I need to take care of Pops burial. I won't let the man I admired be buried just somewhere to get it over with."

Ace could see how Marco clenching his fists only to spread his fingers apart right after. As he did, Ace could see the palms of his hands were bloody and he started to seriously worry for him.

Without another word, Marco marched off. Ace could only look after him, standing there uncomfortably a still angry looking Law facing him now.

He wasn't used to Marco behaving like that. If there was such a thing as being professional in the pirates business, Marco clearly was it.

He seemed ever smooth on the surface, but Ace could tell he felt different deep down. Besides Ace himself, Marco had probably been the least open one about his feelings on the Moby Dick. It wasn't easy getting to him.

"Is he always like that?", Law asked fretfully.

Without waiting for an answer from Ace he turned to kneel down beside Luffy and started to examine him.

"He's not used to follow orders.", he gave back. It was true.

They sailed under Whitebeard's name and they were part of his crew with him, Whitebeard, being the captain, but they as his commanders were given free hand with most of their decisions.

He had half turned away as he asked: "How long did I sleep?"

"Four days.", Law replied, shortly.

Four days were a lot more than Ace had expected. So it was hardly surprising he was that hungry.

He nodded at the black-haired man and walked out the door.

The sun stood high on the sky and he could make out an island in the distant. Maybe that was Amazon Lily already.

Ace had never been there but allegedly there were only women on this island and many of them hadn't seen a man in their entire life. At least, that's what he heard. He overheard some crew members talking about their destination, after waking up in the morning. Rumor had it Shichibukai Boa Hancock invited them there, stating it was the only safe place for them to go. Ace couldn't tell why the "Snake Princess" should do such a thing, but wouldn't complain about it. They needed all the help they could get.

Ace knew she could and would normally turn every man to stone who dared to enter the island, but they apparently had permission and in the end, who was he to judge? He was bound to Trafalgar nevertheless in because of his heart.

Ace walked over to the railing, leaning against it, watching over the sea instead of heading right to the kitchen. He could feel the hunger gnawing at him but he had never felt less like eating than at this moment.

Actually, Ace could not remember a single day in his life he did not feel like eating. Ace always felt like eating.

A few people hurried by, but he didn't pay attention to them.

Something blue landed right next to him on the railing and he knew without hesitation that it had to be Marco. The blue Phoenix spread his wings.

"Hey, Ace.", said Marco and Ace swore he saw the damn bird smile, as something orange hit him.

"Put it back on, would you? I hardly recognize you without it, yoi."

Before Ace was able to get what Marco wanted he was already up in the sky, flying away gracefully as ever.

He looked down onto his feet and saw his orange cowboy hat lying there. It looked perfectly intact, not like Ace other clothes. The shorts resting on his hips were about to fall apart every moment and he thought about getting such an orange overall suit. It would match the hat after all.

He put it on his had, feeling already much more like himself, walking off to the cabins.

If he was doomed to sit around here, he could make himself useful.

The night had been longer than Ace thought - four days in a row- but now he was awake and had to kill some time.

Chapter Text

"Thanks, Shanks."

In the silence of the moment, the sounds of hands clapping on backs echoed, loudly. A mewing seagull flying over the scenery accompanied the sound solely.

"Yeah, thanks a lot Shanks." Ace heard his own toneless voice and felt his weak attempt for a smile as he turned to face the red-haired man.

He felt a scraggly hand tapping own on his shoulder comforting him.

Yonkou, "Red Hair" Shanks stood between the two head commanders of Whitebeards crew, his body turned to Ace enabling him to pat the back of the second division commander. Shanks missed one of his arms, the left in particular and it instantly reminded Ace that Shanks was one of the people Ace would never get the chance to pay back properly. Not even if he lived forever. Shanks had sacrificed his left arm to rescue his little brother Luffy and if it that weren't enough he also ended the war, saving many of their brothers plus he was the one organizing the burial of their father with Marco. Ace gave a patting to Shanks' shoulder in return. It was not the right time to think about a way to clear his debts.

But it was a great surprise to him how many offered their help to them.

The alliances of his father, all risking their lives to get him back, all those lives for one. The other prisoners, helping his brother, Boa Hancock, Trafalgar Law, Jinbei and finally Yonkou Shanks. Ace knew deep down, most of the people that helped them did in because of his little brother. Luffy always had a knack for getting people on his side. Actually, the thought of all those people caring for his little brother left him with relief and gratitude.

Of course, he was just as grateful for everyone trying to save him. If someone had told him how many people would try to free him, he would have never believed this person. Ace was already surprised by Luffy and Whitebeard showing up. In a way, it was really predictable Luffy would show up. Breaking into the safest prison of the navy to help him break out, was so much like this crazy little brat. Ace should have expected that.

And as angry as he felt, he also felt a warm wave of gratitude and love. Being angry with him was never a real option. Besides, as much as he hated himself for it, Ace kind of hoped the little gadfly would be coming for him and when he did, Ace felt moved. Just the thought, that someone could love him so much had him scared for all of his life up until he met Luffy. It was like Luffy had been the bonding piece between the three of them. Ace and Sabo had been friends for years before Luffy even joined them, but once he did they grew together in a different much closer kind of way.

When they first met, Ace had tried doing everything in his powers to keep the brat away from him. It really wondered him how Luffy wouldn't get what an ungrateful holy terror, he himself had been as a kid. Even Dadan stated not having any fate for him. The bandits didn't care if Ace died or not. He tried to freeze crybaby Luffy away, terribly misconducting himself, being unbearable in every single way. But the boy's bright attitude and his faith in Ace were stronger than all of his attempts to scare him away. He didn't deserve the kid trusting him back then, but of course, Luffy didn't care.

And Ace grew a weak spot for him, faster than he could realize it and as he did it was already too late. He felt responsible for him, but surely not because he thought of Luffy as a weak baby that wasn't capable of taking care of his own. As time passed by Ace was able to let go of his old fears - people caring about him, causing harm to the ones he loved, being left behind- and he started to like the idea of having those two keeping his company. Even if it meant for a lifetime, he indeed looked forward to it.

He accepted that he wasn't going to be the one to decide for Luffy. He got over the urge to control everything and everyone. Luffy made sure to get what he had in his mind set on, being simple pig-headed. But he made his own decisions and Ace wasn't one to judge them, even if they included himself. It meant a lot to him, that they accepted him in his own ways and loved him, although they knew about his real father.

Ace learned a lot from his little brother and he owed him much. The constant feeling of being out of place was replaced by the knowledge there was a place he was always welcome.

With Pops, it had been the same. Never, not in the wildest of his dreams, Ace would have thought, he would ever set sail under the name of another man, that he would voluntarily take orders from someone and execute them to contribute to a whole. And that he'd be happier than ever doing it.

His whole life Ace had dispised such people, ascribing them to be anxious, submissive and weak. His goal was to be free without commitments, being free and not owing anyone a thing. The desire to be free as a result of being so afraid of others. People thought he was a monster based on his ancestry? - Ace would proof them WHAT hell of a monster he was.

Driven by anger, rage and in order to prove them right, because he already knew he could never prove them wrong, he went out into the world hunting down the big names. Whitebeard was just another name on his list, even though it was the biggest. Ace did not care, he must have been really crazy, thinking he could get the old mans head.

It all never meant a thing to him, Ace just found a way of expressing his inner pain, concentrating his anger on the enemy. He felt invincible. In the end, it turned out, that it wasn't about proving anything to anyone, but himself.

Once again he was searching for something to calm his insides. Maybe he just wanted to live fast - he always felt like his lifetime was limited.

And he was Gol D. Rogers son after all, which meant it only seemed logical to confront his fathers greatest opponent. He just went for what he thought had to be his destiny. To be what everyone saw in him, so they would be right when calling him a monster.

Ace had half expected Luffy to try and rescue him, and he did kinda hope for it, but then he was also angry at him for getting involved in Ace' business since he did not want his brother to risk his life, his dreams just for him.

Whitebeard showing up, risking the lives of his whole crew just to get back one member, one son, was crazy enough for him to consider having a high fever, hallucinating maybe. Only comparable to Garp's sentimental outburst.

Ace would have sworn the man did not even have tear glands. The old man WAS a nerve recking pest, but it took Ace to be nearly executed to get why Garp had always been so obsessed with Luffy and him joining the navy - all he ever wanted was for them to be save. He wanted a chance to protect them because being law-breaking pirates, he could not.

They were both at the mercy of somebody else - aside from the fact that there was no mercy to be expected.

 

After Shanks had turned around, walking away from them, Marco stepped to Ace side.

"Whitebeard and I may have been enemies, but I always had great respect for him. Some said he always was only number two, after Roger, but he achieved something only a few can say of themselves: He followed and fulfilled his dreams. And he was happy."

The silence fell heavy again and Ace had to admit he did not expect such a speech from Shanks. He swallowed hard, then felt one of his friend's arms, wrapping around his shoulders, settling there lightly.

In a reflex Ace stepped even closer to him, without even thinking about it. Everything about the gesture was as familiar as it was something new, he wasn't used to yet. Normally such hugging had mostly taken part during the parties they had at the Moby Dick. Marcos' arm felt cool as always and it calmed Ace. Without thinking he grabbed the Phoenix' left hand with his, to keep his arm in place. His body acting without Ace giving a thought to it.

Instead of a party, they stood in front of their fathers grave at his burial and if that was not an appropriate moment for holding hands than what was?

The grave of the man who had saved them all, the reason behind all of their parties, the person who made it possible in the first place.

Although there were approximately a thousand people gathered together behind them, Shanks footsteps were clearly to be overheard. Everyone grieving in silence and respect. Noone dared to speak.

Ace really wanted to say something, something great, something that mattered, he even felt an inner pressure to do so. But he could only think of things that seemed awfully meaningless, or things that seemed awkwardly intimate. He felt like someone took a sponge and erased every single thought from his mind, his head as empty as the alcohol stocks on the moby after they had partied.

Eventually, he raised his jug of alcohol, with his free right hand above his head.

"To Pops!", he exclaimed, loud and clear, before he lifted the jug to his lips, emptying it in a gulp.

Behind them, Ace heard the voices of hundreds of people like an echo of his own words.

"To Pops!"

Of course Ace could have shared something. He could have told a story about Pops first, but his memory was all he had now. And the memories with Pops were something he didn't want to share with everyone being there.

As always, Marco seemed ahead of him in terms of burials, making it through the day showing off some nonchalance, Ace was clearly lacking.

The whole burial felt more like a demanding obligatory event to him.

He appreciated that so many people bothered to come from all around the world to pay their last respect to their deceased father. Many did not come after all. They did not even know, which of their brothers and sisters had survived. Not many of them showed up, probably they were scattered all over the world, hiding and the message did not reach them. But many of them being dead as well.

" In the name of my father, Edward Newgate, I want to thank you all for coming, yoi. For your loyalty, love, and help. It would have meant a lot to him.

Thanks."

Marcos little speech set an official end to the event, but they still had to shake a lot of hands and hear a lot of expressions of condolences and stories of their father, before they were ultimately alone. Ace would have loved hearing stories about his father on any other day. But this day he just wanted to get over with. And he felt like he couldn't shake a hand for a long time or his would fall off.

Even Marco seemed to run out of his patience and that meant something.

If asked for Marcos most protruding characteristics patience would have ranked high on the list. But a day like this seemed to get to everyone, even to the Phoenix.

 

Exhausted from a day full of sad faces, heavy words, and endless anecdotes about Pops, they both sat down mentally drained. They sat with their backs touching, leaning on each other.

The night had already settled above the cloudless sky and a huge amount of stars were to be seen. Pops burial was officially over, leaving them alone to one another and Ace was really grateful for it.

Marco did not like to admit it, but he was relieved the days was over, too.

Ace shifted his position, causing Marco to lean back on his hands, his legs folded, and allowed himself to drop his head in Marcos lap. They sat in front of the grave and that made Ace realize that this really was it. Pops was dead. And he would remain dead. The grief got him all sleepy and he was close to giving in to the temptation of sleep, but first, he wanted to spend another few moments with Marco. Even if they just sat in silence.

He had adjusted his position, facing the sky now and watched the stars as if there was an answer to be found up there.

Assumingly also lost in his own thoughts, Marco started to play with strands of Ace wavy hair, twisting some strands of it around his fingers, untwisting them right after again. Then he began to slowly massage Ace scalp, who hummed in approval.

"Marco", Ace started, his tongue heavy, his voice breathy. It wasn't easy for him to go on, the tears stood in his eyes already, about to run down his cheeks every second.

"Yes, Ace?", Marco whispered back. Ace hand searched and quickly found one of Marcos' hands in his hair. He intertwined their fingers and tried to breathe normally.

This time was different. Ace knew he and Luffy weren't in the same place right now, weren't feeling the same this time, because it was only him who lost people. But there was Marco, Marco who must felt the same as Ace.

Ace was well aware, that Marco had known Whitebeard a lot longer than he did, but he assumed that they still felt the same kind of grief, the same pain and that would be enough.

He had enough of being alone, enough hiding, enough feeling alone, enough silent suffering, enough sneaking into the woods on his own every night to cry. Enough of keeping people on a firm distance and enough of pushing them away. It was not possible for him to control every situation involving others. Whitebeards death being the perfect example of that.

Obviously, bad things did happen when Ace was around, bad things happened around him, but since it didn't seem to scare people away he did not want them to go away. It seemed they loved him and cared about him, nevertheless his heritage, Marco was one of the people he felt closest to, so he wanted him to stay. No matter what crazy reasons they thought to have for keeping Ace company, he would not question it. He would shut his damn mouth and accept it.

Ace could feel his friend waiting for a response. He heard the sea brushing against the cliff Whitebeards grave was.

"I just don't know how...", he started but shut his mouth again.

"I just don't know- I mean, I can't, I really want, I..", he stuttered and broke himself off, when he realized that he had no idea how he wanted to express what was on his mind. There was a chance, after all, Marco would want to go his own ways after the Whitebeard pirates seemed to be in the past.

"How Marco? How is it possible your so fucking calm?", he pressed between two heavy breaths, he could already feel the sobbing starting and felt like a total moron. He made a fool out of himself. He behaved like a twelve-year-old. Or like seven-year-old Luffy. He would have loved to hear from Marco he would never die. Even though he was not seven years old and he was not as credulous as Luffy.

Despite feeling so dumb he looked up at Marco and couldn't believe it.

The Phoenix cried and when their eyes met, he turned his head away.

Now sobbing, his shoulders and hands shaking out of control. Ace had never seen Marco losing control like that. He bit his underlip that trembled dangerously, the free hand Ace wasn't holding onto covering his eyes. Shutting them off Ace gaze. The tears now rushed down his cheeks, reminding Ace of waterfalls they had seen on some of their adventurous.

The blue Phoenix never looked so young and vulnerable before.

He warped his face into a grimace. The corners of his mouth pointing downwards.

Somehow Marcos outburst of pain, tears and all the other feelings reflecting on his face, Ace felt calmer than before. He had felt how Marco kept him at a distance and with that gone he was relieved he was able to be there for him.

Otherwise Ace would have worried horribly. Plus now he knew: he was no longer alone with his feelings.

 

Ace rubbed at thumb over Marcos' hand in support, drawing circles on his skin in the hope he could make him feel a little better by showing he was there no matter what. They had hugged for a long time, Marco sobbing on Ace bare chest. Ace had hoped to make it a little easier for Marco by letting him hide behind his hand.

"It is for the better I keep my emotions to myself. What would our brothers think, when they saw me like this? Or the enemy? I am father's oldest son, his first son, I should really...I mean there is so much to do and I shouldn't waste time."

"Knock it off already!"

Ace couldn't hold back from getting angry with him.

"Marco for fuck's sake, we are here and all you think about is everything and everyone else! Do you even plan on taking time for yourself?"

He didn't mean to offend his friend, he just felt angry at him for being so hard on himself. A little more selfishness from time to time would do him good.

Maybe it was about his own person too. Ace wasn't used to trusting others, he never opened up to them and he really needed Marco right now. So maybe he was a little selfish right now by wanting Marco to be more selfish.

Ace wasn't afraid of fighting, wasn't afraid of dying himself - only worried for Luffy - and he didn't shy away from an argument, but crying in front of others DID scare him like hell. The night everything went down not counting in that matter because Ace was in shock, but this time he wasn't, he had decided to not wanting to be alone anymore. And it was Marco, he wanted to hold his company. And it was too late to back off now. He had cried in Marcos lap, he had let the man see and hear him sob, he let him saw his meltdowns and he held his hand like a needy little kid. He could not take Marco leaving him to his feelings again. Marco was in- like it or not.

He would not let the Phoenix back off again. Thinking about it, that was exactly what Ace did after Sabo's death, so that must have been how Luffy felt most of the time. Ace really was BAD with feelings back then, as well as comforting his brother. All of a sudden he felt really sorry for Luffy, hoping he did not feel this horrible panic he was in right now. Being left was probably one of his biggest fears.

By letting Marco get to him, he, in a way, depended on him now. This was worse than he thought he felt like starting to need this damn bird more than he intended to.

Pops crew with his brothers and sister gifted safety to Ace, in a way that seemed to work like a plug on the bottle of Ace fears, keeping them in as long as he was with them. It had been a crazy idea from the beginning to believe he could make it without getting attached to some people. It was scary to lose something, but it was better to have something to lose than nothing and no one to care about. Now it seemed that the plug was removed and he overflowed with feelings ever since. Marco clearly was not working like a plug for that cause, but it was okay to feel shitty if he was there. Ace felt incredibly safe around him and able to confront his feelings instead of running from them. If that wasn't a good reason for being a little selfish about Marco staying with him!

He let go of Marcos' hand to kindly remove the arm the Phoenix had placed over his face. He had not answered and Ace was thankful to him for not putting up on him nearly starting a fight. He, himself would have clearly picked up on that.

He hesitated for a moment considering the idea that maybe he put those arguments up on purpose to fulfill his own dark foreshadowing.

It was clear, that Marco was a workaholic, normally running from one task to another, the whole day preoccupied with screaming orders and organizing stuff. Moments like that must have been bad for the Phoenix as well, not being able to busy himself with the usual tasks. He presumingly wanted to go back to normal, organizing things again, never coming to a halt, but right now there wasn't much he could do. The burial was over. They needed to get the leftovers of their old crew back together, that was for sure. They shouldn't let the family fall apart, Whitebeard had built over his lifetime.

But for now, they were both injured, Ace still, Marco again it seemed since the Phoenix healed real quick thanks to the power of his blue flames and the navy was at their every move. They needed to wait, or they would get killed acting like fools. Heading off now, trying to escape his feelings the Phoenix would be on a suicide squad.

Ace risked a look at his face before he pulled Marco in a hug. They sat like that for a while, Marco letting Ace hold him. None of them crying, no shaking and sobbing, just a silence interrupted by their heavy breathing and fast beating hearts.

"Screw everyone else. There's only us here and there is no way I would think different of you because you have feelings, Marco. I am sure the same goes for our brothers. And if not: screw what they think. Screw what I think, if you want. "

It was Ace attempt of comforting and encouraging words. Ace had learned how to be polite thanks to Shanks wife, Makino, but he never learned to pet others heads or how you cheer someone up. Normally it worked naturally for him, but given the situation, he had no idea what to do about it.

 

The silence of the night encircled them. From the nearby woods some bird sounds were to be heard, the calm waves against the cliff and Marcos heart pumping in his chest, those were the sounds Ace could make out clearly.

They finally laid down on their backs in the grass, their legs pointing into opposite directions, their heads propped on the shoulders of one another.

"This burial...was shit.", Marco mumbled more to himself than anyone else. Obviously guessing Ace had fallen asleep a while ago because his breathing was slow and regular. But that was just the effect Marco had on his nerves - he calmed Ace down.

He had tilted his head to look at the dark-haired man, whose face, was facing him already, eyes closed.

Lazily Ace opened them and chuckled at Marcos surprised look.

"Yeah.", he stated simply.

Marco let out a frustrated sigh.

He was likely still scolding himself in his thoughts.

"I am not sure, that's what Pops would have wished for.", he added bitterly.

His words were followed by silence. Ace thought about what to say best.

"Probably not.", he answered then. He decided to go for the truth, there was no point in lying to Marco to make him feel better, he would see that through immediately and he would not even believe it if Ace meant it.

Plus Ace was sure when it came to Marco nothing would have been a good enough burial for their father. And in the end, he knew him best.

"How long have you known the old man?", he wanted to know. Switching themes seemed to be a good option and he, despite being interested, had never asked Marco about it.

He did not know much about Marcos life before he himself joined the crew.

"Really long.", Marco said.

"Like ages. Practically, my entire life." He smiled a little at that and Ace could see him trail off into some memory.

He decided to drop the topic, not pushing it any further, but making a mental note to himself, asking about it some time other.

It was too late for a real conversation, Ace was too tired to pay the deserved attention to it.

"What do you think he would have wanted?", he whispered to Marco.

"As for his burial, I mean.", he added.

Marco laughed a little. "Who knows?" He closed his eyes only to open them a second later.

"We never talked about his death. If I was to guess I'd say he would have wanted us all to be there. And he would have wanted us to have a party. He would have gotten both our asses thrown overboard for being so depressing."

Ace had to stifle a burst of laughter. It was true. Pops loved parties and he always found an excuse to have one. It hadn't crossed his mind that this would be an appropriate way of saying goodbye - maybe because he did not feel like partying at all.

"So basically you say we should stop whining and start drinking?"

"If you want to put it that way. But no I guess Whitebeard would have just wanted his kids to grief together. It feels so wrong not having the others here, but I have to admit I am not sure I would have made it through a day of partying."

"Me neither.", Ace replied. Sometimes it was near scary how much Marco could sound like Pops.

"Well", he said, rising spirited, walking over to the said number of leftovers from the buffet.

"We are here now. I guess we have fulfilled the crying-part by now, so there's only the partying left to do."

"Partying? The two of us?", asked Marco, voice dripping with pure skeptics.

He probably just considered Ace going insane.

"Sure. Two-man-party, never heard of it? You could at least PRETEND to be a little excited."

"Two-man-party? Never heard of it."

"Well, that's because I have just invented it, but that's got nothing to do with it.", he pointed out.

After some rummaging around the table, he fished out a still sealed bottle, beaming at Marco. "See."

"Is that even alcohol?", Marco asked. He was such a party pooper.

"Sure....oh um, well it's not literally alcohol.", he admitted taking a closer look at it. "But it's juice!", he said, aiming for a cheering tone.

"A two-man-party with juice instead of alcohol?"

"Complaints?"

"Absolutely not.", Macro said his voice dripping with sarcasm, holding his hands up in defense.

Ace chuckled at him and sat down next to his friend, pouring the juice in two jugs for them to drink out of. There wasn't a single person on this planet he would have rather shared this moment with.

"To Pops.", he said for the second time in a day, but this time sounding more festive. Marco had lifted one eyebrow, looking at him but he held back from any other commentaries and toasted with Ace obediently.

Both of them sipped on their juice it was way too sweet to finish it off in one swallow. It wasn't even alcohol so there was no reason to do so.

"He really was happy, you know.", Marco stated out of nothing.

"Did he say so?", Ace asked a little surprised.

The Phoenix nodded his head. "Told me so himself.", he confirmed.

Both of them smiled, looking at each other. It was a peaceful moment, after what felt like a stormy day.

"Even when he saw the bills of food you skipped out on. In all honesty Ace, how is one human being capable of eating so much in a row? It was even worse than the amounts you ate at the Moby and I already thought that was impossible." The blond man shook his head, laughing.

"Pops saw the bills?", Ace asked, frowning.

"Sure."

"But how-"

"What did you think who paid them?", Marco interrupted Ace question.

"He did what?!"

"I see. He never told you, I should have known.", Marco answered him, still grinning.

"Why did he pay for my bills?", Ace insisted.

"You are one of his sons. You ditched them, he paid them."

"But why did he never tell, I would have paid him back!" Marco could sense Ace getting upset.

"Because Pops wanted to. He never cared about the money and you know that. He paid for everything we did."

"But...why?! We are pirates!"

Marco simply shrugged his shoulders.

" The old man grew up in poverty. And he probably did not want others to go bankrupt, because of us. You know how he had a weak spot. He felt responsible for everything we did. But I only assume that's the reason, I never asked."

Ace leaned back, thinking about Marcos words. It was really dumb getting angry at the old man for behaving like a father. He decided to let it go, even though he felt a little rush of shame. If only he knew back then!

"But he looked pretty wide-eyed as he saw how much you were capable of eating. He really couldn't believe it at first. He asked me about 3 times before he believed me you finished all the plates off yourself."

Marco had got back to laughing. Still Ace wasn't quite sure if he should join in.

"After that, he came to the conclusion you must be starving on the Moby. He right up stalked to the cooks on his own, telling them to triple up the servings."

Ace felt the tears reentering his eyes, this time not because he was said, but because he felt so grateful and touched by the things Marco had just told him.

"What a crazy old man!", he said shaking his head. "He could have simply asked me!"

"Oh, Pops knew you well enough to know, you would never complain to him!"

Ace flinched at this one in surprise. Damn. It was true.

But he finally joined Marcos laughter, imaging the frightening old man ordering more food from the cooks because one of his thousand sons was so greedy.

"What a pighead.", Ace mumbled more to himself than the man sitting next to him, shooting him a funny look.

"What?", he asked.

"What an irony, having the king of the pigheads stating that.", he teased Ace tugging a strand of his hair.

First Ace acted offended, but then he laughed out loud.

This was the best nonalcoholic two-man-party he ever had!

Chapter Text

By the time they returned to Amazon Lily, Luffy had finally woken up.

Ace felt a huge weight lift off his chest, as he pulled his brother into a tight hug. Looking back, he felt pretty silly about himself, whispering his little brother's name over and over again, until Luffy eventually let go first, which meant something, considering he was normally the more sentimental one of them. But to be fair it should be mentioned that there was food, so yeah. Meat to put it more precisely. And it was common sense Luffy loved meat.

Meeting his brother again felt like the first silver lining on the horizon after a lot of shitty events. And Ace felt especially relieved to find the little nuisance was back to good health.

The days went by. Law was trying to hold Ace from any physical activities and Ace, staying true to himself, throwing all of the good advises to the winds. It was not like he was still considering his own death a possibility - Luffy clearly needed him and he owed people. All of their efforts would be for nothing. And nothing would be better with him dead.

Luffys over brimming happiness and Marcos steady soothing presence held him from even thinking about it anymore. Obviously, he wasn't only one needing another person. Luffy evidently did, admitting it openly and Marco did as well, even though the Phoenix wasn't that straightforward admitting such things. But Ace knew, given how he felt just considering Marcos possible death there was not a chance the blonde felt different about it with him.

 

Whenever given the chance to escape the doctor, Ace went hunting in the woods near their camp. (Which wasn't much of a real "camp". They slept under the open sky.) Luffy still needed to recover much, sleeping most of the day and the whole night. He, nevertheless, woke like a clockwork about the same hours every day, ready to stuff his face with whatever looked like food to him, before he went to sleep again. Ace wanted to make sure there was always enough food there. They got some from the princess every day, brought by some women of the island, but Luffy's appetite easily managed to eat what Ace was hunting in an addition to the meals brought to them.

Ace himself wasn't much of a gourmet, but he sure was capable of doing some standard cooking. Marco made up for his limited abilities in the field of cooking, having a huge knowledge of herbs and everything plantlike.

There was no need to ask where he learned it all - Thatch. Not only had they lost their father over this war, but also Thatch, commander of the 4th division and a close friend to both of them Marco and him.

It all started with the traitor Marshall D. Teach, who named himself Blackbeard as an opposite to their father Whitebeard, killing his fellow crewmate over a devils fruit and Ace hunting him down for it.

The struggles of the past weeks showed off in Marcos' face, causing him to look older then Ace would have thought was possible.

Ace, himself was far away from feeling the slightest bit of appetite. Even though his tummy growled more painfully with every day that passed, he couldn't force more food down his throat. Every bite the took seemed determined to resurface again. The smell of food alone was enough to cause a feeling of nausea on him and he condemned the fact, that from all possible psychological outcomes it had to be nausea. Ace could not remember a time he ate less. But then psychosomatic afflictions were no buffet one could take what they wanted from - since no one would want to grab ANYTHING from that buffet.

Marco wanted to leave the brothers alone, give them some time to catch up, but Ace convinced him to stay. For one reason Luffy still slept almost the whole day and in addition, Ace really wanted Marco to stick around.

Moreover, there was not much convincement to be done on him, since Ace simply stated he wanted Marco to stay and the Phoenix agreeing with it.

He actually let Trafalgar, who seemed utterly happy with his now all tame patient, bandage him again and followed his medical advice without complaints. It was Ace he fought with these days. And even though Ace couldn't stop himself from joking about how the doc was a party pooper, he had to admit concerning names, Trafalgar D. Water Law also referred to as "Surgeon of death", could not get any cooler.

As the days went by Ace even noticed some strange form of friendship going on between the Phoenix and the doctor. With Marco and Law lying next to another in the grass, reading a book or Marco showing off his healing powers on some of Ace injuries and Ace could have sworn he even saw an amazed look slipping over the surgeons face.

Ace had to admit the sobriety of Law amused him and he liked messing with the young man from time to time. Also, the dynamic between the Phoenix and the surgeon reminded him of the days back on the Moby and the many pranks they played on each other. Sometimes they wondered if Marco could even take a joke, just to be taught better when he replied with a masterstroke. If there was such a thing as an eager beaver in the field of pranks - Marco had to be one of them.

Luffy tried his luck on playing tricks on him too but mostly blocked his own plans by falling asleep or with his disability of lying. But Ace knew he never stood a chance. Marco was too experienced in that matter to fall for some cheap tricks.

For all that, Ace liked watching him try and felt relieved the two of them seemed to get along well with each other. Without being able to tell why, it had been utterly important to him, that they liked one another.

Probably because he couldn't image continuing his life without one of them, which meant they would be running into each other more than once in the future. They both wanted him in their lives and now they wouldn't get rid of him that easily again. Seeing them being on very good terms with each other, joking around he felt dumb for even considering another outcome. It was hardly probable not growing a liking towards the ever-optimistic Luffy. He was like a beaming ball of happiness and joy, after all.

In the end, Ace decided on helping his brother with his next trick, since he could use a little fun too.

After a few days, Marco decided he was bored with sitting around and would rather join Ace on his hunting trips, telling him he was on a mission himself: seeking a pineapple! At first, Ace had thought he was joking on him for obvious reasons, but it was already the second day Marco was out here with him, aiming for that stupid pineapple.

But it did not bother Ace much. It was comforting to him, hunting for food like in the past days of his childhood. Having something to do, to get past the day helped him a lot. He was not quite sure, they were allowed out there, actually, he was sure they were not, but he couldn't help it. He needed to do something and there was not much to do since they still waited for his wounds to heal properly. And Ace waited for Luffy's to heal too, not wanting to leave his brother mid-recovery.

Surprisingly, Trafalgar had already given his heart back without mocking.

 

Ace and Marco strolled through the forest, Marco still determined to find a pineapple, even though none of them were sure those were even growing on the island. He seemed quite obsessed with his goal and behaved unlike the Marco Ace knew, refusing to tell him why it was that important to him.

Finally, Ace gave in, they both needed an activity, finding a pineapple was an activity - a stupid one but that was not the matter.

"Any requests on tonight's dinner?", he just asked a frustrated Marco, trotting next to him.

"Pineapple, yoi.", he muttered in response, sparing a glance.

Ace was given a hard time not laughing at his friends' open frustration.

"I didn't even know you were that much into pineapples.", he pointed out to him.

"That's because I am not.", Marco snapped as if it were that obvious.

Ace raised his hands in pure desperation. "Then why are we on a mission to find one? We are seeking for it since yesterday, presumingly looking like fools! And I don't even know what the plants growing pineapples look like!"

"Because I am trying to teach your stupid brother the difference between my head and an actual pineapple, yoi. As a side effect, it would also protect my face from getting eaten again!", Marco blurted out and Ace gave up on his resistance from laughter. Marco hated two things: comments regarding his age and being compared to a pineapple.

"I should have told you: Luffy is all about food.", he explained still grinning.

The vision of Luffy trying to eat Marco's face absolutely made his day. He was able to remember a similar situation with Dadan but was unable to reconstruct why Luffy had bit her face, but meat was involved so Dadan should have known better. Never a good idea getting yourself between Luffy and his beloved meat. No exceptions.

"You don't say!", said Marco, voice dripping with sarcasm.

"He really tried eating you?", asked Ace.

"You're having me on!"

Marco could act as offended as he liked, Ace clearly wasn't buying it.

"No kidding Ace, if we don't find a stupid pineapple soon I have to hurt that brat in order to hold him from eating me, yoi!"

"I wonder since when he is affectionate with pineapples", Ace mused.

"One should think he'd be full from all the meat."

"Speaking of food, when did you last eat, Ace?", his friend asked him, sounding more serious this time.

"Just now.", he snapped.

" That was one berry, exactly, and it was a toxic one.", stated Marco.

"Obviously, because you are a terrible gatherer and wouldn't survive a single day off my watch.", he added. Now he was really extravagating!

"No reason to revoke my surviving abilities!" he rejoined.

"And just you know: I'd simply eat meat!"

"Animals can be toxic as well.", Marco stated without blinking.

Ace sighed in devotion. "Whatever. Lucky me got you, who makes sure to laugh at me for accidentally swallowing poisoning food and will never let it be forgotten for the rest of my life! Thanks for the help, by the way, I really appreciate it. Your worries for my health are touching!"

Marco laughed at him. " You ate it. Tell your accidental swallowing to someone else."

Ace rolled his eyes when faced with Marcos pedantic correction.

"But seriously, I have never seen you eat less! And I have seen you eating more while sleepwalking, yoi!"

All teasing undertone had vanished from his friend's voice and Ace saw himself confronted with a worried looking Phoenix. So he decided to go with the truth already.

"To tell you the truth I don't know what's going on. I can't eat ever since Pops death. I really force the food on myself."

Marco nodded. "Already thought it was something like that."

Ever since the burial, Ace felt like a walking dead. He functioned and he occupied himself, but he wasn't able to conceal his hurt.

The inescapability of Whitebeards death was yet to hit him.

He sometimes felt so desperate, when he woke up crying in the middle of the night and somewhere alone in the woods, that he thought he might never accept it.

Marco said nothing further and Ace realized he was just making sure to know what's up.

"So, what does a pineapple plant look like?", he asked, changing the subject.

 

The next day Marco seemed to be in an especially good mood, even asking Trafalgar to join them hunting. The surgeon had leaned against the polar bear from his crew, who leaned against a tree, and only opened one of his eyes as Marco approached him. He looked at them with a mixture of pity and his usual emotionless expression, while asking a little irritated: "Why?".

They both shrugged at him and he sighed and told them to go without him.

It was only an assumption, but Ace was pretty much convinced Law thought they were complete idiots for hunting when there was no need to.

"You like that Trafalgar-guy, huh?", he asked of his friend while bowing down to a bush, whose berries looked like currants. He was just about to put one in his mouth and try as Marco jumped to his side, knocking it out of Ace hand.

"Are you serious?", he asked, sounding exasperated.

"Yeah, why? Something about him?", Ace asked back a little puzzled by his friend's reaction. Seemed like he hit on a raw nerve.

While Ace was well aware to both of them being loose cannons ready to head off any moment and at anything, he didn't consider Law was one of the touchy subjects to avoid.

"About who?", Marco asked blankly.

"Law." Ace made a gesture to point out how obvious he thought it was.

Marco made an unbelievably dumb face, sighing theatrically as if it were Ace who was slow off the mark.

"I was talking about the berries."

"What about them?"

"Those are the same as yesterday."

"You sure about that?", Ace looked at them suspiciously.

"I think those yesterday looked more blueish."

"Don't eat them!" Marco had been screaming.

"Okay.", said Ace ruefully.

They started heading deeper inside the woods, not talking much.

There was no need to after all. Ever since Marco accompanied Ace, Ace felt less of a need to distract himself. Marco had such a calming and reassuring effect on him and it was much more fun, hunting the animals down together.

There was no need to rush things and they both let up on using their devil's abilities to make it a little bit harder. They worked together perfectly, moving as if they'd coordinated it with one another, it was a little like performing some sort of fight-dance. Both of them flying through the air, hitting the same moments from different angles. Ace liked how it felt as if they were an item.

"Oi, Ace. How about some fishing?", yelled Marco. He stood a few feet away from Ace, waving two stocks in the air.

"Sure.", Ace replied loud enough for Marco to hear him. It would be a nice change from their usual hunting. Of course, they could have used their powers to cut it short, but there was no need to. It would be more fun to just sit and fish like ordinary people would do.

They found a spot at the edge of the island on the cliffs not far from their camp and sat down. Using filaments from Ace shorts, the stocks from the tree and some fat maggots, they tinkered themselves improvised fishings.

Marco joked about Ace wearing his pants until they would fall from his hips and Ace paid him back doing some teasing remarks about the orange onesie, the Phoenix sported these days, meeting his commentaries with pure ignorance.

The fishing went well and they sat in silence for a while until Ace dared to pick the conversation up again.

"So, you haven't answered my question yet.", he told the other man, avoiding his gaze.

"Which one?"

"On Trafalgar and you getting along pretty well?"

Marco shrugged. "Yeah, you observed that right. Why?"

"Nothing. I just think he is being a killjoy quite often.", said Ace, making sure to sound casually. He was unable to tell why he was acting like an idiot.

"That's quite an understatement.", Marco grinned.

"You afraid I wanna trade you in?", he asked sounding amused.

"Oh please. We are too different.", Ace stated but couldn't hold from coughing nervously.

"You'd probably like him best if only the two of you weren't that stubborn. He's pretty okay, even though his sense of fashion is...questionable, yoi."

"Says the talking traffic cone.", Ace remarked dryly.

"Just which side are you on?"

Ace laughed a little but could feel the sadness falling over him once again.

He was really starting to get paranoid. The last days hadn't favored his health, neither physical nor psychologically. The death of his father brought back some old memories from when his brother Sabo died. Ace had never gotten over that entirely and he felt like the pain over losing them melted together into one giant ball of grief that had settled in his stomach.

He felt the need to turn this conversation into one that was a little more serious.

"Hey, um, Marco", he started, feeling a little uncomfortable to ask right out of the blue "why did you decide to stay after all?"

He carefully avoided meeting Marcos' eyes, he really felt silly for asking, but he wanted to know what changed his mind so quickly.

"You wanted me to stay. Didn't you?", he whispered his voice right next to Ace left ear, so close he could feel the Phoenix breath on his skin.

Ace nearly jumped out of surprise and maybe a little panic he couldn't explain, Marcos voice and his breath made his flesh crawl from his neck over his arms, over his back and down till his legs. His entire body was covered in goosebumps and he was all too aware of the fact that he did not wear a shirt. Of course not, he usually never did, but it made him feel exposed this time, knowing that Marco could see the goosebumps he got him.

He swallowed hard before answering.

"I expected you would move on.", he explained, voice low since Marco was so close he could probably hear every breath he took. Still facing the ocean instead of his friend he tried to choose his words carefully, feeling like every wrong word could destroy something about the moment.

"It's very unlike you. To stand still, I mean."

Ace could hear his own insecurity and if he could there was no doubt Marco had heard it too.

"Well, it's very unlike you to ask such questions.", replied Marco and there was a teasing undertone in his voice. They exchanged a look but remained silent. Ace could hear his own heart beating in his chest. He had wished for this conversation to go somewhere else and he could feel frustration and anger rising in him. He got off easily these days. The atmosphere felt tense and it made him uncomfortable.

"Honestly, I did not expect you would ask me to stay."

Ace lifted his head and looked at Marco in surprise, the Phoenix had interrupted his thinking with this statement. But it was true. It was unlike him to admit he needed someone and he had never asked a single person in his life to not leave him alone. Even though he did in his nightmares multiple times.

"It took some overcoming to ask.", he admitted. "I would have never wanted to detain you."

Marco turned his head and they exchanged another look. Ace felt his cheeks getting hot. This was embarrassing.

"And I would have never wanted to bother you with my presence."

"Your presence is soothing.", Ace spoiled before he was able to stop himself.

He was a little afraid he might have said too much, but Marco simply smiled at him.

"I admit it was not easy to stop myself from running away, keeping myself busy."

"I am sorry."

"Don't be.", Marco answered real quick, looking directly into Ace eyes and it somehow felt really intimate to him.

Normally, Marco wasn't upfront with anyone, a trait they had in common, and Ace assumed that was a reason as to why he felt that way.

"I only then realized how tired I felt. It's good to slow down from time to time."

Marco had brought one of his legs to his body, propping his head onto it, facing Ace. His other leg dangled off the cliff just like both of Ace legs.

At that moment, Ace felt something pulling on his fishing and he pulled it out quick and half-heartedly killed the fish with a fireball, without taking his gaze from the man next to him.

"I do not feel tired. It's more like someone set fire on my insides."

"Your nightmares hunting you?", asked Marco and Ace blinked at him surprised.

"Yeah, maybe, I don't know, actually."

"Sorry. You screamed the other night and I woke up all worried for you. But apparently, you were sleepwalking, having a really bad nightmare. I tried to wake you up but it did not work so I followed you."

Ace felt his cheeks heat up immediately. He thought no one had noticed his sleepwalking and bad dreams. Most of the nights he used to wake up somewhere in the woods and then had to spend the rest of the night, finding his way back.

"You followed me?", he exclaimed in horror. He had jumped from where he sat, panic rushing his veins. He had no idea why it caused him to freak out.

"I really did not want to-", Marco began, but then shut his mouth, looking at him unhappily.

"No, I-sorry.", Ace mumbled, plunking himself down onto the grass again, as he heard a ripping noise. Oh no. He lowered his head, one of his hands over his eyes.

"Please tell me, that wasn't my shorts ripping.", he groaned. He heard Marco chuckle. The tightness had vanished off the atmosphere.

"Just give in to the orange nightmare, yoi.", Marco teased, gesturing to his onesie.

"Never!"

"You'd prefer walking around naked?", grinned Marco. Ace face went hot and he tried to cover it up with laughter.

 

Ace had surrendered himself to the orange nightmare, against his will, but he surrendered. Walking around only in his boxers made an unexpectedly huge difference to him, especially when Marco surveyed him with an amused expression written all over his face.

On the other hand, Ace was not used to wear so many clothes, not even when visiting a winter island he bothered putting on some clothes. Only when he went undercover, which he usually never did.

Amazon Lily was far from being a winter island, but Ace had no other choice.

Either the orange nightmare or some rag from Trafalgar. But not only were his clothes too small for Ace they also had the heart pirates jolly roger all over them. He preferred to go with the orange onesie.

The third option would have been to dress in women's clothes, which meant it was not an option. Since there were only women on this island, they couldn't simply purchase some men's clothing in a store.

Of course, they could have asked the women for a favor, sewing some men's clothes, but Ace wasn't the type for extra things. Or he was not as long as it did not concern food. But as grief held his stomach hostage, food wasn't much of a thing lateley. It was verisimilar the first time in his life he ate like a normal person. Even Luffy was worried about it. He ate for both of them - like they normally ate. Which meant he ate even more than usual.

The only thing that really angered Ace about the onesie, was that it covered his tattoo, but he found a solution for it.

He "borrowed" a belt from Trafalgar and exchanged the original belt buckle with the one he usually wore. Instead of the heart pirates jolly roger - they really seemed to put that everywhere - was now his belt buckle with the "A".

His own belt matching the buckle went broke, but at least this piece of the gift survived. The belt kept the overall in place on his hips and he wore it zipper open, the upper part of the overall hanging from his hips. It wasn't perfect, but it felt much more like himself. Actually Ace started liking the outfit, it matched the hat after all.

Marco had shaken his head at him, but he wasn't one to judge since he kept his onesie zippered down too, showing off the jolly roger tattooed to his chest.

Despite the fact that his shorts were still okay, Luffy had talked Trafalgar into giving one to him, too. He wasn't stoppable once he settled for an idea.

Another day had passed. Marco and he had gone hunting, as usual, the only twist was Marco finding his pineapple, finally, and Law joining them for a few hours after he went back to check on Luffy.

Ace was determined to get out of him why he was doing this. Likely, Ace should just shut his mouth and be grateful, but he was too curious to do so.

The sun had already set and they were late this time, but Marco insisted that the pineapple made up for it. Ace was amused Luffy's comment had gotten under Marcos skin that badly.

Luffy and Law were both up, talking to each other, as they drew closer to the bonfire. Ace could have sworn he saw Law smiling a little. But he assumed it must have been the shadows of the flames dancing on his face, making it seem as if. Or his little brother had some sort of superpowers Ace did not know about, he mused.

Actually, Ace would have expected Luffy to get on Law's nerves since he seemed to be the type of person who easily got annoyed and Luffy was the type of person who could annoy people easily.

"Oi Ace! Oi Pineap-", Luffy had screamed but didn't make it any further, because Marco had thrown the pineapple at him.

"Shishishi, at first I thought you had jumped me.", he said in Marcos direction, laughing.

"Oi, Ace, if we draw it a face and put a mini-onesie on it, it could be your mascot! That would be so cool!"

Marco looked like he was about to shake Luffy and as Ace started laughing at his comment, Marco pinned his gaze on him, indicating he would shake Ace right after.

"This is a pineapple! It can't be a mascot!", he screamed.

Both brothers started laughing again.

"When his face turns this bright red color he looks really weird. I don't believe it's a healthy color for a pineapple.", Luffy mused.

"That's only because you call him a pineapple.", Ace informed his brother.

It was no good of an idea to be in the middle of things when the Phoenix maybe planned on getting revenge through some sort of prank.

Law only blinked dumbfoundedly at them like he could not believe the silly conversation they were having. It seemed he decided it was about the right time to change the subject.

"There are news.", he informed them.

"On the one hand", he tossed a rolled up newspaper at them, "they raised all of our bounties."

"What about the other?", Marco asked not even blinking.

It was to be expected they'd do this.

"You may want to take a look first.", Law said, folding his arms in front of his chest.

Marco huffed impatiently and grabbed the newspaper.

"So?", Luffy asked looking impatiently. He jumped from one foot to another, looking excited. Marco took a closer look and suddenly went pale.

"You are not going to like this, yoi.", he said, directed to Ace.

"Just read it out loud."

"Yeah, come on! Traffy made me wait for you!", Luffy whined.

"If you say so. Surgeon of Death, Trafalgar D. Water Law, 500 million beri. Mugiwara, Monkey D. Luffy 700 million beri. Marco the Phoenix 1.5 billion beri.", he stopped looking at Ace before he continued.

"Firefist, Gol D. Ace 2 billion beri."

Silence fell over them. It was as if someone had knocked out the lights and Ace had gone deaf. There was a shrill noise, ringing in his ears and a numb feeling that settled in Ace limbs. It felt as if his body had come apart, which was quite possible, considering he was a logia user.

He felt something cool, probably Marco with his blue flames, encase his body and he guessed he must have turned into his element without wanting to.

It was really good Marco was with them.

 

"B-but Ace goes by Portgas, his mother's name!"

Ace could hear his little brother stammer angrily as his senses came slowly back to him. It was the first thing he heard and the first thing for him to see was the outraged look on Luffy's face as he screamed at Trafalgar, accusingly pointing at what seemed to be Ace' new wanted poster.

"Those bastards!", Luffy screamed.

Ace still felt strange, like he wasn't connected to his body anymore. The picture on the wanted poster showed him in the middle of the fight at Marineford, his little brother in the background. Not only had they changed his name to make him more of a target, but they also choose a picture Luffy was on too!

He could feel the anger boiling up in him and the cool flames from Marco again. He tried to steady himself, gaining control over his body again.

He heard Law screaming something back at Luffy but he did not pay attention. He focused on Marco instead it helped him to cool down his temper.

"What's the other news, surgeon?", he demanded.

Law glared at him but opened his mouth anyway to answer.

"You have a visitor!", said a voice, coming from behind Ace.

He jumped more than turned around to see the old man standing there. White long hair, a scar over one of his eyes. He instantly knew who it was.

Silvers Rayleigh, also known as "Dark King", the former first mate of the Roger Pirates and the "Right Hand of the Pirate King".

Chapter Text

It was the exact moment, Ace recognized the old man, he was sure the best of the day was already in his past. He was shocked by Rayleigh showing up -of course, he was - but he felt too tired for another spontaneous self-ignition. He decided one was enough for a day and he could make up for it tomorrow. What an irony. Quick after losing the man, he considered his real father the world seemed eager to remind him of his begetter.

"Oi, Rayleigh!", Luffy waved excitedly. "Watcha doin' here?"

"You know him?", Ace asked baffled yet the same time appalled.

"We've met back at Sabaody, caused a little trouble. It's been directly before I came for you.", Luffy explained happily and kind of proud.

"I see.", answered Ace in a deliberately rather biting tone. Looking the old man up and down with a hostile glare, latter didn't seem to bother.

"Good to see you again, Luffy.", he stated, ignoring the tense atmosphere.

"Same.", grinned Luffy, who did not ignore but simply didn't get the hostility lying in the air. Rayleigh seemed at complete ease.

Ace gritted his teeth, barely managing to keep calm enough not to jump his little brother and tell him he wasn't supposed to talk to the man in such a friendly manner.

"What is it, you came for?", asked Marco, whose voice dropped way beyond icy. He seemed tense as he put one arm in front of Ace torso as he slotted between Ace and Rogers first mate, now standing in front of the freckled young pirate as if to protect him. Marco could turn into something they used to call 'mommy-mode', to vex him a little.

"Marco.", Rayleigh said in a friendly tone. "It's nice to see you again, despite the sad circumstances. I am really sorry for your loss."The man sounded sincere. "Also for yours, Ace.", he said addressing the pirate directly.

Marco seemed utterly untouched but replied nevertheless. "Thanks."

Even Luffy seemed to sense the tension now.

"You guys know each other too?", he asked, frowning. Ace could literally see his brain getting to work, trying to make sense of the situation.

Nobody answered.

"Well, I'm glad to see you all survived."

It was Rayleigh, who started the conversation again, while he sat down like he owned the place, warming at their bonfire. Ace was tempted to spark the fire over at him.

"How did you get here, old man? And did you know we were here?"

"Just a guess. And I swam."

Maybe he could set him on fire just a little, Ace mused. Just enough to cause him to jerk up. He hated seeing the man sitting there without ruffle or excitement.

"Please, make yourself comfortable.", he offered, pointing next to where he took a seat. Luffy sat down without hesitation and began to chatter with the 'Dark King' as if they were old pals. Ace stood there unsure of how to react, Marco next to him seemed to wait for his reaction. He did not move the slightest.

"Just be upfront with what you want.", said Marco, clearly not up to a nice little chat as well.

"You look good, Marco. I kept track of your actions. You became quite a decent fighter."

"Stop it with your small talk and get some plaintext on!", Ace yelled, he finally lost his temper.

"If you insist. I planned on talking to you anyway.", said Rayleigh, raising from his spot at the bonfire.

"Oh", said Luffy sounding a little disappointed "But be warned: Ace is having a bad day!"

Marco glanced over at him and Ace gestured for him to leave with Luffy and Law.

"So, what do you want from me?", he asked bluntly. He wasn't one to beat around the bush.

"Won't you take a seat?"

"Hell no.", he growled nerve-racked.

Much to Ace' surprise Rayleigh laughed.

"Got it. I am mainly here in because of your little brother."

"Stay away from Luffy!", Ace interfered before Rayleigh was able to continue. He did nonetheless as if Ace hadn't just yelled at him, again.

"I wanted to talk to you about it first."

"I am not interested."

Rayleigh didn't flinch and kept on smiling as if the situation was a really fun one. Ace was tempted to punch that smile from his face.

"I've already figured you wouldn't be too happy with me visiting.", he offered an explanation to his calm behavior.

"I do not want to hear any stories about HIM!", he blurted out.

"That's why came, isn't it old man? Well, I can assure you I don't want to hear any of it. He is NOT my father. Bad enough it's his name printed all over my wanted posters, now there's also you being here! Get lost already!"

While talking Ace had obsessed about the topic, getting more furious with every word.

Without waiting for a reaction he turned around and walked away. The talking was done.

 

Ace had no idea how far he had walked and what exactly had happened afterward but considering the ravaged environment surrounding him, he had gone off in rage again.

He heard a little rustle in the tree above his head and the stroking of Marcos wings as he landed there in his hybrid form.

"Isn't there a thing that's going to chase you away?", Ace asked feeling embarrassed.

"Maybe I'm just drawn to the danger.", Marco suggested, smiling.

"He gone?"

"Nope."

"Already thought so.", muttered Ace.

"Where's he?"

Marco faltered, then answered: "With your brother. He offered to train him."

"Train him?", Ace repeated.

He sat up. Sure Rayleigh had been strong and probably was still. There was a lot for him to teach Luffy and he knew. The old man didn't show a sign indicating he somewhat became decrepit. As much as he hated to admit, Rayleigh could be the solution for his brother, who needed to grow stronger as well. After all, he already guessed he wouldn't get much of a say in this.

Marco and he would head of minding their own business. Ace did not like the thought of splitting paths with Lu, but it was unavoidable. He would take what he could get as long as they were still here together and he would make sure to set up family meetings in more or less regular intervals. If Luffy liked it or not.

That in his head he remembered that Marco and he hadn't done much talking about how to proceed with things. First of all, they needed to find the remaining members, reuniting the family. All of them had to train and prepare because a payback fighting Blackbeard was inevitable. It was only a matter of when not if. But even without a devastating fight ahead of them, Ace needed to level up his abilities. With such a bounty set out on his head and his heritage revealed to the whole world, people would be after him more than ever.

"Fine.", he said. "They're at the camp?"

Marco nodded.

"What are you up to?"

"Talking with Rayleigh.", sighed Ace. "I get the feeling he's not going to leave before we had a proper talk so I'll get it over with. After all, he clearly wants to meet Roger's son and in a way I understand."

He felt tired, too tired to be mad.

"Okay."

"Marco that reminds me of how I need to do some training as well. I guess we can both agree on the fact that currently, I am not worth 2 billion and people will be after us like never before. Additionally, we have to prepare for payback war with Blackbeard - I am not going to lose against that bastard again!"

Marco nodded approvingly. "Just what I thought. We all need to train and we will soon begin. Although the whole crew has to do the same, we can't wait to start. For now, we will fight against each other. What do you think?"

"Not a bad idea. Our abilities compensate one another so we both would need to come up with new and other things. Also, it will help improve our haki.", Ace mused.

"Exactly.", Marco confirmed. Then he scratched the back of his head uncomfortably.

"Look Ace, Rayleigh got me on to something about Izo's track..."

"Sure. I'll follow after you."

"Yeah, but we don't have Den Den Mushis to .."

Ace broke him off mid-sentence, by holding out a white piece of paper from the bull-medallion, dangling from his orange cowboy hat. Marco had never even known he was able to open that nor that he kept Marco's vivre card in there. He casually held the paper between two of his fingers, grinning cheekily at the Phoenix.

"You didn't think I wouldn't watch out for it, did you?", he teased.

"You lost the hat.", Marco dared to remark.

"And you brought it back to me. So the next time, the hat is going to bring me back to you."

 

"Oi, Ace!Oi!", Luffy exclaimed happily, waving his arms in the air like he was an air traffic controller and Ace a pilot about to land a plane. It would be impossible to miss his brother when he cheered and waved like a maniac.

He lifted one of his arms and waved back at him, a smile on his lips.

"Ace, great news! Rayleigh says he's gonna train me so I' ll become stronger and the pirate king!"

"I only promised him the part in which he becomes stronger.", Rayleigh commented, wearing his ever-present grin.

Ace had to grin against his will, Luffy was really determined when it came to his goal of becoming Pirate King. Since they were young it had been his ultimate goal. Ace had dreamed of becoming Pirate King as well, but to him, it felt like he just had to overpower his father and that he had to do it like he was destinated to. Meeting Pops had changed a lot to Ace.

"Marco told me so.", he ruffled Luffys hair, who answered it with an indignant noise.

Turning to Rayleigh he said: "Let's talk, old man."

Without waiting for his reaction he turned and headed off towards the coastline. He knew the older man followed him, even though he made no noise walking and wondered why he allowed a brat like Ace talking to him like that.

Maybe the age had it's call on him since rumor had it he had been quite a hot-head.

Arriving at the beach he sat down in the sand and waited for Rayleigh, while he kept his gaze to the sea. Hopefully, Marco would be alright. Ace nearly jumped at his own thoughts. They never worried about each other. Marco was strong and he knew it, but it seemed all the deaths caused some effects on Ace, changing his personality in unexpected ways.

Almost soundless, Rayleigh showed up, sitting next to him.

"I assume my little brother isn't the only topic you want to discuss."

"I see I'm quite predictable."

"You better not let anything happen to my little brother! If he gets injured because you haven't trained him well enough I will hold you responsible for it. If he fails, you are responsible! Meaning I will take you down on my own, got it?"

"Noted."

Rayleigh still seemed immune to Ace hostility, which was rather disturbing to the young pirate. He simply ignored Ace openly aggressive manner.

"I would like to make you an offer."

Ace skipped the snappy comment, biting his tongue and waited for the other to continue.

"You want some?", Rayleigh offered him a bottle of sake.

He warily eyed the bottle held out to him, before accepting it, taking a huge gulp. If he wanted to last the conversation he would need the alcohol. Especially with the subjects yet ahead of them.

They passed the bottle without talking.

"As you came to know I will train your brother. I watched the fight at Sabaody. I am really sorry you lost your father. Whitebeard was a good guy."

Surprised Ace turned his head, eyeing him properly for the first time since he had arrived.

"I am well-aware that Whitebeard considered his crew his family."

Ace wasn't in the mood to discuss the death of Pops with the first mate of his former enemy so he just left it well alone.

Instead, he opted for a topic a little less captious.

"You wanna give me some recommendations on my fighting skills?" He gave an arrogant undertone to his voice.

"Would you accept some, Portgas D. Ace?"

"Why do call me by my mother's name? You know the real surname."

All good intents were blown to the wind. Only sitting next to Rayleigh caused Ace blood to boil.

"There must've been a reason you went by her name."

The mention of his mother cooled down his blood in an instant.

Silently Ace eyed his feet, then Rayleigh, back to the sand beneath his feet, his feet, Rayleigh, sand, Rayleigh-

"Ask. If there is something you want to know- ask."

"You knew her, right?"

Ace felt embarrassed not to mention silly while asking, but he had to take on the opportunity.

"She was just as pig-headed as you. Even worse than Roger, who was a terrible pig-head himself. Sailed with us from time to time."

He looked at the sea while talking, seeming lost in some memory.

"What was she like?", Ace pressed bluntly. He wasn't in the place to stop himself. Every once in a while he was presented with the opportunity to find out more about her, he jumped head-on. The only stories he heard came from Grap, who did not know her too well since he was a marine and she was with the worlds most wanted pirate. In addition, Garp wasn't much of a talker.

"She was pretty. Her freckles passed on to you. Same with the smile."

Ace snorted. "Bullshit. You never saw me laughing!"

"You might not notice, but around Luffy, you smile a lot.", Rayleigh told him.

"Oh, well yeah. He can be a pain in the ass, but I love him. He has a similar effect on most people. It seems you just have to like him."

"True." Rayleigh sighed.

"What do you want to know about her? We haven't met that often, but I am willing to tell you everything I can remember. She sure was a nice person, passionate with everything she did. She loved flowers and grew them, she even took them to the sea with her. She also was patient. She was the only person who could change Rogers mind once he made it up and she was able to calm him down no matter how angry he was. That man was a terrible hot-head", he shot Ace an amused glance, " But she had it under control. She was clever and got us out of situations none of us thought to escape alive. She saved our asses more than once. She was a good person. Also really caring. She knew every crew member by name and surname and always referred to people using their whole name. Many of the crew members also confided in her for advice regarding love. She was well-trusted along the Oro Jackson. You want to hear more?"

"No thanks. It'll be enough for now."

The returned to silently passing the bottle between each other.

"So what do you think?"

"About what?"

"Me. My existence. Roger having a son."

His tone crossed the line of politeness by far and he sailed more towards provocating waters. His gaze on the man was challenging as well.

Sighing again, Rayleigh grabbed the bottle from Ace, who let got it reluctantly.

"To be honest it angers me. That hard-ass could have told me! I get why he handed you to Garp, and maybe he thought I wasn't a good company for a kid, but telling me nothing about your existence - I was really angry when I heard. At first, I couldn't believe it."

"You're really trying to tell me you did not have the slightest clue? How dumb do you consider me? And if it were true: how dumb have you been?", Ace replied resentful, not really sure he should be buying that story.

"You can consider me a dumbass in that case.", Rayleigh answered and Ace could see a rueful look cross his face.

"But the more people would have known the more endangered you would have been."

"That's bullshit. You really have no idea.", muttered Ace.

"All I can tell you is my very own opinion, Ace. And in my opinion, all I know for sure is, that I would've liked to know. Roger was my best friend after all. You know, losing him was hard and if I had known about your existence it would have helped me a little I guess. I am making this about myself I know, but I guess you can relate to the feeling of wanting to do something that matters, something in honor of this person or at least something to keep you going. If only I had known you existed I could have...I would have...well, honestly, I probably would have made a lousy uncle."

"You would have been well-accompanied with Garp being a lousy grandfather and Dadan and the bandits being a lousy family. At least most of the time.", Ace let him know. He wasn't sure why he told him. But it somehow sounded appealing to him, although now he was grown up and it was too late to make up for it. But he could see himself as a kid, he would have been pretty grateful, despite his way of showing wouldn't have...you know, showed.

"Oh. Well, in that case, I guessed no one could have held me responsible - at least not only me." He scratched the back of his head and at that moment it crossed Ace mind that, maybe, just maybe, this conversation wasn't as easy for the other man as well.

"In any case, I don't want to hear a thing about Roger and how he loved and cared about me or my mother or how he would've been a great father and other shitty stuff."

"Got it. But you can always ask if you want to. You know, I don't know you all too well same goes for Luffy even though I know him a little better and he isn't giving me a hard time as you, but I have known Marco for a while and I've met Whitebeard multiple times-"

"Are you just going to ramble on and list how good you know each person I know individually, or is there a point to this?", Ace interrupted since Rayleigh seemed to digress a little from the original subject.

"Fine. Then let me tell you otherwise: There seem to be already a bunch of people in your life, that like you enough to put their own lives at risk without. Apparently, they care about you deeply. Marco for example. I can tell because I have known him for so long. I've never seen him stepping in front of someone else other than Whitebeard."

"Apparently, you don't know Marco as good as you think you do. He would do that for every one of his brothers."

"You got me wrong. Of course, he would. He would protect his brothers whenever they are confronted with a dangerous situation. But with you, when I arrived there was no danger, at least not in the way of me trying to physically hurt you. Even if so, you would be capable to protect you yourself and as your friend, he is well aware. It was never easy winning Marco, Whitebeard managed and I'd say you too."

Ace shook his head disbelievingly. That was nothing special.

"How do you know him?", he asked nevertheless curious about the story.

There was so much about Marco he did not know and he felt like wanting to know everything suddenly, but he knew Marco. He couldn't just throw a ton of questions at that man.

Rayleigh laughed at his curiosity. "Just ask him yourself as soon as you meet again?", he suggested.

"Yeah. So when do you start Luffy's training?"

Rayleigh was right, after all, decided Ace. It was better to ask Marco himself and it would be better hearing it from his friend.

"This crazy 'Surgeon of death' you're with told me we would be able to start it in two weeks."

"He is kinda crazy, isn't he?", Ace agreed. And also a little creepy.

"So you'll stay until then?"

"I think so. If the Boa Hancock approves, but I guess she won't make me leave. We are old friends."

"Oh? Well, I will stay with you until you leave for your final destination, but until then..", he let the unfinished sentence hanging in the air.

"What's until then?"

"Isn't that quite obvious, old geezer! You gonna train me or not?"

Normally Ace was a polite person and he knew how to behave, that was why he knew for sure this way of asking was out of order. There probably were fewer ways to ask for help worse as he just did.

"Well, if you start listening and stop the yelling -"

"I am not yelling!", Ace clarified a little too loud to make it a point.

"By the way, did the doctor gave his consent to this?", Rayleigh asked glancing at Ace chest suspiciously.

"As you said, the man's crazy! Plus I don't have time to waist and Marco used his healing powers on me. I'll be fine."

It wasn't a complete lie, Marco had used his healing powers on him and they worked fast and almost magically, but only almost.

"We'll start tomorrow.", decided Rayleigh.

 

The fire had burnt down, almost dead, only a few last flames seemed to struggle for survival, leaking at the wood, as Ace rejoined their bonfire, they sat up the exact same place every evening. He snipped his fingers casually and the flames flared up in an explosive manner reaching the same hight as Ace, radiating heat.

Ace grinned self-satisfied, as he dropped down next to his brother.

"Hey, Ace.", Luffy exclaimed clearly not noticing that they sat close enough to each other, Ace would have heard him even if he only whispered.

The crackling noise of the flames was familiar to him and the light dancing on their faces drew funny shades. Only the thought of leaving Luffy soon almost broke Ace heart and he wondered if you could really trust Rayleigh with his little brother. But he was aware he wouldn't get a choice in the matter, anyway. Luffy was keen to the idea and Ace knew himself, Rayleigh was a winning.

"Hey, little pill.", he answered, despite the teasing nickname in a soft tone.

He could feel the crack in his smile and hoped Luffy wouldn't notice.

"Where's Rayleigh?", he asked.

"Gone swimming."

"Around this time?", Luffy's eyes widened. Then he laughed out loud.

"Crazy old geezer!", he chuckled and Ace joined in.

"Duh!"

He let his gaze roam drift over the place, but couldn't make out a grumpy doctor.

"Where's the 'Virgin of Death'?", he asked Luffy. Law was nowhere to be seen.

"I believe it's "Surgeon of Death'.", Luffy corrected him.

"Don't tell me you got a name right!", Ace taunted.

Luffy shrugged his shoulders impassively. "Traffy's on the Polar Tang doing some doctor's stuff."

"Doctor's stuff?", Ace raised one of his eyebrows.

"Hell, I don't know, I don't get a word he says!", Luffy defeated himself.

"Where's Marco?"

"Now you get his name right when he's not there to hear it! He won't believe me when I tell him."

"It's funnier when he gets a little upset.", Luffy chuckled."Also, Traffy just told me his name when I asked him about pineapple-guy."

It was typical for Luffy not to listen properly, never getting the names of others right. This trait caused him a lot of trouble already.

"Marco's gone searching for one of our brothers.", he explained.

"So you'll leave soon, too?", his little brother asked, sounding sad. Ace heart broke again seeing the sad expression on his brothers face.

"I have to. I really have to do something, Lu, or I'll go insane. And we need to reunite the Whitebeard family. It's no good if everyone's griefing on their own and we are worried some might be tempted to seek revenge on Blackbeard on their own. Marco was really worried about so he left in a hurry."

Luffy shot him a sad look while he slid closer to his older brother, who held his arms out for him. Within a second, Luffy had jumped Ace who folded his arms around the younger pirate.

"You'll hunt down Blackbeard, won't you Ace?"

"Yes.", he answered truthfully, cuddling Luffy.

"Please promise you won't die!", he heard him mumble into his hair next to his ear.

"I promise.", said Ace even though he was aware he almost broke his promise the last time, which was probably why Luffy asked him to promise again.

"I won't die.", he whispered softly into Luffys ear while he petted his head.

"Rayleigh's gonna train me until you two head off to the island Rayleigh has picked out for your training. That's when we have to part ways. As soon as I've caught up with Marco, he and I will be training together. There'll be enough people wanting our heads we can practice with. "

"With the bounty of yours, sure. It's almost yonko level!",mused Luffy.

"Yeah.", sighed Ace.

"You're mad because of Roger's name?", Luffy asked.

"Yeah. It angers me they increased it only in because of my heritage. And the escape of course. But none of that is my reward, you know?"

Luffy nodded and Ace knew he could relate. He would hate it just as much if they raised his bounty in because of his father, Dragon, leader of the revolutionary army.

"You ever met Dragon?", he asked him.

"Dunno. I guess no.", Luffy shrugged indifferently.

"To me, Shanks is what gets closest to a father.", he explained.

"Like Whitebeard was to me.", Ace said smiling a little sad smile.

"Did I ever tell you how I made my way through a snowstorm to their hide-out in order to thank him for saving your life?"

"No. But I knew because you told me you would.", grinned Luffy.

"He was at the funeral, helped Marco to organize it.", he told him.

"Really?"

Ace nodded grinning. " He asked about you. I am sure he'll visit you by time."

"That would be great.", smiled Luffy.

"Hey Ace, are the other members of Whitebeards crew really like siblings to you?", he asked pensively.

"Of course.", Ace confirmed. "We are like a family, but still it's different from how I see you. I love them, but I'll always love you a little more."

Luffy beamed at him. "I also love you a little more.", he admitted.

Ace ruffled his hair, not minding his brother's protests.

"But things will change. I won't let you run around without visiting anymore. I'll check in with you every few months, I promise.", Ace told him.

It would be an effort, meeting up regularly when both of them went their own ways, but he was determined to do so.

"What are you going to do?", Luffy asked him.

Ace lifted his shoulders. "First we have to reunite the family, Pops would not have wanted us to fall apart after his death. And I guess payback war with Blackbeard is on."

"So you'll be the new leader?", Luffy asked excitedly.

Ace blinked at him a little baffled, then his expressions dropped.

"I doubt it. I am Roger's son, Pops did not care but who knows about the others? They won't follow me."

As if to underline his words, Ace shook his head, trying to hold back the fears inside of him. Losing his family over this was his greatest fear. He had no idea what he should do if they abandoned him.

"Nah. They love you. They are your family, after all.", Luffy stated beaming.

"And if not, you're always welcome to join my crew."

Ace was touched by his brother's attempts to cheer him up and he tried to lighten up the mood by replying: "I don't see that happen, kid."

Luffy was about to protest against the nickname, as he continued:

"Marco's probably going to be the leader. He's been with Whitebeard longer, he's older and more reasonable. Not to mention he is indeed stronger."

"Shishishi", laughed Luffy.

"What?", Ace asked blankly.

"You like him.", Luffy declared with a self-satisfied smile.

"Yeah, of course.", said Ace, trying to shrug it off casually. Suspicion of what his brother hinted, crept his mind but he couldn't believe Luffy would mean such a thing.

"No. I meant that you like him a lot!", Luffy explicated. "See, your blushing, Ace!"

"No, I'm not! Stop talking nonsense.", Ace snapped. "Besides, since when do you notice such things?"

"There! You just confirmed it.",Luffy said happily.

Ace kept staring at him and Luffy let his gaze slide to the side, awkwardly pursing his lips to the right side, Ace knew the expression all too well.

"Since now.", Luffy mumbled, sweat gathering on his forehead.

"Bullshit! You're lying."

"Ahh, fine. Traffy said so and I don't have a reason to mistrust him!", claimed the younger.

Angrily, Ace shook his head. "Great, so he's a Lovedoctor now!"

Luffy laughed. "You'd like him Ace. He reminds me of you when we were kids!"

 

"Room."

Law watched as one of his blue shimmering rooms built up around them.

He had been caught up in one of his studies, as clamor from outside had interrupted his peace. At first, he had figured it to be some fierce creatures attacking the camp, but he should have known better.

Meanwhile Ace was busy with giving Luffy an understanding of refraining from his and Marcos relationship. And the fact that he never was and never would be as grumpy as Trafalgar D. Water Law.

He had barely noticed something was off as: "Shambles."

The next thing he knew was that his body was divided into several pieces, his legs, arms, torso, and head hanging in the air as if that was a basic thing for them to do. Luffy's head looked just as puzzled but started to smile quickly after.

"So cool!", he exclaimed, his arms lingering somewhat above his head stretched up forming fists and Ace could literally see the blinking in his eyes.

"What the fuck..", he mumbled, trying to figure out how to move his body parts.

"Whatcha think you airheads doing?", an infuriated Law yelled at them.

Ace was distracted by one of his legs passing by his face. Since his clothes had been cut as well it was still suited in a piece of the orange overall.

Looking at it he started laughing, while tried fishing for his head with his arms.

"Oi, Ace! Look at me!", Luffy screamed cheerfully, not minding Law as well.

He had one leg attached to his head and his arms grew out of his neck.

Both of them burst into laughter, Luffy whining about wanting a mirror when suddenly they were twirled through the air.

"Don't ignore me! Stop laughing!", Trafalgar yelled, openly not amused by the fact they had so much fun toying around with his powers.

"You'll ruin all of my painstaking work if you don't stop hitting each other!"

Now he tried with reason.

"You really think I am that humorless?", Ace asked Luffy.

"Hmmm.", said latter. He used one of his arms to scratch his chin the other scratching his head and it looked too ridiculous to hold back from laughter.

"Luffy-ya!"

"Oh, hey Traffy!", he waved at the man standing on the ground. Law looked like he was about to bring his face to his palms or a nearby tree.

"Hey, Love-doc, but us back together, would you?", Ace said facing a now soberly looking Law. It was the expression of pure surrender that was written all over his face. It was the last thing Ace saw, as he felt a familiar feeling quickly building up in him. Damn, the thought before sleep knocked him out.

 

Ace woke up to the crackling fire and a snorting Luffy. He had no idea what happened. Tired he rubbed over his eyes as he saw Trafalgar hover over him, a worried look on his face. Once he realized Ace had opened his eyes his gaze turned rather angry.

"What did you do, Portgas?", he hissed, voice low. "You really plan on ruining my work, don't you?"

Ace could only blink in confusion. "Excuse me?"

"What did you do?", Law insisted his face dangerously close to Aces.

Immediately, Ace thoughts strayed over to Marco. Marco, who was out there somewhere. He switched back to reality and was oddly annoyed to only find Laws face above him. Sitting up he opened his medallion and fished for Marcos vivre card. She looked just fine, indicating Marco was fine as well and pointed off somewhere beyond the coast. He let out a breath in relief.

Law, who desperately had tried to catch Ace attention, took the paper out of Ace hand.

"If you wanna see your birdie again, you should listen to my medical advice., Portgas. Tell me: what did you do that you just fell asleep in the middle of things?"

Ace was about to snap at him but froze. "I fell asleep?" Well, that explained a lot.

"That's what I am trying to tell you, yes."

Relieved, Ace started to laugh but was shushed by Law who pointed to a peacefully sleeping Luffy. He clearly had never tried waking Luffy from his sleep when he thought that such a low sound could cause him to wake up.

He gently took Marcos vivre card out of Laws hand and smiled at him in a calming manner. "That happens with me all the time,Traffy."

He emphasized the nickname his brother used on the doctor, knowing it would bother the man. But latter only blinked irritated, before going back to his usual blank expression.

"You're telling me that happens to you regularly?"

"You can ask whoever you want. It's kind of my trademark."

"Since when do you have it?", asked Law, who seemed to be pumped all of a sudden.

"Umm...ever I guess. It's been this way since I was a kid. I can't remember a time it didn't happen to me.", Ace shrugged casually.

"Wait here!", commanded Law and before Ace could ask what got him all alive he had created another room, exchanging himself with a tiny stone.

He was gone. That seemed to be a pretty useful power, Ace had to admit.

In a way, it reminded him of Buggy's abilities with the difference that Buggy could only part himself into pieces and nothing else. Well, probably you could get more out of his powers, but it was Buggy.

Maybe one day Ace would be able to watch Law interact in a fight as he was really curious about that boy's abilities. Maybe they would even fight against each other. As pirates, they were enemies after all.

But that was a distant thought to Ace. The last days had been like holidays from his usual life, but he missed it. He missed the sea and the ship, he missed his family and having a way to get the ever-present anger in him out in a proper fight - against an enemy of course. He would never use his anger against his brothers and sisters. Thinking of them made his heart ache. His family, a family that was presented a good reason to hate him since the navy had revealed his real identity. All that was left for him to do, was hope it hadn't changed a thing to them. Or not too much at least.

On the other hand, Pops being dead because he wanted to rescue Roger's son was a pretty excellent reason to hate him.

Meanwhile, Trafalgar had returned, holding some of his equipment in his hands, all odd looking medical supplies. He seemed ready to do research on him like he was a human guinea pig. The surgeon seemed eager to start he was excited - happy excited.

Maybe that was the time to get the withdrawn man to speak, Ace mused.

"Sooo..", he wanted to start off with something simple and harmless, treating Trafalgar Law like a shy animal.

"I can't tell yet.", came to his response.

"I haven't asked anything, yet.", he said. He grinned to himself about Laws fervor. The man suddenly seemed so...alive. There wasn't another word to describe it properly.

"Yeah, whatever. I can't tell you anything by now. But if my suspicion allays..", it seemed he had zoned out or simply continued the sentence in his head only. Ace sighed. That man sure was a difficult person to have a conversation with. But he wasn't one to give up that easy!

"Yeah, that'd be great.", he said Law seemed not to bother the sarcastic undertone from his voice. "But actually I wanted to know-", he paused on purpose to see if he had Laws attention.

"What?", the other asked impatiently waving a hand, presumingly as an indication to Ace, he should continue with his question.

"I wanted to know why you did that. Actually why you are doing it still?"

The surgeon was about to perform some strange studies on him. To Ace, it looked a little like he performed the last rites of him.

If Ace hadn't known better - and wasn't the living proof for Laws genius- he would have highly doubted the man's abilities as a doctor.

Law moved on to the next one, tapping on several spots of Ace head, asking if he felt something.

Ace caught his hand mid-air halfway there. "First, you answer my question."

Law made a face. "You know that's for your own well-being?", he asked.

Ace rolled his eyes. "And you can tap my head in favor of my health again in a sec if you only answer me some questions.", he responded relaxed.

"You're a pain in the ass, Portgas!"

"And you're playing hard-to-get, Trafalgar."

Both men eyed each other. Law rather hostile, Ace amused.

"I certainly didn't do it for you and birdie. I wouldn't have done it in the first place if only I knew how much you'd get on my nerves!"

"I see. It's Luffy then.", Ace mused.

Law spared a comment, raising his hand to continue, but Ace wasn't done interrogating yet.

"Not so fast. Do you owe something to him?", he pressed. He wasn't going to be satisfied with such an avoidant and offensive answer. This wasn't interrogation for beginners.

"Fuck it.", Law muttered, before getting up. He turned his back to Ace, ready to stalk off.

"Oi, wait!", Ace had jumped to go after him.

"To hell with your stupid questions! Why do you care at all?"

"It concerns my little brother, so it concerns me!", Ace said. It was as simple as that.

"Well, you can stop worrying. See it as a gift. You're welcome.", with that Law turned another time to head off.

"Wait.", Ace insisted for the second time.

They both stared at one another. Law looked nerve-racked and the silence stretched between them uncomfortably.

"I'm only trying to understand.", Ace said raising both of his hands in a peaceful gesture - he started treating that sensitive doctor more and more like a scared animal. "I really want to understand. Luffy is the most important person in my life and as you surely noticed he tends to be naive and credulous and being his older brother, it should be my job to protect him. Especially after he nearly died for me."

He hated Trafalgar for making him confess all these emotional things.

The surgeon eyed him suspiciously but sighed in surrender.

"You better not be joking on me, Portgas!", he grumbled but closed his eyes.

"I like him, your little brother. He is an unbearable brat - I don't care that you are his brother, he is- and still, I grew a liking towards him when we met at Sabaody, okay? I don't know why exactly I have done it. But I am not afraid to go against the world!", he grinned stating said, and Ace was slightly remembered of himself. "Also, it would have been a waste of potential to let him die already. "

It would be a waste if you died now, my son, echoed Whitebears words in Ace head.

"Okay.", said Ace and it was really okay for him. He understood.

"In that case, I am really sorry you had to save me too. Sooner or later it might get you in a lot of trouble."

"I don't mind the trouble.", Law informed him.

"Oh, and sorry about the birdie comment. Marco does not deserve that, but I figured it would get on your nerves."

"Marco.", Ace mumbled deep in his own thoughts about the blonde man.

"It's pretty obvious by the way. Why don't you just tell your brother?", he asked.

"Tell him what?", Ace asked dumbfoundedly.

"Nevermind.", Law answered, shrugging his shoulders.

"Oh! Your theory about Marco and me!", Ace concluded. "What on earth made you think you could put a bug in Luffys ear about it!"

Law made a piqued face but answered calmly: "I only asked how long you two have been together. I assumed it was obvious to everyone. I didn't know it was a touchy theme."

Ace snorted. "To Luffy, it wouldn't be obvious if I jumped Marco in front of his eyes.", shocked about his own words he clapsed his hands over his mouth. What was wrong with him?!

He felt himself blush and quickly eyed the ground rather than Trafalgar.

To his surprise, Trafalgar let out a low chuckle.

"So it seems."

Relieved Law didn't press on about Marco and him he said: "I fell a little sorry for Boa Hancock. I can't tell how and why but she seems really into my little brother and he's not getting it at all!"

Law smiled but only a little and eyed the ground. Obviously, that was only funny to Ace.

"About your sleep-attacks: I guess it is narcolepsy."

"That is?"

"A defect that causes you to fall asleep randomly.", Law pointed out.

"So everything's the same."

"Yupp."

"It's nothing bad?"

"No, well I would be cautious before involving in a battle all on my own. You never know when it might kick in."

Ace smiled at Laws words. Thinking about Luffy. And Marco.

"I am not fighting alone.", he said.

Chapter Text

"You've ruined my tattoo!", remarked the black-haired man plain.

His expression did not show since he held his head down, but then he lifted it and Marco could make out his features. Most noticeable were his grey eyes and his freckled cheeks.

Marco could hear him gritting his teeth as he continued: "Y-You!", he stammered accusingly.

The blonde man stood still, his back facing the other man.

"You....don't you dare having forgotten about me!", the freckled man exclaimed and Marco could easily hear the tears in his voice.

 

Marcos first stop was an assessable summer island. It was pleasantly warm, sunny, peaceful and all around perfectly beautiful there. Although most of the small island was developed, there was still a small forest left in the middle of it. But the city was beautiful and full of trees and plants itself.

It had only been a day since Marco had left Ace and the others and he already felt lonely. He got used to their company. He missed the little hot-head badly. Sleeping without the man next to him, without the constant heat that radiated from his skin he felt kind of cold. He missed the grumpy doctor as well. Even the young brat and the stupid nickname he gave Marco.

But he would never admit that. Being referred to as "Pineapple-guy" sounded funnier than it turned out to be, but he missed it nonetheless.

The sun was about to set, but considering the warm climate, there was no need for Marco to look out for a place to stay. He could just spend the night in the small forest. It looked really nice and green at least from above.

He decided to grab something to eat at the evening market that was held in the streets. It really was a beautiful island with a beautiful city. It seemed wealthy like there weren't any poor people. It made him a little suspicious.

Normally you'd happen to see both things on every island as you could only be rich if compared to someone who wasn't. Maybe it was some of those islands only for the wealthy. He had heard about them but never been to one. He preferred nature over town, after all, and this island was mostly town. He strolled through the market while the sun began to set and finally decided to eat something that looked like meatballs. He didn't really care.

Just as Ace he didn't happen to have a lot of appetite lately, but at least the food stayed where it belonged once Marco had forced it down his throat.

He ate it standing there talking a little to the owner of the booth, who told him he was in Maravillin on Maravillie-island. Island and the city were named the same because it was such a small island with only one city.

As there was no need to ask for Izo, Marco engaged in a little small talk with the man, asking him about the wealth of the island. He was told it was in because of all the architects that lived there. Apparently, they were known worldwide. Marco had never heard of it, but that wasn't surprising given that his home had been a ship. He sighed thinking about it. A ship.

They would need a new one since the old had drowned with Whitebeard and Marineford. It was the last thing his father had done before he could die of his injuries. Marco had watched from above flying over the scenery. He couldn't leave his father alone the moment of his death, even if it meant being in danger. Most of the injuries he got in because of that, but it was worth it. And they accomplished their goal: saving Ace. He smiled thinking of the freckled young pirate. He was giving himself such a hard time, feeling responsible for Pops death, feeling bad about his heritage, for which no one could hold him responsible. The only one who did was Ace himself. But talking wouldn't help the matter, he knew Ace. He was too pig-headed and it was too early for his soothing words. Ace would mistake them for pity.

Still, it wasn't easy for Marco to hold back from comforting the young man. Seeing him hurting so much was nearly unbearable. And now he left him alone, well along with his brother and Law, who promised to make sure Ace wouldn't get hurt. But he knew Ace would not have accepted him to stay after hearing from Izo. And Marco was worried about his other brothers too- well with Ace it was different. Marco had a hard time to remember clearly what had happened the night before he left the Moby. What he knew: they had a party that was the saddest ever held on the Moby. It was in honor of Thatch, who Ace had burned so they could spread his ashes over the sea.

He knew that Pops had cried silent tears and he sat in his Phoenix form on his shoulder, cuddling with him. He knew he talked with Pops about Ace and how they both wanted him to stay because they were afraid of losing another member of their family. And he remembered being really drunk that night- which was rare for him. There were other glimpses of memories in his head but he couldn't tell if those were real or if he just dreamed them which was the reason why did not allow himself to think about it.

It clearly was the wrong time to detect his feelings for his fellow crewmate, his BROTHER. Even though Marco had never felt that way towards Ace. It had was always been different with him.

Marco had reached the small forest and he was pretty glad about it since he was exhausted from flying for over 20 hours straight. He changed in his hybrid form and made himself comfortable in the crown of a tree.

But as soon as he closed his eyes he saw those freckles again, the bright smile on the younger pirate's face. He missed the warm body right next to him, he even missed Ace snoring and how he sleepwalked every night, Marco following him because he was concerned something could happen to him. He kept him from running into trees or falling off the cliffs and the talked to him for the rest of the night when we started to cry.

Actually, he had thought that sleep would be the only good thing about being apart from Ace. But he was terribly wrong. Without Ace next to him, he rolled from one side to the other - nothing helped. And as soon as he closed his eyes he saw the young man. He saw him crying, smiling, he saw some memories from their two-men-party at Pops funeral. He saw the goosebumps all over his body as he whispered to his ear while fishing - he couldn't stop himself from wondering whether Ace felt the same.

All of a sudden older memories floated his head. Memories from a better time. The pranks they played on each other and the parties. The missions, his brothers, Pops...and Ace. Ace who was heavily drunk. Ace, who couldn't remember a thing the next day... Or the night they - No. Or the one time in the commander's shower room - Stop! every touch and every nice word one could interpret something into came back to him - Stop it, Marco! Goddamit!

Things were already bad and messed up enough. Even if some of it meant something, it was not the time. And if it meant something how could it be Ace had done nothing about it? Well, he didn't do anything about it either.

First Izo, the others, a ship, training, Blackbeard and maybe then he could try and find out. Marco was terribly scared. He couldn't lose Ace, not after just getting him back! And he knew that Ace needed him too. What would happen to the family if Ace did not feel the same as Marco? Would one of them leave? That was unacceptable. He was Whitebeards oldest son and he was responsible for the family now. Even though he felt like he wasn't prepared for it at all. He wasn't their father. He was only their older brother, although some of them were even older than him. Just thinking about it gave him a serious headache.

 

Marco must have dozed off after a while because he woke up to his rumbling stomach and the bright beautiful sun. It was already noon judging from the angle of the sunlight. He rolled over and fell off the tree only to catch his fall near the ground with his wings. Marco liked the feeling of falling and catching himself only seconds before he would hit the ground. His brothers liked it too, especially Ace. When bored on one of the islands they visited together they made him catch them in their free fall from a cliff for over an hour. It was like keeping some toddlers busy - only that the toddlers were drunk. And heavy.

Marco would fill in on his provisions and then head off south, to the direction the vivre card Rayleigh had given him pointed. It wasn't Izos, but Emporio Ivankovs, "Okama King". It made sense to him that Izo would join the man, as he was a cross-dresser as well. He could see them getting along just perfectly as it was always a dream of Izo to meet the man.

Marco made his way to the streets where the market had been yesterday evening. The booth owner had told him the market was every evening and it was the populations favorite free time activity. On this island, everyone worked every day of the week and when the sun started to set the market was built up. Sometimes there would be music and dancing and a lot of alcohol. The markets here were different from the ones held on other islands. Since there were buildings all over the island and they wanted to keep the last bit of their forest, they grew their vegetables in artificial greenhouses, but there was no space to farm animals, so the meat was expensively imported as well as most supplies.

Marco was about to enter a coffee shop when he caught a short look at his own reflection. He had never been to a coffee shop. Pirates didn't do coffee shops, well aside from Izo and Thatch, but he didn't care. He had refused to go there with his brothers and now he somehow regretted it and it was the first shop he came across that looked like it would sell coffee- obviously- and breakfast. But the way he looked he felt uncomfortable to walk around.

Finally, the time had come when he would get rid off the orange nightmare.

Much like his father, Marco didn't mind the money and he turned around to find a place they'd sell clothes.

Marco did not have to search for long as the streets were plastered with posh fashion shops. It was a bit overwhelming as Marco normally dressed to be dressed that was as far as it went, but he decided to give it a chance, entering a random shop. There was another customer with green hair and the way he wore it reminded Marco slightly of Thatch, but that was it already. He wore a red and yellow striped coat with fur trim around the neck, a studded black belt, and brown trousers. That was almost as awful as the things Trafalgar wore. When he turned in Marcos direction, he was able to see that he was bare-chested showing off a tattoo. His face was tattooed too, he had piercings in his nose and ears and spiky teeth or rather sharp fangs two of them showing off at each side of his mouth's corners. He looked nothing like the other people walking around the streets, so it wasn't hard to tell he wasn't a citizen of Maravillie-island. He was talking to a man as dressed up as Thatch who had to be the owner. Damn, Thatch would have loved this island.

After he went through everything the store had to offer he decided on simply buying something, he could always get something other elsewhere.

Thinking of Ace in his orange onesie he decided on buying something for the young man as well as Ace had a tendency to forget about clothes. Like wearing shirts. Or getting something appropriate for a winter island, claiming he felt warm.

Even though he felt odd wearing clothes as fancy as the ones he picked out, he had to admit, he liked them better than he had initially thought.

The next shop window he walked by, reflected an elegantly dressed man. he hardly looked like himself. He wore a dark blue button down shirt with thin white vertical stripes, buttoned up only halfways so a part of his dark blue tattoo was still visible and black fitting shorts. Marco had never worn anything as formfitting as those two pieces. He got some sunglasses as well. Actually, he was pretty sure he could use this outfit if they ever had to sneak around going unrecognized. All he needed to do was buttoning the shirt up completely and doing something about his hair.

He entered the next coffee shop, this time for real, and ordered himself coffee and a sandwich. It was hot outside so he took a seat inside, opening a newspaper he was confronted with a picture of himself, taken at Marineford. He sighed and set the newspaper aside. He wasn't in the mood to read some of the stupid lies the navy had made up for appearances' sake.

After he finished off he went for the market, but something behind him caught his attention. He had been well-aware someone had stared at him in the coffee shop, but he could feel the gaze hadn't faded, which meant someone had to follow behind him.

He decided to keep on walking like he hadn't noticed and hoped it wasn't some stupid young brat, trying to kill him for his bounty because he'd rather not gather too much attention. If someone would follow him to where Izo was hiding, that would be a bad situation. This was just annoying.

Although there was no market at noon the same streets inhabited the food shops. From the corner of his left eye, he was able to make out something red and yellow striped. The man from the fashion store apparently pursued him. Given his looks, he could be a bounty hunter or a pirate himself.

Marco stood frozen, turning around slowly. "Come out.", he demanded, his voice calm, although he felt exasperated.

No one showed. "I know you've been following me. So why don't you introduce yourself or start trying to kill me or whatever it is, that you want."

When nothing happened he stalked up to the corner he had seen the man hiding, no longer holding back the bugged noise he wanted to make from the start.

The green-haired man hid behind a tree he had rushed to as Marco rounded the corner, holding onto it he stuck his head out from behind, looking at him in a way Marco couldn't quite dedicate.

Despite hiding from him, he looked as if he was happy to see Marco.

"Who are you?", he asked in a commanding tone.

The guy stared at him, then turned suddenly jumping up and down, talking to himself. Maybe he was just insane?, mused Marco, cracking his head to the side while he watched an waited.

Suddenly the man stopped, turned and saw him standing there, he jumped behind the tree again and if sounded like he was crying.

That was the moment Marco decided his patience was too sacred to waste on this crazy man, he turned waving at him: "Nevermind.", he said over his shoulder.

But somehow that seemed to wake the man from his crazy deem and run to Marcos side, who aimed a blow at him reflexively, but instead of the man, his fist hit a wall. He turned in surprise to see a seethrough yet blueish looking barrier. The man had crossed his fingers. A devils fruit user.

"Oh, oh! I am so sorry.", the man stammered, but he didn't seem to be afraid of Marco it was more like he was sad.

He eyed the man in suspicion. "Do we know each other?", he asked.

"You are Marco the Phoenix, aren't you?", he asked excitedly, holding up Marcos current wanted-poster.

With a sigh, Marco lowered his head to his palm. "What do you want?"

"I am Bartolomeo.", the man introduced himself proudly.

Marco had never heard of him.

"So you wanna fight? If so then you better get started already I am on the go so I don't have much time for you."

He had just started to unbutton his shirt, he didn't want it to get dirty already, as the man raised his hands in surrender, waxing defensive.

"I don't want to fight with you."

Marco sighed. "You want to fight, Ace? Because he's not with me and if you want I have to kill you now."

"Oh no!", the man smiled sheepishly. "You've got all wrong. I am not here to fight."

"You followed me, why?", asked Marco, who wasn't in the mood for this.

He needed to gather supplies and continue his search as fast as possible.

"Are you really Marco the Phoenix, mate of Portgas D. Ace, brother of ....brother of Mo-Mo-Mo-", the man gasped for air, his face was all red.

"Monkey D. Luffy?", he offered, one eyebrow raised.

"Awwww. You said his name!", the man screamed, tears rushing down his blushed cheeks, his hands brought up to cup them and with a dumb smile plastered on his face. Absolutely ridiculous.

"Have you seen them? I hope they are alright. I wouldn't forgive myself if something happened to one of them and I did not help!", he held his arm to his forehead in a dramatic and histrionically gesture.

"Do you know them?", he asked critically eyeing the guy. He indeed looked like someone Ace would befriend, but behaved more like someone Luffy would be friends with.

"Me? No, but it is my greatest dream to-"

"Okay. I see. I'm sorry but I'm in a rush.", he interrupted him.

"Of course." Bartolomeo jumped straitening his back so frantic and stiff it wouldn't have taken much and he'd been saluting.

"Can I help you? I have food and medical supplies on my ship, I don't exactly have a doctor, but-"

"I am on my own.", Marco interrupted him again. "Your ship?", he asked.

"Oh, yeah! I haven't introduced myself properly I am sorry I was so excited to meet someone who met Lu-Lu-Luffy-senpai I couldn't think straight.", the man chattered. If he weren't in such a hurry, Marco would have been amused about this guy who looked so threatening but behaved like a little fangirl.

"I am Bartolomeo, Captain of the Barto Club. I kept track of Lu-Lu-Luffy-senpais journey ever since I saw him at Loguetown. After Marineford I quit as head of the mafia I ran to become a pirate myself! I've had the ship for a while already, but..", he rambled on, but Marco didn't listen to him anymore.

An admirer of Luffy? Marco was a bit skeptical, to say the least even though he knew about the effect Ace brother had on many people.

"I am on my way to fill in my provisions.", he stated in another attempt to escape Bartolomeo.

"Okaaaay.",warbled Bartolomeo, who must have mistaken Marcos statement as an invitation to join him. Before Marco could correct the misunderstanding, Bartolomeo had crossed his fingers, created another barrier with them, that looked like a step, pulling Marco with him.

The step moved towards the coast and Marco realized Bartolomeo moved them forward by creating more and more steps, pushing them forward over the buildings of the city and towards a rather big ship.

Already from afar, Marco could make out the figurehead of the ship - it was Luffy. Marco mentally apologized to the maniac next to him for ever doubting his admiration towards the little brat. Obviously, he wasn't simply admiring little mugiwara, he was more like obsessed with him.

His suspicion was officially confirmed when entering the ship. Bartolomeo explained how different parts of the ship resembled each of the crew members of the Strawhat pirates. He also showed him a room where he pinned the wanted-posters of them to the wall, treating the wall as an altar.

Marco listened to him good and patient for a while until he finally cut him off. Bartolomeo had talked non-stop ever since they had entered the ship, running around thrusting supplies into his arms.

It was probably one of the weirdest encounters in his life and Marco felt like he was trapped in a weird dream. 

Chapter Text

"Ouch!", muttered Ace, rubbing his head. Rayleigh had managed to hit him- again. The man was right when complaining about Ace haki level. It wasn't as improved as it should have been. He had relied too much on his fire logia.

"200. Still some way to go.", Rayleigh announced, starting the hitting all over again.

Ace felt frustrated - this was embarrassing. He hadn't even realized how weak his haki was. But he hadn't trained his kenbunshoku haki for real.

He had focused on busoshoku haki, working like an armor, and the fact he was able to use haoshoku haki, that enabled him to overcome the will of others. Apparently, Luffy was able to use it too, as he had without realizing in Marineford. But overall Ace had to admit his abilities concerning haki were in a poor state, which enabled Rayleigh to hit him several times the last days. Law had allowed the training, stating that hitting Ace wouldn't cause damage as long as Rayleigh refused from aiming at his chest.

Luffy watched, cheering until Rayleigh threatened to make him leave, which shut his little brother up. Still, he wouldn't hold himself back from laughter every once in a while Rayleigh managed a hit on Ace.

Ace had to admit the old geezer knew what he did and he could really use to train with him for a little longer, but they quickly ran out of days, as time passed by until the last day they'd spent on the island.

"You're done for today?", Luffy whined impatiently milling around them.

Rayleigh laughed at him acting all miserable.

"Just go hunting already.", he told them.

Luffy didn't miss a beat as he jumped Ace back cheering and beaming, his older brother shaking his head laughing at the youngers enthusiasm.

Damn, how he would miss him. For a brief moment, Ace wondered how he ever managed to leave his innocent, sweet brother behind, no matter how old Luffy was, he was still Luffy, there was still something so childish about him. The kind of childishness that reminded you of the great advantages of being a kid and there weren't much of those in Ace childhood - actually he wasn't sure he ever was such a child. He never felt innocent and sweet and he couldn't remember a time in his life, this would have been an accurate description of himself actually, but Luffy sure was and had always been.

Luffy had those childish vibes still, he had those gleaming eyes and the chaste smile that could easily turn into a daring one. Ace knew his little brother never was as innocent as he seemed and he knew Luffy had grown, but some parts of his personality remained the same, unshaken from the circumstances like they weren't even touched by any of his life's experiences as if they were somehow immune to change.

Trust, for example, was one of the characteristics so typical for Luffy - he used to trust everyone who claimed they wanted to do good, he believed in the worst lies people told and he did everything in such a carefree and easy manner you couldn't do other than thinking of an innocent child.

They had entered the woods, walking by all sorts of trees and bushes, Ace still carrying his little brother on his shoulders, repenting. You couldn't tell how much he ate from his looks, but you sure could once you carried him for a while, plus Luffy wasn't like normal people, behaving, he was bowing from one side to another and down to Ace to talk to him from face to face by stretching his neck, which was kind of scary. Ace felt like he carried a snake and he wondered if that was the reason for Boa Hancock felt attracted to him. He couldn't quite think of another reason, it was beyond strange, but then a lot of things if not all were strange these days.

The rounded a big rock and moved deeper into the woods and Ace couldn't help it, he felt excited like he used to be as a kid, it was as if Luffy reminded him of his childishness yet the same time of the fact that he was the elder one and had to take care of him. Apart from the fact, that the only reason Ace was here with him, was him. He could never thank him enough, he could never express how much it meant, how much he loved him and believed in him. He hadn't spoken to Marco about their future goals, for sure they had to win a war first, but they had never discussed what they were going to do. Would Marco want to go on a hunt for the famous One Piece and become Pirate King? He had never heard Marco talking about such things, it always seemed as if the older blonde wasn't interested in fame and money, being so much like their father. It occurred to Ace he had never bothered to ask Marco what his dreams were, but that was a pretty strange question to ask your brother or whatever they were in the end. But he felt nothing thinking about hunting down his biological fathers' treasure - he never wanted it for himself. He had been curious as a child and he still was, but that did not mean he had to be the one finding it. He'd rather leave that to his brother. Ace was done proving something, there was no use in doing so.

All Ace could wish for was the leftover of Whitebeards family still accepting him as their brother - he couldn't think about anything else so there was no room to worry about other things in general. And there wasn't any use to wonder. because if they didn't accept him, there would be a lot of new questions for Ace to find an answer to. It was strange that it seemed useless to him to worry about what would follow after the family reunion, but he could spend all his time thinking about all the if's that followed the biggest of the if's: what if they did not see him as their brother anymore?

There were so many possible if's so many scenarios, in some even Marco abandoned him - in the end, they had known each other for a little time compared to how long Marco knew some of the other crewmates. It would be dumb to choose him over them. Marco would lead the Whitebeard pirates there was no doubt in Ace head about that, so if they did not want him with them anymore he would be really alone. He would be the outcast, Marco told him they all were before they found their place with Oyaji. Maybe the death of Oyaji meant Ace lost his place within their family - the announcement of his ancestry could cause him to lose his family.

But he would still have Luffy. Always and that was a thing that calmed Ace deep down inside of him. Ace would have died for his father if he wanted to, but he didn't and Ace knew, but he would die for Luffy no matter what Luffy wanted. He nearly lost his life protecting him, but he did not care. If he died while protecting him, his death had a purpose. That was more than some could wish for and he suddenly wondered if that was what Whitebeard had felt. If that was the reason why didn't want to be rescued by his sons.

He needed to try. No matter how much he was afraid of the possibility that his brothers could resent him, he needed to try for his father.

There was so much lying ahead of him and if Whitebeard really died for him he needed to make it worth it. Not by becoming the pirate king or some other goal he thought achieving would help him feel better, he wanted his family and that alone could be enough to be happy. It was strange it took Ace so much to realize what he had in front of him and how much he appreciated it.

Luffy snapped him out of his thoughts. They still had some hunting to do.

 

They returned with more food Ace thought they would be capable to carry - but Luffy's ability to stretch his body parts as he wished came with a lot of advantages one wouldn't think of right away. But of course, Luffy thought of them, because food seemed to be the only thing on his mind for about 99 percent of the time - while he was awake and while he was asleep. Ace could tell because he had spent the last nights tightly tugged to his little brother's side and the brat hat drooled a lot of salvia on him and he mumbled something Ace first thought to be "feet" until he figured out it was "meat", which absolutely made more sense.

Trafalgar Law and his crew prepared for leaving too, they offered to take him with them to the next island -actually to take him all the way but Ace refused, he could easily steal a boat on the next island. He was a pirate and he would like to behave like one again. The thought of Whitebeard crossed his mind and he imagined how his father would apologize for Ace behavior and pay for the boat if he were still alive. It hurt him to think about it and he decided to leave something for the boat he would steal. Some food would do. Everyone loved meat, right? He looked at Luffy who would clearly trade a boat for some meat. It was a mystery to him how he had made it so far - probably he wasn't the one responsible for their money. He could remember a girl with light red hair named Nami, their navigator, as far as Ace remembered she was the one doing their finances. Ace really liked Luffy's friends they seemed just weird enough for his little brother. Of course, Luffy was not like other captains searching for the strongest people in the world but the weirdest. Ace smiled to himself thinking how much he was alike Whitebeard when it came to his crew. They were all outcasts but they found a place thanks to their father, just like Luffy's friends found an adventure trying to survive his little brother.

"Captain!", exclaimed a white polar bear, wearing another one of the orange overalls, running after Law like a mother after a little child. His forehead was wrinkled in a sorrowful frown, as he kept after Law clumsily, carrying something that looked like a long coat. His name was Bepo and Ace had noticed that the 'Surgeon of Death' had a special weakness for the fluffy polar bear, showing that the withdrawn young pirate actually had a soft spot.

It made sense to Ace and he could picture Law helping them more easily ever since. He had a hard time understanding the man with his ever-present agonized expression, like Luffy's presence somehow hurt him physically. In some way, he was also weird enough to be friends with him, even though it seemed like Law did not consider them friends. Luffy thought other about that obviously and Ace had watched them with an amused smirk, seeing how his little brother smiled at the older while presenting all the food to him.

He watched as Laws eyes widened and how Bepo bumped into him because he stared at the mountain made out of their prey that piled up in front of them on the grass. How Law twirled around and ripped the coat out of Bepo's hands before staring at it in confusion.

"You need your coat captain! The wind is strong today.", Bepo explained, still wearing a worried expression on his face. Ace chuckled. There was not the slightest breath of wind aside from what could only be described as a balmy breeze lazily brushing through the leafs of the palms on the bay.

It was a perfect summer afternoon, the sun began to set already and drew beautiful colorful stripes to the sky. Ace was fascinated with the way Laws crew behaved around their grumpy captain. It was as if they all were extra-nice. Like they somehow tried to outbalance their captain's moody personality. He thought about how Marcos calm and adult behavior had always outbalanced their childish one. He really missed him, even though it had only been 6 days since he had left, it felt like it had been an eternity since Ace had last hugged him, had the chance to touch him and...okay,stop it!, he told himself, mentally slapping him for where his thoughts were about to trail. He checked his friend's vivre card for the millionth time this day, making sure he was still alive. He obviously was alive and Ace sighed in relief - it was dumb to suddenly be so afraid everyone he loved could die just because Pops had, but he couldn't help it.

They would set sail to the next island so they would arrive there before the next morning, while Luffy and Rayleigh would sail in another direction. Ace already had Rayleighs vivre card and the old man hat promised to commission a vivre card of his little brother, so Ace could check on his health every day. Your really start to behave like a helicopter mom! Just like Marco with his mommy-mode. He could see the little Ace in his head rolling his eyes at him, accusingly shaking his head. He clearly disapproved. Ace didn't care. Luffy was only 22! 22 meant he was still a teen- practically a child!

He could hear the child cheering over there where he still stood with La- okay no! He wasn't standing, it was more like he had climbed the Surgeon. Actually Ace could not even see Laws face, which was sad, because he definitely missed out on a hilarious sight, but all Ace could see was Luffy. It was like Luffy was everywhere over Law, whose arms hung to his sides like he had given up on everything just enduring Luffy's way to say his goodbye. It was a smart choice, after all. You can't escape Luffy's hugs, well Ace maybe could, turning into fire - Luffy wasn't able to use any kind of haki yet. Asides from haoshoku he used unconsciously at Ace execution.

It seemed like his brother had let go of Law, but then he leaned in again and Ace saw his little brother kiss the man on the cheek. Ace was so flustered he wasn't even able to react, which was good for Law because Ace would tear everyone, no matter who, to pieces who would dare to break Luffy's sweet and loving heart. Everyone. He and Law wouldn't run out of topics to discuss while their short time traveling together, he mused.

 

There wasn't much to say about Ace and Luffy's goodbye. They did not even say "Goodbye", because they would see each other soon again. So there was no need to. Ace would survive on all costs and he knew that Luffy's will to live and to survive, to become the pirate king was strong, stronger probably than Ace's will had ever been. Still Ace acted out a little more of his new found mommy-mode before he let his brother sail away with that old man who was his biologicals fathers best friend, who Ace hated but he couldn't blame the old geezer so he had just sighed and waved, ignoring Trafalgar Laws stare. Who cared what that crazy surgeon was thinking?

Actually, Ace did care. He cared because his little brother seemed to care so it was his business now. But he wanted to be sneaky rather than just asking things of Law straight ahead - he seemed to be allergic to interest in his person. Ace killed time by watching the crew interact, observing them while sitting against a wall casually. He was good at pretending to be all caught up in his own thoughts while he was actually listening to every word spoken.

It soon astonished him how the crew seemed to have some weird affection for sea animals of cold regions. There was Bepo who was a polar bear of course, but there was also a guy called Penguin who wore a hat that stated his name: "Penguin", which was the lamest thing Ace had ever seen and the hat kind of looked like a penguin itself- it was really weird. And Shachi, who wore a hat that looked like an orca and thankfully that seemed to be it for now. Ace was a little scared who he was yet to meet. Just as he thought about it Jean Bart turned the corner showing up dressed in one of the white overalls that had the crews jolly roger on it. Ace could one stare at him, while he made his way over to Bepo and Penguin, who had a heated argument about whether or not "the captain" should wear his coat. That was another weird thing about them. They all referred to Law as "captain", rarely calling out his name and they were mothering him like he was a wounded baby seal - Wow, that rubbed off on him quickly.

"Jean!", he called while making his way other to the huge man. They had met on the grand line a few years ago, fighting against some annoying marines.

"Ace." Jean Bart grimaced, his mouth twisting in something that was probably the closest to a smile you could get from him. Without hesitation, he pulled Ace into a tight hug, squeezing the smaller man.

"You feeling better?", he asked. Ace gave a quick nod as soon as he was released from the hugging and could finally move again.

"You're part of the Heart pirates?", he asked. Jean Bart never seemed like the type of person joining another man's crew, at least not the last time Ace had met him.

"I owe the captain a lot.", he simply replied and Ace nodded. Owing Law was a matter in which Ace was an expert himself.

"Good to see you.", he said and Jean nodded approvingly, showing another awkward attempt to smile, Ace grinned back at him nevertheless.

There was a lot he wanted to ask the other pirate, but from the corner of his eyes, he could see Law approaching them. And no matter how much he wanted to catch up with Jean Bart, he still had to figure out Laws friendship with Luffy before their arrival at the next island and he doubted it would be an easy task.

 

If Ace would have been told he would ever sleep in a bed that practically felt like his little brother he would have probably questioned the sanity of the other. Actually, he wouldn't even believe there was such a thing if he hadn't seen it himself. But since yesterday he felt like he was literally living in his little brother. Or at least a huge sailing altar for him, like he joined some crazy Luffy-centered cult and every minute they would sacrifice some meat and virgins to him - even though Luffy would only be interested in the meat. But on the other hand, Luffy would never really get that meat so it didn't matter. Still, Ace could picture himself jumping around a wildfire while dressed like Luffy or bowing in front of the holy mugiwara or dancing around his wanted-poster, performing some sort of rituals for better fertility or whatever. At least he wouldn't be surprised to find the captain of the ship he sailed on in such a situation.

Ace questioned Bartolomeo's sanity a little, to say the least, and he clearly questioned Marcos. He had even thought about it being some sort of trap to capture him, but after spending only a few hours with the green haired punk he had changed his mind. Well, most of the time Bartolomeo was asleep, naturally, and when he was awake he used to shot Ace a shy look and whisper as if to himself "Gr-gr-greaaat s-s-s-sen-senpai.", before passing out again. The man had an interesting haircut, all spiky green hair but he had smoothed it back into a pomade that reminded Ace of Thatch's and he was sure he did not like it and as he told him so he left his hair undone the next day, so here they were their second day together, sailing on Bartolomeo's ship that was like a swimming declaration of his love towards Luffy. Stating that this crept him out, was an understatement and he wondered if Law really was the one he should be concerned about. But on the other hand, Bartolomeo wouldn't be able to harm Luffy or kidnap him or do anything when meeting him, because he would probably pass out whenever he tried to look at him. And if Luffy ever kissed his cheek he would presumingly drop dead right away.

Bartolomeo had himself under control again, meant he was only crying and screaming when talking to Ace, which was a huge improvement compared to yesterday.

As they had reached the second island - Ace had been more or less kidnapped by the heart pirates to stay a little longer - they meet Bartolomeo who stated he had already waited for them. He spoke to Law that time, apparently able to talk to him like a normal person. Law was lucky the man did not know about Luffy's salvia on his cheek, Bartolomeo would've made him part of the exhibition-like interior design of the ship. There was a table made out of hands, resembling Nico Robin who Ace hadn't met yet, a bed with pillows, blanket and fitted sheet all sporting the same print image of Luffy - another one than the photo from his wanted poster. Ace should have been more concerned about where Bartolomeo got it, but maybe there was a market for pirate photos or posters and somewhere out there, there was a creep sleeping in a bed made out of photographs from Ace. One could never tell. He had tried to tell Bartolomeo about Luffy's kiss on Laws cheek, but the man passed out before he could conclude the story. Ace himself and only Luffy's name mentioned seemed enough to make the man fade.

He even handed the bag Marco left for Ace to Law, telling him to give it to Ace. At first, Ace was skeptical about Bartolomeo, naturally, but he took the bag anyways. Marco had gotten him some clothes and Ace was pretty sure it had been Marco because first of all he had bought them, there was a bill so he actually paid for them, second there was a note in his scrawly handwriting telling Ace to wear what he got him so he wouldn't get recognized that easily and third the clothes smelled like Marco.

The clothes looked nothing like he would normally wear, but that was the whole plan so Ace put them on. It was a plain white button down shirt, that was kind of see-through and the buttons on the collar were made out of shells, but Ace left the last buttons open, it was strange enough to wear a shirt. And a pair of orange, red vertically striped shorts, that had a tighter fit than the ones Ace wore usually the hem was everted and they ended just above his knees. He tucked the button down shirt into them at the front, because the shirt was kind of oversized and long. Marco had also gotten him some mirrored sunglasses in black and gold and he even thought about getting him some new underwear. Ace blushed at the sight of them but he had to admit he did not hate the outfit and he wondered if Marco really had made an effort trying to find something that Ace would feel comfortable to wear.

He blushed a little more thinking about Marco picking out underwear for Ace. He had gotten Ace some pair of basic black tight trunks. His shirt felt like it was barely there and he had to admit he liked the shorts. Overall it wasn't too bad, a little posh, but maybe he could use some posh clothes - Thatch used to tell him so.

Ace stared at the wooden ceiling of the room Bartolomeo had made him use. Ace could've slept anywhere but he felt uncomfortable sleeping in a room that felt like an altar or a shrine to Luffy - there was even a photo of his little brother on the ceiling so it was the first thing Ace had seen this morning opening his eyes. Actually, that wasn't too bad, it had been nice, especially after he had grown so used to waking up next to Luffy again, but it was still creepy.

There was a silent knock on the door and it felt weird to Ace, that this man really knocked on his own door, while he was just a guest. He sat up and went to open the door himself, he felt like it would be more polite this way.

Bartolomeo wore his hair spikey like Ace had suggested and he looked wide awake given that it was early in the morning, but maybe he had some morning prayers to Luffy or for Luffy to make? Ace would not judge the morning rituals performed on this ship, he was thankful for the green haired punk after all.

"G-good morning, great senpai!", he stuttered bowing in front of him.

Ace blinked in surprise for a moment, but if that was the normal way of greeting on another on this ship he would go with it. So he bowed too, returning the good morning.

"I am sorry if I interrupted your sleep, great senpai. I just wanted to ask you if you want to eat something. Breakfast could be served whenever you want to, just let me know, it'll be an honor to feed you, I heard you have a good appetite, I am prepared there's enough food, I already made some breakfast, but I wasn't sure what you would like, some prefer it sweet others salty, I also made some meat just in case you want meat for breakfast, I have once heard your brothers favorite breakfast is meat but I am not sure which meat, we have-"

"I'll eat whatever you have prepared.", he told him, jumping in before the man could ramble on. He moved to follow after him to the kitchen, as the older man jumped, apologetically waving his hands. "Oh no. I am sorry great senpai, of course, you can wait in your room and I'll bring it to you, you can eat in bed, I'll get you some more pillows so you can-"

For someone who wasn't able to line up a few words yesterday, Bartolomeo was quite talkative today.

"I am fine eating in the kitchen.", he stated, offering Bartolomeo a smile before he walked past him entering the kitchen. Without the slightest hesitation, he placed two plates on the dining table, taking a seat.

His appetite wasn't back to normal again, but he would try to eat something anyway, Bartolomeo stumbled in after him, nearly having a meltdown at the sight of Ace setting the table and helping himself to some food.

He gestured to the seat across from him, while already chewing on some bacon, so he hummed something he hoped sounded inviting and soothing.

"B-but great senpai!", he stuttered. "Here let me help you. I'll cut your food and-"

"Please. Just take a seat and eat something. I like to eat in company.", Ace said. He was surprised at how easy he was able to just click in his usual old self. It had been as easy as slipping into some comfortable clothes to put up his calm and easy exterior.

"So you just started sailing?", he asked, aiming for a little chat.

"M-me? Oh yeah. I already owned the ships for years but after Marineford I quitted my old business as mafioso and set sail.", the man had blushed deeply and glanced around nervously as if Ace had asked him a hard question rather than just making small talk.

So at least it wasn't like he jumped on the everyone-loves-Luffy hype, Ace couldn't help but realize how much people, in general, seemed to love his little brother and he subconsciously smiled at the thought. Ace himself was okay with people being more reserved about him. Normally, people only scared, hated or admired him. But liking wasn't a common choice.

He had thought even Luffy was more on the "admiring-side" and most of the crew too. It was a strange idea people actually liked and cared about him and Ace still got a little headache trying to imagine how and why.

"So you want to start your own crew rather than joining my brother's?", he asked suspiciously eyeing the pancakes he gobbled down right now. Had they always looked like the sceleton-guy that had joined his brother's crew?

His gaze shifted over the monstrous amount of cooked food on the table and while he still chewed he recognized just then how everything that Bartolomeo had prepared looked similar to either Luffy or one of his crewmates. There was bacon that was arranged on a plate so it looked like Luffy. There were eggs that looked like the cook Sanji, toast that had the silhouette of Franky and a pudding that sported Nami's face. He was sure there was even Zoro's face made out of cereals swimming in milk, however it worked that it did not fade. He gulped. Heavily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ace had fallen asleep at the sight of the Zoro cereals. From close up, he was able to see they were not only arranged to look like Zoro and green, but each cereal itself had Zoros face on it. Maybe that had been enough for his sanity or it was simply because he had that sleeping sickness Law told him about, Ace was used to falling asleep randomly but this was the first time he felt like it was really an appropriate reaction. Maybe he had faded more than falling asleep?

He had dreamed of his conversation with Law on the Polar Tang but in his dream, Luffy had been twisted around Law's body like he was a snake and Boa Hancock wanted him to become her pet and kissed Luffy who kissed Law, who kissed Bepo who wanted Ace to wear Law's coat and in the end even Marco showed up to tell him he was with Bartolomeo now, who had changed his obsession from Luffy to Marco. Useless to mention it was a nightmare.

He was sure he fell asleep at the kitchen table mid-conversation with Bartolomeo, but as he woke up he saw his little brother smiling at him from the ceiling where his poster hung. Bartolomeo must've carried him back to his room. He shook his head cringing at the image in his head. While he was afraid of Romeo falling in love with Marco against all odds, he actually had carried Ace in his arms. Every time he thought he got used to the green haired man he did something really creepy. Really creepy.

His thoughts trailed back to the conversation with Law.

 

Ace had tried to be subtle. He had tried to be sneaky. He had tried to give Trafalgar some time and space to explain things to him first before he grilled him about what had happened with his little brother. Ace felt the heat rushing to his cheeks, the arousal that kicked in and he grew impatient with every conversation they had. Mostly they only exchanged a few words.

Ace had tried to get a real conversation started but Law seemed as untalented in taking hints as Luffy, so he eventually gave up.

Of course, he did not give up the conversation, but only the hinting. Ace was determined to figure it out. He would not let Law escape until he had his answers.

Turning to Bepo he whispered: "Is it just me or does Law look like he's hungry?"

Predictable, as they were Bepo and Penguin hurried to the kitchen to get the captain something to eat, even though to Ace Law looked like he barely ate. And barely slept. He cringed at the last thought but managed to stay calm. The fact, that Ace had spent his last nights next to Luffy soothed him because it meant that whatever Law used to do during his nights didn't involve his brother. And Ace preferred to think about what Law might do during his lonely nights over what he would do during some none-lonely nights with Luffy. He preferred his brothers nights to be lonely, or at least uneventful.

Law headed for the exit of the room too, as Ace pushed past him, reaching out with his arm against the doorframe right in front of Laws face. "Not so fast,Traffy.", he said in a low voice. He narrowed his face to Laws.
"

Sooo...", he started making eye contact with a consternated doctor, who backed away from him just a little, but enough for Ace to indicate something was off.

He raised one brow at the man, waiting for a response. Laws bewildered expression turned back into the normal blank one within a second and he lazily blinked at Ace as if to signal how unimpressed he was.

Ace reacted quickly as Law tried to duck away under his arm, stepping in front of the door, pulling it shut behind his back while grinning at the doctor.

"Are you trying to escape?", he teased smiling a crooked, mischievous smile.

As Ace leaned closer, Laws calm expression finally dropped and he started to blink nervously.

"You look so worried, Torao.", he whispered close to the surgeon's ear and Law jerked back a little. Ace had to admit he liked playing with him a little, but he wouldn't be patient enough to do it for that much longer. He wanted some clear answers, but first, he had to irritate Law a little more. It would make things easier.

"Why don't you just tell me what I want to hear?", he offered, speaking especially slow while leaning in even closer. Law stood between Ace and the wall right next to the door and their faces were close enough for Ace to feel the other's breath on his own face. His words seemed to upset Law bad enough to screw his expression completely.

"I-", he glanced away to the other side and Ace slammed his arms against the wall at each side of Laws face standing in front of him now.

"Don't even think of escaping, Doctor Love." Ace had to admit nicknaming Law was funny after all, but this was serious business so he wasn't allowed to get distracted by Laws hilarious expressions.

It seemed Law regained his poise as he aggressively pushed Ace left arm away, breaking free. He recovered from the shook state, finding his voice again. "What's it with you two?!", he exclaimed accusingly.

"I don't know what the hell you are talking about, but I sure as hell don't want to sleep with you, or whatever you were planning on!"

Now it was Ace turn to be shocked. Sleeping with Law? Ugh. Not even kissing. Never.

"Ugh.", he simply said, being aware his face sure represented his words.

"I would never, Torao. You can be sure about that.", he clarified.

"Then what's this all about? All the leaning in and whispering to my ear?", the surgeon blinked at him in confusion as Ace impatiently rolled his eyes.

"You've got some nerves asking me stupid questions like that! You wanna know what it's about? Luffy - obviously!", he raised his voice at the end, lifting one of his brows.

Laws face seemed to heat up instantly, but Ace couldn't tell whether it was in because of the embarrassment of the situation or because he had mentioned Luffy.

"Luffy.", he mumbled and even his ears gleamed bright red.

Ace said nothing. He simply folded his arms before his chest waiting for Law to speak.

"I don't know what you want to hear from me.", Law told him defensively.

"You can't seriously think I'll let you out of this situation THAT easily. Don't play dumb, Trafalgar."

"I am not! You two are crazy. You're both insane!", the man screamed at him, but Ace remained unimpressed.

"Is that so.", Ace pressed. He looked at Trafalgar severe this time. He wanted him to know how serious he was.

"Look, I haven't touched your brother, I have no idea why he kissed me. He kissed me. So you should be asking him instead of me!"

"He's not here. So I am asking you.", Ace shrugged.

"Fine, but I have no idea."

"So you are not interested in my little brother?"

"I swear I won't go after him.", Law sighed.

"I was asking about your interests, surgeon!"

"Hell no! Cool now?"

Ace thought about it for a second. "Actually, no."

"No?", Law repeated after him and he sounded desperate as if at his wit's ends.

"No.", he attested.

"But...why?" Law seemed seriously nerve-racked but Ace had no time for his drama if there was a potential drama involving Luffy ahead of him.

"If you do not reciprocate my brother's feelings, that's going to hurt him too."

"I hate you both."

"And if you hurt my brother I am going to hurt you!"

"I should have left you behind."

"Why aren't you reciprocating his feelings?",he asked angrily.

"I shouldn't have saved you in the first place. Bepo told me so."

"Everyone loves my brother!"

"I should have listened to him. I should apologize and swear to listen in the future. I could be happy now. Things could be so easy and normal..."

"You have to like him!", Ace decided.

"I hate my life."

"But no touching!"

He had to scream the last sentence after Law, who hurried away from Ace.

 

It was a good conversation after all. Luffy would be happy and celibate. It was all good news, he thought self-satisfied. Even though the atmosphere between him and Law was a little tense after that.

As Ace got up he felt the nauseous feeling that accompanied him over the last weeks and he groaned frustrated. He hated it. But at least he wasn't throwing up after eating every time anymore. So there was little progress.

He opened the door of his room and made his way along the hallway, finally reaching the door to the deck of the ship.

It seemed they had reached another island and he searched for Bartolomeo. He finally found him sitting in his favorite room in front of a wall he had hung up the wanted posters from the mugiwara pirates and even some autographs. On his first day on the ship, he had given Ace the complete tour. It was a little like Luffy wonderland.

"Oi, Romeo.", he whispered. He had no idea why he whispered but he felt like it would be appropriate to do so like you whisper when being in a library or in a church. Luffy seemed to be Bartolomeo's equivalent of religion and this room was the church. Or the whole ship actually, but one could not expect to communicate in a whisper on a pirate ship the whole time. This room was like the VIP area of the ship, even though it seemed to be a VIP area Bartolomeo invited everyone to. Ace could already feel he started to grow a liking towards the green haired.

"Great senpai!", Bartolomeo exclaimed loud enough to make Ace ears ring. Apparently, the whispering wasn't necessary.

"Just call me Ace. It's fine."

Bartolomeo seemed to be overwhelmed and needed a moment to get it back together. And Ace felt like he already got used to this weird behavior so he just waited patiently until he could reply.

"That's such an honor, great senpai!", he said out loud. "Ace-senpai wants me to call him by his real name. He is so giving!" The last part he had mumbled to himself, but Ace could still hear it. Romeo used to do this a lot, talking to himself, and it was quite entertaining, but Ace was sure he wouldn't be able to spend more than a couple of days in a row with the man.

Luckily, he did not have to.

"I did not want to interrupt your sleep. At first, I was so afraid I totally panicked but then I called the doctor and told me about your sleeping disorder."

"The doctor? You mean Trafalgar Law?", he asked dumbly.

"Was that a mistake? I am sorry Ace-senpai I did not want to snoop around your private life."

"Oh no, it's alright.", he quickly assured him. "I was just a little startled that's all."

"Thank you for forgiving me!", Bartolomeo cried and wrapped his arms around Ace's legs.

"It's alright, really.", he repeated uncomfortably.

"So are we taking a stop here?", he asked him, impatiently bobbing up and down on his feet. He died to see Marco again and it got worse with every day. Ace had hoped that his feelings for the blonde would deflate at the loss of contact, but if they changed then only to become even stronger. It was like Ace was doomed to lo- feel some sort of affection that certainly did not mean a lot. He would get over it.

"We need to fill in on our supplies, stack up on food and drinks.", Bartolomeo answered. "But I can do the shopping, Ace-senpai. There's no need for you to take the risk of getting attacked."

"I would like to accompany you.", Ace surprised himself with his answer.

But it was true, he wanted to get off that ship if only for a few hours. He would eat somewhere and run away without paying the bill as he used to and he would go for a little shopping.

 

They left the ship and headed for the nearest town. It seemed to be more like a small village, so they asked for directions and advanced further on the island until they finally got to the big city. An old man had given them a ride on his hay cart. Ace had tried to pay him, but the man refused to take the money, so he simply left a little on the hay.

Ace and the man had made small talk along the whole ride, still, he couldn't remember the city's name. His thoughts had wandered to Marco over and over again. He had even told the old man about him, it was bad. Really bad.

Whenever Ace hadn't watched his thoughts they started to come up with the craziest scenarios. Marco on the island, waiting for him. He and Marco and the hay, lying next to each other, talking, touching, kissing...if the old man had known what Ace imagined to do on his hay cart he would have thrown him off the wagon- while driving. The cart wasn't fast, but that was not the point.

Ace had even thought about throwing himself off the wagon because he wanted his thoughts to stop.

It was a big city and Ace thought about getting something for his little brother - okay in the first place he was actually thinking about what to get Marco in return to the clothes. But his mind trailed off to them - Marco and the clothes. He couldn't stop thinking about it ever since he had dressed in the morning, wearing his new clothes. Especially the tight fit of the short black underwear he wore kept reminding him of dirty thoughts.

What if Marco had gotten some of those for himself too? What a dumb thought! Of course, he had because they both needed some new underwear because Oyaji had drowned their old. Just thinking about it, without imagining anything was enough to drive him crazy but the images weren't a long time in the coming. Ace closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He desperately needed a distraction.

At the first sight of a clothing store, he ran off. There was not a chance he would wear the underwear any longer. He told himself that if he only got rid of it, he would be feeling better.

A few minutes, probably about half an hour, that felt like hours later Ace had realized his mistake. He left the store with new underwear, red and shorter than anything Ace had ever worn, for himself. At least he told himself that he had gotten it all for himself, while the truth was that he could not stop thinking about Marco wearing the blue ones he got. And deep down Ace knew he had not gotten those for himself, because blue was not his color, it was Marcos. Blue always reminded him of Marco. He had been so dumb thinking he could enter a clothing store, buying underwear, without thinking about Marco half naked. While, actually, it was the perfect place to think about these things.

Ace was so caught up in his thoughts he did not realize he got attacked until the arrow was right in front of his face and his body reacted faster than his mind, turning into fire just the moment a see-through barrier had built up in front of him. He blinked surprised, as he heard Romeo's voice from behind.

"Ace-senpai! Is everything alright with you? Are you wounded?"

"I'm alright.", he confirmed. Bartolomeo had crossed his fingers.

Ace hadn't known the man was a devil fruit user up until this point. Bartolomeo had a tendency to talk about one topic and that topic only: Luffy. And Luffy's crew and everyone close or related to him, but the center of his attention was Luffy. The more time they spent together the more he started to trust the man and the more he wished him near his little brother. He could sure protect him. Ace made plans to get him into Luffy's crew already.

"I'll make them pay.", Bartolomeo growled right now, standing next to Ace, looking at their attackers. They did not look dangerous to him.

Probably some poor guys having nothing to lose and going after him for his bounty. Ace felt sorry for them.

"Let's go.", he said to Romeo.

 

Ace could make out Marco in the distance. The blonde man was caught up in a fight with another blonde man, but Ace wasn't able to make out any details from afar. All he could see was a blur of blue flames and blue clothes on two bodies. It seemed the fight ended as Ace started to approach them, but then stopped dead in his track when he could finally make out more details about Marco, now that he wasn't moving anymore.

Never ever would he had guessed that Marco could become so much hotter by putting on more clothes. It had tickled Ace fancy the whole other days Bartolomeo and he had spent on the ship, thinking about Marco in nothing more but his underwear - or worse: the underwear Ace tried to convince his own self that he had gotten them for himself. He hadn't - and he knew it.

Yet, there was Marco, proving Ace wrong. He wore fitting black shorts and an even more formfitting blue-white striped button-down shirt, through which Ace could make out every muscle of his upper body. The family tattoo on his chest peaked out of it just a little, just the top of it because Marco had not closed the last buttons of the shirt. There was sweat dripping from his forehead and he rubbed it away with his sleeve while laughing at something the other man had to have said to him.

Actually, Ace would be okay to watch him a little more before going up there, pretending that he hadn't dreamed about the other's naked body. Only thinking about last nights dream caused him to blush badly.

Little, did the black-haired know about the other man's thoughts being all too similar as he spotted his friend in the distance.

Ace gulped. Only seconds ago he couldn't get there fast enough. He was taking a shower - he needed to cool down after his heated dreams- when he heard Bartolomeo announce they had reached their goal to Jinbe.

Without batting an eyelash Ace had jumped out of the shower and ran on deck - that was before he realized he hadn't bothered to put on some clothes yet. He had gone back to grab them after Romeo had faded and Jinbei covered his eyes, threatening Ace to make him pay for his therapy.

While Ace stood there, trying to get a grip on himself, he saw Marcos opponent bow in front of him, before walking off towards Ace, but he did not bother to look at the man, his gaze had settled on Marco who returned the look. They stood and stared at one another for a little.

He could feel Marcos gaze wandering up and down his body. He's only staring in because of the clothes he got you, he tried to remind himself, before his mind could come up with other illusionary reasons.

Probably he is only surprised by the sight of you in a shirt.

Even though his shirt was probably completely see-through because he hadn't bothered to dry up before throwing his clothes on and running off the ship. Bartolomeo and Jinbei had stayed there, not being sure if they were invited to the reunion party too.

Ace felt like he wasn't able to move while under Marcos gaze and so he kept standing where he was. Marco clearly was to blame because only like a minute ago Ace had run as fast as he could, ready to jump at the other, hugging him. Needless to say, this plan did not work out the way he had thought.

Their staring only got interrupted by the man Marco had fought with. Ace hadn't noticed him really, he had been just a blur of blue color and movement on the sideline of his gaze, but now the man spoke to him and Ace reluctantly lifted his eyes off Marco and lazily turned his attention to the blonde male in front of him, who held out his hand for Ace to shake.

"I take it you're Ace. It's nice to meet you, finally.", he said, smiling at him in a polite way.

Ace took the hand and shook it, still a little distracted, he hadn't managed to turn his attention to the stranger yet.

As he finally did so he thought he had to have been falling asleep, dreaming again. They shook hands endlessly until the man finally interrupted it.

"Oh! My weapon.", he groaned grinning, bringing his palm to his forehead.

"I'm so oblivious!", he added and turned on his heels to walk back to where Marco still stood. Ace was still unable to move, this time for another reason looking after the blonde man, walking back to his friend.

The top hat, the googles, the black jacket, and the cravat. Blonde wavy hair and blue eyes and his voice, more masculine and lower, more grown-up but still... And apparently, his weapon happened to be a metal pipe.

It seemed like one coincidence too much. But he showed no sign of recognition towards Ace who hadn't changed THAT much since being a child. At least from his face, one could easily identify him.

Maybe he was hallucinating? Maybe his mind messed with him because of some post-traumatic symptoms one of them being hallucinating about the dead ones he loved.

"Oi, Sabo! Your weapon.", he heard Marco exclaim, holding up the metal pipe. Ace felt dizzy and panic crept up his body, taking over his mind. This was a really bad hallucination.

"S-Sabo?", he repeated disbelievingly.

"Oh yeah, sorry. I forgot to mention: my name's Sabo and as I already told you I am pretty oblivious.", the man grinned widely at Ace, scratching his neck in the same manner Ace had seen before. His eyes were closed while smiling and his smile was sheepish, he even wrinkled his nose a little.

Could it all be a coincidence? Was Ace hallucinating? Was it a dream?

It had to be. There was one difference after all: a burning scar over one of the man's eyes. Why should he make up something like this? It made no sense. Maybe Ace went insane, but there was a slight little chance, that he didn't and that was enough.

"You ruined my tattoo.", he heard himself say before he could think about it twice. He had made a step towards the man who had been just turning around to continue the walking. There was an accusing undertone to his voice and he wondered why this was the first thing that had jumped his mind.

The man didn't seem to get Ace was talking to him. But maybe Ace hadn't spoken loud enough for him to hear.

"Y-you!", he exclaimed, unable to think of something smart to say. Something that did not make him sound like a crazy person. He even held out his arm, pointing one accusing finger at the blonde, who had his back to Ace, so he didn't even see. Still, he had stopped walking and turned around to look at Ace, confusion written all over his face.

Ace lowered his head, he felt overwhelmed by his mixed feelings, fighting a battle inside of him. He wanted it to be true, but he also wanted to keep his sanity.

"Don't you dare, having forgotten about me!", he screamed and the tears rang clearly in his voice.

The blonde man turned to him slowly, looking at him in a strange way.

You're insane - congrats. And now everyone knows.

"Sabo?", he asked again, this time desperately.

The man nodded.

"It's me. Ace.", he said between his gritted teeth, waiting for any sign of recognition on the other's face. Sabo only frowned.

"Should I know you?",he asked hesitantly.

"Hell yeah!", Ace responded, sounding angrier than he intended to.

Something about Sabo's face changed, brightened and he excitedly asked:

"Are you someone from my past? Do you know me from when we were kids?"

Now it was Ace turn to frown and look at the man in confusion.

"Um..yeah.", he responded slowly. And then he couldn't hold it in anymore.

The tears climbed his eyes as he started to speak again.

"We were brothers. I mean we are brothers. Don't you remember? You, me and Luffy!"

Sabo's eyes widened. "Dragon's son?"

He looked like someone had told him he was a fish and only accidentally was raised as a human and that normally he couldn't survive because he couldn't breathe and now he was running out of breath.

Ace felt like running out of breath.

Chapter Text

Ace had been highly impressed to find out they got to stay at the headquarter of the revolutionary army, Baltigo. It was a hidden island and they had only found it because of the vivre card.

Jinbei and Romeo were introduced quickly and Sabo was confident it was okay for all of them to stay, as he had led them inside the huge building.

It reminded Ace of an old building from the inside and it was really beautiful but equipped with the latest technology. He felt watched every step and wondered how one could walk around feeling comfortable here, even though it was cozier than one would expect a revolutionary base to be.

Ace was really excited to finally meet Izo, but the man took his time, getting ready. Typically Izo, one time they had to cancel a fight with another crew because Izo wasn't ready yet - no joke. They had to find another day to fight it off, correlating their appointments.

Now they sat there at one of the many tables in what had to be the dining room, everyone with a hot cup of tea in front of them.

The walls were high, approximately about ten meters with windows from the button to the top in beautiful rounded shapes, with muntins.

Marco looked pretty relaxed, sitting across from Ace at their wooden table and winking at him while bringing his cup to his lips. He must have sensed how tense Ace was. Bartolomeo sat next to him, looking at the tea with disgust, altogether it was a funny picture having him seated here, making a face. He seemed so off in this elegant and stunning interior. Jinbe drank his tea, his expression was as severe as usual, but that was mostly caused by the dangerously spikey teeth that showed at the corners of his mouth.

Ace himself had tried the tea already but tasted nothing but hot, burning his tongue, so accidentally spilled the remaining tea over himself and the table.

It wasn't much like him to behave so clumsily and he was secretly reproaching himself about it. Everything looked so pricy and neat and I wasn't like Ace already thought the Revolutionary Army was a really serious organization altogether - so much unlike piracy. Piracy was easy like everyone could try and do it, there wasn't like any goal other than the One Piece or fame, as all of these things were really self-centered whereas the Revolutionary Army was all about changing things for others and helping people and this stuff. It wasn't like they hadn't helped anyone, but it wasn't their job. It wasn't like they had to. He shifted in his chair uncomfortably, even though the chair itself was so comfortable, Ace swore you could sleep in one of these. Ace sure could sleep in any chair, any place at any time, but he was confident everyone could do it in this chair. It must've been hard not falling asleep over your meals when really tired from training. But Ace felt not at all like sleeping. He was a mess, practically like a bundle of nerves.

He had no idea how long they had waited already, but the wet stains on his clothes had already started to dry and were rather damp at this point.

And he felt like there had been countless rounds of tea: cherry and lemon and cherry and peppermint and cherry blossom and herbs. He used his powers to reheat the latest sort he got: chocolate, which was a bit odd if you asked him. He could feel Marco smile at him, as he reheated his too, causing it to steam. It was like torture to Ace to just sit here and wait. He sat across the blonde man, who didn't avert his gaze from him, since they sat down, watching his every mood without talking. Their reunion was nothing like Ace had imagined it to be and he had to admit that he was really disappointed. He tried not to show it, but he was. They hadn't even hugged.

It was like it physically hurt Ace to sit so close to the man without being able to touch him, at least a hug or a handshake, Ace would take everything he could get, but they hadn't even exchanged more than a few words.

Sure, Ace could have started talking to Marco right here and right now, but it felt like every conversation he could think of was just too intimate to have in public. Even if it were only Romeo and Jinbei and a few members of the Revolutionary Army passing by from time to time, maybe catching a few phrases. Ace hated this waiting part. Romeo had dozed off a while ago, with his dirty boots an the table. Obviously, he didn't bother to be polite and manners were like a foreign thing to him, as long as he wasn't with Luffy or someone close to him. Ace was someone close to Luffy meaning this actually was Bartolomeo behaving polite, those were his manners - the good ones.

He carefully took the mans legs and lifted them off the table positioning them on the ground. Ace was polite, or he tried to be from time to time and he also didn't want his brother to think bad of him. Sabo was dressed so elegantly and he probably was so well educated and he had always been smart, Ace wanted him to like him. Because he didn't seem to remember Ace and if his memories wouldn't come back then he needed to make a good impression. He wanted Sabo to like him - this was so confusing and weird.

Jinbei, who sat next to Marco was engaged in a lively conversation with Hack, a fishman and officer of the Army. Ace could only sit there, his cheeks hot, trembling on the inside, desperate for a thing to do. Something to distract him or keep him busy. But there was nothing besides the tea. And the tea wasn't an occupation, but at least it helped with his nerves a little, but now he needed to pee. He doomed Izo for making them wait so long, all this effort for his perfect and flawless appearance.

He decided that he couldn't take it anymore, with a load scratching noise his chair made, he stood up, faster and more fierce than he had planned to.

Ace was at his wits ends with finally meeting Izo for the first time after Marinefort and their father's death, his nervosity only worsened with every minute. With Sabo not being able to remember him, and who had disappeared somewhere in the hallways after guiding them here. With Marco with whom he hadn't exchanged any words at all yet. And Dragon, Luffy's biological father. Ace wondered what he would be like, even though he already knew the most important thing about that man: he was a miserable father to his beloved little brother. So chances were good he wouldn't like him no matter how nice he'd be.

Marco, Jinbei and Hack, even Bartolomeo who had woken from his sleep stared up at Ace. He felt himself blush a little bit.

"I...um. Anyone of you knows where the toilets are?", he asked, shooting Jinbei a hopeful look, but it was Marco who answered.

"I'll show you, yoi."

Ace looked at his friend. Everything between them felt so different. Something was off. It was like every word and every look they exchanged was too intimate.

He did not dare to imagine what it would feel like to touch Marco. His mouth had gone all dry, and he clearly did not trust his voice, for now, so he simply nodded.

Ace followed after Marco down the hallway, they rounded a few corners until they stood in front of a door.

"It's a bit messy. I didn't expect visitors for today.", Marco told him when he opened the door. It dawned on Ace that this had to be the room given to the blonde Phoenix while he stayed here and he glanced inside curiously.

Marco stood in the doorframe, doing an inviting gesture with one of his arms. Ace had never been so aware of the other's body. There was like no space between them as he slipped by. He could have simply leaned in, just like he had done when messing with Law. But Ace body did not respond properly. It had been so easy to do this to Trafalgar and he only wanted to mess with the man, but then he only wanted to mess with him. And he clearly did not want to mess with Marco, nor he wanted the other to think so.

He could smell the sweat and this smell that just belonged to him, the same smell the clothes had when he got them from Romeo. He could hear Marcos breath and he was able to feel it, he was aware that Marco probably was able to hear Ace hitched breath as well. Maybe he even heard his racing heartbeat.

Ace overlooked the room. It was a small room with a huge window-wall. it looked like a lot of windows lined up, like a wall out of windows. The room itself was white, there were blank orange curtains pulled halfway in front of the window-wall that ended at the height of Ace waist. There was a broad windowsill out of wood and it functioned as storing space as well.

There was a rack over the bed, made out of wood with white blankets and pillows. He avoided Marcos gaze, eyeing the unmade bed. The blanket looked ruffled and there were clothes sprawled out over the floor and on the bed. Ace was able to make out light and dark blue underwear and he hurried inside and to the little room that departed from the wall next to Marco in an attempt to hide his blush. It was a small bathroom in black and pale blue. A black sink, a round mirror, a toilet, and even a ground shower. Ace would have really liked taking a shower.

After he was finished, he stepped out of the bathroom to see Marco lying on the bed, the eyelids closed. He opened them as he must've heard Ace to look at him.

"Can I take a shower?", Ace blurted out. Panic had its grip on him and he decided it was thanks to the blonde man looking at him the way he did. There was something in his eyes, or Ace wanted something to be there - he couldn't tell. He felt so hot. Marco lied still, blinking at him, but if he was confused he didn't show.

"Of course.", he said.

"I wanted to go for hours. It's so like Izo making us wait this long."

Ace laughed. Relief rushed through him.

"True. We shouldn't have bothered to wait in the first place."

Marco grinned at him and sat up, his glare fixed on Ace face.

"It's nice to have you here, finally.", he said in a soft tone.

"Yeah.", Ace answered.

"I've missed you.", he added, but in a very low tone, almost a whisper, but Marco nodded and his lips formed the words: "Me too."

Then Ace closed the bathroom door, taking that shower.

He felt uncomfortable and unfortunately, the shower did nothing to cool him down. Only the thought of Marco on the other side of the same wall, made Ace feel dizzy.

He turned off the water, took a towel and wrapped it around his hips. Then he fished for his clothes on the floor and left the little room, entering the bigger bedroom. Ace felt desperate to get some fresh air, to open one of the windows while sitting on the sill.

"You could've taken your time, yoi.", Marco remarked, looking up from a book he was reading. Ace tried to read the cover but Marco held it the wrong way around.

"It's alright."

An awkward silence stretched between the two and Ace could feel the heat rising to his cheeks again. Since when did he blush at every second occasion?

Marcos gaze had slowly trailed down Ace body. Starting at the wet dark hair that curled around the sides of his face and almost down to his shoulders, to his chest and the stomach, to where the towel sat and finally the clothes in his left hand.

"Thanks for those, by the way.", he said to break the silence, holding up the clothes.

"I was surprised to see you're actually wearing them. Even the shirt."

"They're better than the orange nightmare after all.", he shrugged and the blonde laughed.

"No, honestly, I like them.", he confirmed more serious this time.

"I see." Marco smiled at him.

"I'll go and take a quick shower, too."

He stood up and started unbuttoning his shirt, while he made his way to the bathroom. Ace suppressed the urge to offer his help.

As the door closed behind Marco, he collapsed onto the bed. There was a tension between them that made him hold his breath. It was only then he realized that he held the red short underwear in front of the other clothing items, so Marco had clearly seen it. He had even held it up in the air. Ace felt like dying from embarrassment.

He picked up the book. It was about navigation. Ace knew Marco was interested in the topic and he knew the Phoenix had originally learned all about it, enabling him to navigate the Moby in an emergency once. He had probably saved all of their lives. There was Sabo's name at the front envelope, which did not surprise the man much. Sabo had an interest in navigating back to when they were kids. He really hoped for an opportunity to talk to the man in private soon.

A girl had interrupted their conversation soon after it had started introducing herself as "Koala". She had scolded Sabo for making them stay outside, without offering tea or anything to them, so she did that for him.

She also directed some nice words to Ace and offered them to come in and wait for Izo in the dining hall. After that Ace had gotten Jinbei and Romeo and Sabo had led them inside. His brother obviously had a thing for the girl, she was cute and he blushed and scratched his neck in an giving away gesture. It was so obvious.

The sound of running water was cut off, indicating that Marco would retreat every second. Ace hurried to get some clothes on, but he was still fighting with the shorts when he heard the door swung open Marcos head peaked out of the bathroom.

He looked up, head red and hot to meet eyes with an equally red-headed Marco.

At first, Ace thought the blonde blushed in because of him, but then he started to stutter: "Hey um...if you don't need that towel anymore, could you ...hand it over to me, yoi?"

That was not what Ace had expected out of all the things Marco could have said in this situation, but he felt uncomfortable enough to nearly drip over the shorts at his ankles when he hurried to get Marco the towel.

"S-sure.", he stammered.

"I'm sorry. It's the only one I got so..."

"No problem.", Ace hurried to assure him.

He was drawn between putting the shorts on real quick or simply kick them off and get the towel first. He decided on the latter -it would be quicker and felt too hot under Marcos gaze. Ace picked the towel up and handed it to Marco, ignoring the arm he held out. Instead, he walked all the way over to him, caught up in his thoughts wondering what Marco might think while scanning over Ace body. Maybe he simply checked on Ace wounds?

The thought hit him just that moment: if that was the only towel then Marco had to be naked. This situation was screwing his sanity for sure.

It always had been strange to Ace. Normally he did not care about naked bodies he had seen enough of them. There had been communal showers on the Moby, so one could not expect too much privacy while taking a shower, but overall the years Ace had made sure to never shower at the same time Marco did. When Ace had seen him showering he turned on his heels and when he showered and Marco entered the room, he got his towel and left the shower room. Ace did not care about the other commanders, showering in the communal shower at the same time, he had seen most of his brothers naked and some of his sisters as well, but they actually were like siblings to him. Marco had been something different from the start. Ace had tried to convince himself that he was more of a friend, like a best friend to him, but that was just untrue.

Anyway, the result was that Ace had never seen the man naked and he was pretty sure it was the same the other way around.

"Thanks.", said Marco in this quite and soft tone he had used when Ace got out of the shower.

The Phoenix quickly covered himself with the soft material. Ace tried to will his the images of what was underneath that towel away. But they floated his head, it was like an invasion.

They both headed into different directions, Ace back to the bed and Marco inside the bathroom to get dressed.

Ace was just about to put on the shirt as Marco walked up to him, completely dressed unless for the shirt he had yet to button up.

He stopped in front of the dark-haired man and gently layed one of his hands on Ace chest.

"May I?", he asked and his voice came out more like a whisper.

Ace looked down on himself and saw that Marco had placed his hand over his wound. It wasn't completely healed yet, Law had warned him it could open up if Ace started to train too early. He was supposed to wait for another two weeks.

He nodded slowly while their glances met and Ace locked his eyes with Marco's. He could see the Phoenix licking over his lips and he felt the breath of the other going faster. Marco could sure feel Ace heart skip a beat in his chest. Blue flames sparked from Marcos' fingertips and licked at Ace chest and the wound. He used his healing powers on Ace.

"Does it feel good?", he asked.

"It does."

Maybe he hadn't imagined things between them. Maybe there was something for real? Marco had to feel it too.

"How about we sit down?", he asked, gathering up all the courage he could find.

"Sure."

They slowly made their way over to the bed, Marcos hand still on Ace chest, both of their breaths going fast, and their faces were close enough that Ace could not only feel but smell Marcos breath. He smelled like cherry blossom tea. Then Marco stumbled over the navigation book on the floor and the spell was broken. Ace helped him up, both of them laughing nervously.

"How I ironic that I drip over a book about navigation.", Marco commented.

"It's Sabos.", Ace stated. He had no idea why, but he had to say the name out loud. Sabo. He had lived all of these years believing that his brother was dead. Over 15 years had passed and all this time Sabo had been alive.

Luffy! He needed to get them together, but first, he had to find a way to make Sabo remember him and Luffy. Luffy needed to concentrate on his training first, which left Ace enough time to help Sabo gain back his memories.

"He's a really nice guy. I can see why you are brothers."

Ace acknowledged how Marco stated it. Like they were still brothers and had always been. It was a sweet thing to do.

"He's always been the nice one of us.", he sighed, caught up in his childhood memories. "Well, actually, Luffy was the nicest.", he corrected himself.

"Sabo definitely has the best manners.", mused Marco without missing a beat.

"He's always had the best manners.", Ace confirmed.

"Sabo's parents are aristocratic, so Sabo's too, but he sure has forgotten about that as well." Something dawned on him.

"Oh no.", he groaned. He rested his face in his palms, his elbows resting on his upper legs. "I'll have to tell him. I am going to be the one telling him about his disgusting parents that treated him like shit. Should I just leave that out?"

He felt a comforting hand rub over his back and he felt that Marco used his powers to intensify the effect. It helped. Marcos powers were really useful.

Ace felt himself relax, but only a little.

"Wow, you're really tense, yoi."

"I know I'm sorry.", Ace mumbled through his hands.

"No. I mean your shoulders are as adamant as stone. It feels like I am comforting a rock."

Ace let out a low chuckle. "I'll take it that you've never tried to comfort a rock before."

"Still, let me message you a little and we figure it out together?"

Marcos nice words, his wonderful hands and that smile he shot Ace, made his heart melt and he felt relieved. Let alone the offer, already helped him relax a little.

"I wonder when I'll ever get the chance to pay you back properly.", he said a slight groan to his voice.

"You'd be surprised how much you help me already."

Marcos last words made Ace curious, but the way Marco had brushed it off casually, gesturing for Ace to lay down, so he did.

He could feel Marcos legs one at each side of his hips and he felt his breath as he bowed down to Ace. "You'll have to take off the shirt, yoi."

Ace did as Marco had told him, but he felt nervous. This was a rather suggestive position. As soon as his shirt was off, Marco started working his wonders on Ace back.

"I'd say do what feels right. If it's the right moment to tell Sabo about his parents, if he asks, then you should. But if you'd rather not, then don't. It's quite a task to make Sabo remember you, so you should take it slow."

"What if he never remembers us? Maybe Law could help, what do you think?", he suggested.

"I think that's beyond what Law's able to do."

Ace sighed.

"We should start by talking. You could tell him things from your memory."

"But what if he doesn't remember?", Ace knew he sounded whiny, but he couldn't help it. He felt so desperate and powerless.

After all the people life had taken away from him, it gave Sabo back, but without his memories. It was like a bad joke!

"I know it's hard, but you have to give it some time. And we will come up with new ideas if that does not help it. We are in this together, okay?"

"Okay.", Ace mumbled, he felt the tingling feeling in his brain, indicating he would fall into sleep every second.

 

 

"Ace! And he's wearing a shirt! Marco get me a camera, he's wearing a shirt. I must be dreaming! The stress got it on me and now I am hallucinating!"

Izo's fan snapped closed with a 'clank' and he scanned Ace from head to toe, before breaking into a wide grin.

"Come here, already, little firebrat.", he said, opening his arms for Ace to hug him.

Relief settled in Ace stomach, that had done flips the whole time. He threw himself into his brother's arms. Izo wore a silk kimono with beautiful flower embroidery and Ace had to admit the styling definitely had been worth it because he looked great. The first weeks he'd spent on the Moby he had referred to Izo as 'Lady Kimono'. That was before he found out that this person he had considered female was actually a man.

"You look stunning.", he complimented him, while still holding onto him tight.

"It's always worth waiting for me, isn't it?"

"It is.", he said smiling.

This was one of the most beautiful moments in Ace life, he felt so calm on the inside. It was so soothing, it was so good to have Izo back and to know he was alright.

"You look good. You scared me on the battlefield."

Ace saw the tears glitter in mans made up eyes.

"I'm alright.", he said. But he knew that he only meant on the outside. He was far from being okay, far from feeling okay on the inside, no matter how hard he tried to forget.

"I'm so happy to see you.", he said and he felt his own eyes filling with tears.

"Me too, firebrat."

They hugged once again and when Ace turned around to walk to the dining table with Izo, he saw Marco sitting there, casually as usual. He leaned back in his seat and sat rather sidewards turned to them one leg propped over the other knee his head propped by one of his arms and he smiled at them.

"It's good to see you've made it too, Izo.", he teased.

"It's good to see you wear something fashionable for once.", Izo shot back.

Ace felt like a little child, whose family finally got reunited.

They all had been through a lot and Ace was happy to see them bicker around in the usual playful way. It was their way to tell that they loved each other.

"It's good to have you both here and I love you, but shut up now. I don't want to draw any negative attention.", he told them, keeping Izo from throwing his fan at Marco who laughed at a comment about Izos clothes he had just come up with.

"Do you hear? He's ashamed of us!", Izo told Marco and Ace rolled his eyes at his over-dramatic brother.

"I don't want my brother to think we don't know how to behave ourselves only because we are pirates."

"Your brother?", Izo asked, looking at Ace in surprise.

"You've missed out on quite some things.", Marco informed him.

"We'll discuss this later.", Ace decided.

"Now let's get going to the buffet before there's nothing left!"

It seemed like everyone got together for dinner here. The hall was filled with people, there was barely enough room for all of them and it was as loud but not nearly as loud as it had been on the Moby Dick. Ace couldn't stop thinking about it. This life he had grown so used to had ended so fast, so unexpected that he felt like every minute the Moby would show up and they would all go on board and have a party. Or Ace would wake up from a nightmare. But he didn't because this was not a nightmare, this was reality.

 

As Ace returned from the buffet with as much as he could line up on the small plates they handed them here, he saw Sabo standing at their table, a plate in his hands. He looked a little lost considering that he lived here.

Marco approached Ace from behind, one hand on his shoulder.

"Feeling a little better?", he asked and Ace nodded.

"Hey.",Sabo smiled at Ace. "Is it okay if I sit with you?"

Ace blinked at him. It was so strange to talk to this grown-up version of Sabo, who did not remember him and behaved all awkward and polite. He felt a stitch in his heart but offered the man a seat nevertheless.

"Sure. I hoped that we could talk a little in private soon. I don't know how much you have to do here, but...", he stopped talking, having no idea where he wanted to go with that sentence, leaving it unfinished.

"I'll make time. How about I'll show you your room after dinner and we talk?"

"Okay, sure.", he said, but the gulped heavily. He hadn't expected this to happen THAT soon. He felt poorly prepared for their talk.

Sabo eyed Ace plate skeptically. "Are you going to eat all that alone?"

"Yeah.", Ace responded defensively. "If you think that's a lot you should meet our brother Luffy. He eats like ten giants."

"Monkey D. Luffy?", Sabo asked looking dumbfounded. "He looks so small.", he mumbled more to himself.

"Believe me, he'd outrun as all on an eating contest. He could make good money attending those. Oh, and we could bet on him. I have to tell Marco."

Sabo watched Ace eat. "Huh."

Ace tried to eat civilized, making use of eating manners he had never followed before. Marco even raised an eyebrow at him while sitting down across from them.

"You have a good appetite.", Sabo attested.

"Oh, that? That's nothing.", Marco jumped in. "That's more of an appetizer for Ace."

Ace glared at the Phoenix. Sabo laughed. "Wow."

"You've eaten quite a lot too, as a kid.", Ace remarked defensively.

"I guess I still do.", Sabo answered. "Or at least I used to think so."

Ace eyed his plate critically. "You don't, believe me."

 

 

Sabo kept his promise and after they had finished their food he got up to guide Ace to his room. Latter was so nervous he glanced at Marco seeking help. The Phoenix knew Ace well enough to tell what he wanted so he asked if it was okay to accompany them. Ace really owed him.

It was like they walked endlessly, they passed so many rooms and took the stairs several times. Ace wondered where they went, he wasn't sure he would ever find his way back to the dining room on his own.

"Here you go.", Sabo opened a door to a large room. It was really beautiful. It was elegant and noble and the furniture looked expensive and heavy. There wasn't a windowsill at all, the whole wall was made out of windows all the way down to the floor, there was a large door made of glass that led out onto a small balcony. This could have been the perfect backdrop for a romantic theatre scene.

"Wow.", Ace said. He felt a bit overwhelmed and he did not want Sabo to think that he was picky or ungrateful, but he really felt like this was too much. He would've been okay with a room like Marco had, or any room if it was closer to his friend. And closer to the dining hall. The only two places Ace knew in here.

"It's stunning, really.", he started. "Don't get me wrong, but I am just a pirate and this feels like a room just about appropriate for a princess."

"It sure is. But it's also a little far away.", Marco jumped in.

"Oh. OH.", Sabo said, bringing his palm to his face. "Of course, I am so sorry."

He paused for a minute, thinking about something.

"Maybe we could get one of the beds and move it in here.", he mused, talking more to himself. "We could ask Bunny Joe if it's okay we use his bed. He's away on a mission, anyways."

Ace looked at Marco who only shrugged at him.

"So we could move two beds together.", Sabo suggested.

"You want to do what?", Ace asked simple-minded.

"Yeah", Sabo rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, "we don't own a lot of double beds. And since they are currently all used by couples from the Revolutionary Army we have to improvise, because there are none left for visiting couples."

"Visiting...", Ace tried to repeat.

"Couples.", Sabo helped out.

He didn't dare to look at Marco, as he hesitated to say:

"Oh no, it's not like that. We just sleep together."

He went red in an instant as he realized what he had said and the expression written over Sabo's face told him the blonde would've preferred not having known that.

"Next to each other, I mean.", Ace corrected his mistake.

He heard Marco chuckle - at least one of them seemed to be amused.

"So I'll get Bunny Joe's bed?", Sabo asked a little confused.

"Yeah.", Ace decided confidently. But he wasn't confident enough to meet Marcos gaze while he did so.

Sabo obviously had decided on not asking any further questions and simply led the way to Bunny Joe's room. Ace felt a bit weird to steal the bed from someone he did not even know, it was like shoplifting.

Marco had left to get the few things he had and Ace was relieved he did not complain, even though he hardly doubted Marco would have dared to in front of Sabo. Maybe not even in front of Ace, but he sure thought that the dark-haired man was childish or something like that.

But Ace got what he wanted. It was scary to only think about sleeping in this room all alone in this huge building.

Through the huge window wall, Ace could see the sun set.

It was talking time.

 

Sabo had gotten them another round of tea - it was cold already. The way up here had taken the man long enough for the tea to cool down.

How was Ace supposed to ever find his way back down?

He was lucky he had Marco, orientation skills like a bird and that stuff.

"So..", Marco started handing over the cold cup.

Ace reheated it without blinking, making Sabo's tea steam as well.

"How did you-"

"Fire-fruit.", he said.

"That's a powerful one.", Sabo mused.

"It is."

They sat in silence, both of them nipping at their tea.

Ace was holding onto his cup so tight he was afraid the cup could break every minute so he set it aside on a small table on the balcony.

"Geez, this is awkward.", he sighed.

Marco nodded. "It really is. I am sorry I don't remember you. I've lost my memory after an incident. I don't know what happened exactly, but considering the burning scar, it had to do with fire. Dragon saved me from drowning and has watched over me ever since."

"Damn, it's so strange that he practically raised you, while he abandoned his own son.", Ace said bitterly and Sabo made an uncomfortable face.

"Sorry.", Ace said. "It's a touchy subject. I guess I am more tender about it than Luffy would be."

"You really like him. You talk about him a lot."

"You liked him, too. He was always the nicest of the three of us."

Marco looked at him curiously.

"Could you...I don't know, just tell me something about it?"

"Sure.", Ace answered. He looked out at the horizon, it was a beautiful evening and they sat on the balcony that was made out of solid stone. There was even ivy growing on it and it could have only been more romantic if there had been roses as well. Which would be weird because Ace sat there with his brother.

"What do you want to know about?", he asked.

Sabo had taken off his top hat and Ace couldn't take his eyes off him. It still felt like a dream to him and he was afraid that Sabo would disappear or simply dissolve in the air if he averted his gaze for too long. He was still skeptical, still afraid he could only imagine things, or dream, or maybe this man wasn't Sabo at all. Maybe he looked nothing like Sabo, maybe he just happened to have the same name, and Ace had gone insane, or blinde. Seeing things that weren't there. Like one would see the face of their ex-partner everywhere after a break-up.

"Huh, that's a good question.", Sabo paused while thinking about it.

"I'd love to know it all, but I guess we won't be able to cover that much in one conversation. Maybe I'll remember if you start telling me things.

So just start at the beginning. How we met?"

Ace closed his eyes for a brief moment, trying to remember it as good as he could. If he could only remember as many details as possible he could draw a livelier image with is words and it would be more likely Sabo remembered something, right?

"We meet a while before the two of us met Luffy and that's when be became brothers.", he explained. "I'll have to think about it, I am trying to remember it as good as possible. But it's sure been 20 years ago."

Sabo gulped. "20 years is a long time.", he stated, throwing a wary side glance at Ace that one could only describe as pitiful or at least compassionate.

"It is.", Ace affirmed.

He had no idea where to start, there were so many images in his head and he tried his best to find the right ones and put them together.

"You know, everyone remembers a situation different, because it's not only about what happens, it's about what you're feeling, while it happens. It's about what happens inside of you. Most people are better at remembering their feelings. So maybe you just tell me how you remember things."

Ace had always known Sabo was smart, he had been such a smart-ass as a kid already, that Ace had hated how dumb he felt next to him. But he was also thankful to him. It was only in because of Sabo he could write and read. He couldn't the first time they met.

"Well, okay. Out of the three of us, Luffy was the nicest. He is somewhat sweet and innocent up until now. And out of the two of us, as there were only you and me in the beginning, it was you, who was the nicer one. Which left me as somewhat unbearable.", Ace shook his head.

"I never understood why you even liked me. I guess I was just lucky that both of you wanted to become friends with me."

"You sure weren't that bad.", Sabo said in his polite manners.

"I was an unbearable holy terror, a demonic, ungrateful, little brat and don't try to change my mind, because you don't remember. I am telling you because you would say the same if you did."

"You're sure too hard on yourself. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been friends.", Sabo responded relaxed.

"We were about five years old when we first met. I've lived with some bandits in the woods outside of the town, while you...", he hesitated to continue.

"What?"

"You lived in the city. Your parents? They are aristocrats. YOU are an aristocrat."

He watched the other's face carefully, but Sabo did not seem too surprised.

"I've already guessed that. I was able to read and write and other stuff, so I figured my education must've have been good. Or at least not too bad."

"You were a smart-ass.", Ace informed him and Sabo laughed.

"I see. It was that bad."

Ace smiled at him. "It was."

"So how did we meet? Seems like there were worlds between us."

" There sure were worlds between us. But we dreamed about the same world. We had a goal in common that both of us desperately wanted to achieve."

He glanced to Sabo who hung on Ace's every word but showed no sign of recognition. Ace tried not to put too much pressure on him.

"We wanted to become pirates. And we dreamed about sailing the seas together. You would've been the navigator. The only problem was that we both wanted to be captain, but we agreed to talk about that later. And we started to collect money and treasures to buy a pirate ship."

Sabo's eyes widened. "I can't see my parents liking this idea."

"To say they did not approve would be an understatement.", Ace sighed.

"They were bad parents, weren't they?", Sabo asked him and Ace simply nodded.

"I've somehow known. I felt it. Just like I felt it was true when you told me we were brothers. I mean we ARE brothers. Sorry, this is all so new to me, while it's so old to you."

Ace took a sip of his tea. He wished it to be booze.

"The first time we met, was the day I overheard a conversation Dadan was having with one of her men. Dadan was the women who were the head leader of the bandits, you've met here too, but that was years later. She said that she had lost hope long ago and that she hoped for me to not come back from one of my hunting trips to the woods. This way I wouldn't have been her problem any longer. So I decided to run away, make it easier for her. I didn't like her, or I didn't like her MUCH, but I never wanted to be a burden, so I made up my mind and decided to make it through on my own. I wanted to live in the woods.", while he was talking about it more and more images came back to Ace.

"I could eat and drink in the woods, but I wanted to leave this island. I wanted to get away from Dadan and from my grandfather, who isn't really my grandfather, but Luffy's. They are related by blood, but I consider Garp my grandfather nevertheless. He was a lousy grandfather, I mean he left little kids to live with bandits it's not as if they normally run kids daycares.", Ace shook his head while talking about the old geezer. He somehow understood why Dragon had become such a lousy father.

"So one day I discovered the Gray Terminal. It was a massive junkyard near the Mt. Colubo where the bandits lived and just outside the great gate of Goa. I knew that I would need money for clothes and I thought that I could buy some tools and make a simple boat myself or more like a raft. I really wanted to get away desperately.",he explained.

"And you were a rich boy from the city, hell Sabo, little do I know about your motives for being there other than that you wanted to get away as desperately as me. That had been enough for both of us.

I was in a horrible mood and it was a hot day it smelled gross. It was my first visit, but not yours, apparently you came around for quite a while. Many of the men knew you. I could lie to you, about how we met but honestly the first time I saw you I stole your top hat.", Ace admitted. He had taken Sabo's hat in his hands without thinking twice about it and put on top of his head.

"I wanted to sell it. I ran away with it and you lost track of me in the woods."

He handed the hat back to Sabo.

"But the other day I went there again. I had gathered many goods and sold them for a good price, but I kept your top hat, not because I intended to give it back I just waited for a better offer, as I got attacked by some of the other men around there. Shady creatures. You've saved me, you and the other men you were with. Maybe you only helped me to get your hat back, I don't know, but you wouldn't leave me alone even after you got it back. I tried to get rid of you, but you followed me into the woods and then you got lost. I watched you walk in circles for hours from the trees and after a while, I decided to help you. But instead of staying away from me as I told you, you came back to the woods the other day and the day after and the day after that day. And I had to lead you out of the woods every day. I can't remember how it all started then. All I know is that we agreed on collecting the money for a ship together, instead of competing and stealing from each other. It was a partnership of convenience."

Sabo looked surprised. "You didn't really want me there with you, did you?"

"It wasn't a personal thing. I wanted no one around me. I would have lived without me if that would have been possible. You probably read in the newspaper. My ancestry - people hated me. No one wanted me to be alive. They would've killed me if they knew. But you and Luffy knew and none of you saw me that way."

Ace felt like he did a soul striptease in front of this man. It all felt so awkward and uncomfortable.

He felt tired from the day and from all the feelings.

 


Chapter Text

Marco had waited outside of their room. Their room.
Marco felt nervous about the night. He was yet to discover how the fuck he should close his eyes sleeping next to Ace. His friend didn't want to sleep alone and Marco himself was more relaxed this way, too. Knowing Ace room had a balcony and given the fact, the man was a sleepwalker, especially since the war hunted him in his nightmares, Marco couldn't have relaxed in his room as well.
So he would rather lie awake the whole night and watch the handsome young pirate - at least this way Ace wouldn't catch him staring like he had all day.

Eventually, Sabo stepped out of the room and nearly tripped over Marco, who sat still, head resting against the cooling wall.

"Easy.", he said while stabilizing the young blonde man.

"Oh, it's you, Marco. Have you waited out here for long?"

"No." That was a lie.

"How did it go?", he asked.

Sabo scratched the back of his head - he had a habit of scratching himself and every gesture seemed to have its own meaning.

"I hardly doubt Ace would say it went well.", he admitted. "I don't remember a thing, Marco. I tried really hard and I feel that I know Ace, he seems so familiar, but I can't remember.", he combed his fingers through his wavy hair.

"Wow. You're both way too eager, yoi.", Marco attested. "And I thought Ace pressurized himself."

Sabo showed a small smile, but he looked exhausted. "I just want to remember them. It sounds so nice to have brothers."

Marco nodded. He could easily relate to that given that Marco had grown up having no family at all until Whitebeard took him in. He had been so lucky.

He was so lucky, given the fact, that Ace probably already waited for him in the room they would share for the time they'd spent here. Marco had no idea how long they'd stay, but the Revolutionary Army sure had the best equipment to locate their brothers and sisters.

"We've got time.", he assured the young man. "The more time you spent with Ace the more likely you'll remember him, yoi."

Sabo nodded, showing his polite smile before he sat down next to him.

"You're both lacking patience, that's all.", he continued because he felt like he had to comfort the young man.

As much as Marco liked him he only wanted to curl up next to Ace. He had missed being near him as one would miss their breath when underwater.

"You like him.", Sabo said, catching him off guard and he felt the revealing heat rising to his cheeks before he could stop it.

Of course, Sabo had noticed. If he was only half as smart as Ace had claimed it shouldn't surprise Marco, but he didn't suspect to be so easy to read.

"I think he likes you too. And so does Izo."

The heat left Marcos cheeks within in a second, of course, Izo wouldn't shut his mouth.
Izo was involved in Marco's sex life for as long as they'd known each other. It was like he had joined the crew and immediately decided it was his right to mess with him.

"Izo likes to couple people up.", he told Sabo. "If I were you I'd watch out, yoi. He could get you and Koala in an awkward position before you even realize your faith."

Sabo swallowed hard and Marco assumed he too hadn't realized just how obvious he had been.

"But I assure you, you have nothing to be afraid when it comes to me. I usually don't participate in Izos plan's - at least not voluntarily."

Sabo laughed a little at that. "So I'd better watch out?"

"You better do.", hummed Marco.

Sabo better took a head of his warning.

"What, you know, what keeps you from being straightforward?", Sabo asked.

Marco laughed, but it was a rather bitter sound even in his ears it sounded bad. He was drawn between keeping things to himself, trying to deny there even was something to be straightforward about and just letting it all out.

Finally, he settled for an easy answer. "Ace needs me there with him. I can't endanger our bond this soon after all these incidents."

"Hm, that's a pretty good excuse.", Sabo attested.

"Too good.", agreed Marco.

Of course, there were plenty of other reasons he told himself he could not confess his feelings for Ace.

First of all the one he had given to Sabo, but also the fact that there was a huge age gap between the two of them. And the fact, that Marco knew something had happened between them, but he couldn't remember exactly what had happened the night before Ace left their crew to hunt Blackbeard.
And the fact, that he remembered what had happened once before, but obviously Ace didn't. And the biggest reason was probably that Marco needed the young hothead just as much as he was needed by him. He couldn't imagine his world without Ace, and he refused to do so.
He had a plan and he needed Ace by his side. Plus, as long as he could stand being around Ace like that, just as a friend, rather than not being with him at all, he wanted to do exactly that.
He wanted to endure this as long as he could because all too soon it could happen to be no longer enough for Marco.

And he had no idea how to proceed then.

"I'm going to look after Ace. See how he does after your talk."

"Have a good night, Marco.", Sabo mumbled, but he sounded honest.

"Good night, Sabo.", he said and they both scrambled to their feet.

It was just after they had turned around a thought crossed Marcos mind.

"Oi Sabo, tomorrow we'll talk about your reasons, yoi.", he teased and he could see Sabo cringe, even though the young man had his back to Marco.

 

Marco knocked on the door once and he could ear Ace muffled voice coming from inside.

"Who's there?", he asked, sounding like a little child.

Marco chuckled before he answered softly: "It's Marco."

There was a brief silence and he waited, feeling a little uncomfortable. Had Ace changed his mind, about sleeping in the same room?

"Come in.", he heard him say, but he sounded a little strange.

"You expected someone else?", he teased but his voice immediately died at the sight of his closest friend.

He had opened the door cautiously and slow, before stepping in. Dim warm light flooded the room and Marco saw it came from the lights above the wooden heading of the two shoved together beds.
The walls were painted in a rich blue tone with an ornamental printing, while the heavy window curtains were in a wine red tone, the overall feeling of the room was just easily described as royal. The light reflected from the walls was bluish, while it seemed the window side was covered in red light and the light itself was yellowish.
Ace was standing in front of the window front dipped in the red light, facing Marco. He was only in his underwear and Marco swallowed hard, before he closed the door behind him, careful to not think of anything sexual.
Instead, he tried to will his mind away from Ace half naked body. God, couldn't Ace wear some of these fine rib boxers old people usually sported? Like, he wouldn't look adorable in them as well, but at least they'd cover more of him. Was it hot in here? Probably yes, given the fact Ace was indeed hot, meaning he literally radiated heat without realizing himself.
He decided on settling his gaze at a spot just above Ace head, this way it would be easier to talk to him.

"I, um, I was pretty tired so...", Ace stopped and silence fell above them.

Marco kept quiet because he wasn't sure what to say or do, but he figured that getting undressed would be a bad idea given the state of arousal he was in.

If he was to strip down his clothes now, Ace would see.

"We can go to bed right now if you want to.", he offered, finally, feeling a little embarrassed to put it that way. "I mean I don't want to keep you from sleeping so I'd lie down, too.", he added as an explanation.

This was so weird, Ace had to get something was off. Marco had never hastened to add anything to his sentences.
The Phoenix normally was nonchalance in person and he was proud of it, which gave him away easily, stammering around like a little child who'd broken a dish or something.

"Thanks, for...you know..staying. With me. At nighttime- I mean. "

Ace seemed to feel as uncomfortable with the situation as Marco, who decided that it was dumb to treat each other so overcautiously.

Who cared if Ace knew he turned him on?
He could easily find an excuse for that. So Marco started to get undressed himself, never averting his eyes from Ace, who stared right back at him.

Marco smirked as he unbuttoned his shorts. "Thanks for letting me stay with you."

He had said that feeling brave for a moment, but as soon as the silence fell around them, he felt awkward having said that.
He looked down, pretending to focus on getting undressed. He felt as hot as if he was wearing his winter clothing on a summer island, instead, he stood there only dressed in his underwear.

"It's nice to spend time with you, yoi.", he added. Why not continue once he had gotten started?

"It's good to have you around.", Ace sighed as he rolled onto one of the beds.

He looked way too hot, lying there and Marco tried to play it cool as he stretched out beside him, propping his head up with one of his arms, looking at Ace, who looked at the ceiling.
Ace sure liked Marco to keep him company, he needed Marco as for now, but the way he responded didn't sound like he returned his feelings.

"Do you know where Jinbei and Bartolomeo are staying?", asked Ace, just the moment Marco had wanted to ask about Ace talk with Sabo.

"No, why?"

"It's just I wanted to talk with them, but I guess it can wait. We haven't talked since arriving here. I guess they both have their own business to mind and I'm a little afraid they could leave before I get the chance to talk to them."

Marco wasn't sure if the young man had really meant to talk to him or if he simply thought out loud, but he responded nevertheless:

"They wouldn't leave without saying goodbye. Jinbei is too polite and Bartolomeo too much in love with your brother."

Ace laughed at the last part. "He really is.", he stated, sounding as disbelieving as Marco felt about it.

"He adores Luffy, Marco. Wouldn't be surprised to find out he stalks him. You should've seen his ship!"

"Oh, I did, yoi.", he responded. "But I'm still recovering so I ask you to not bring it up again."

"That's going to take some time.", Ace agreed as he seemed to relax a little. He had seemed reckless after his talk with Sabo, all caught up in the idea of constant moving. Presumingly he wouldn't even feel the tiredness before letting it go.

"I am half convinced he's in one of the rooms right now papering it with Luffys photos.", Marco mused.

"I'd place a bet at lighting a meat-scented incense stick while bowing in front of a framed picture of him.", Ace replied and they both grinned at the images in their heads.

But Marco was sure Ace was thinking of Thatch as well at this moment. Bets had been his thing, he loved to bet on all sorts of things but mostly on silly stuff like this.

"When did Jinbei join your little group?", Marco asked.

He was prepared for Bartolomeo as he himself had asked the man to take Ace in, but he didn't come across Jinbei.

"He showed up out of the blue - like literally as he came out of the water when we were sailing. He jumped on board without asking and Bartolomeo almost sent him flying with one of his barriers."

"I have already wondered how those two could get along.", Marco commented.

"They're like the opposite of one another.", Ace sighed. "It was really stressful to serve as their middleman."

Marco laughed at how upset Ace sounded. "It was like babysitting, but worse, wasn't it, yoi?"

"Absolutely.", Ace confirmed.

"Well, welcome on board."

"Oi! We weren't that awful!", Ace protested, hitting the blonde with a pillow. Latter laughed but did not try to defeat himself or start an attack on his own.

Instead, he aimed for the original topic his mind was set on.

"How did it go with Sabo?", he asked not bothering the fact that he already knew.

"I think he didn't remember a thing but tried to behave like he remembered things a little. I guess he wanted to make me feel better."

Marco could hear from the undertone lingering in Ace voice, how miserable he felt. It must have been hard to explain your special bond to someone, who's not even remembering you.

His hand reached out for Ace's before he knew it.

"Maybe he remembers if you two do something together. Something you did a lot as children, yoi?", he suggested.

"You mean stealing money, robbing criminals and selling trash to become pirates?"

Marco laughed. "That's what you did as a kid?"

Ace shrugged. "It's always been my dream. But then when I finally became a pirate I didn't feel any better. I mean, yeah, it helped me to feel a little better, but it was like something inside of me was still driving me crazy. Something inside of me wanted to push harder and to go bigger and that's the way I ended up with you folks."

Marco smiled at that. "Not the worst case scenario if you ask me."

"Worst case? More like best case, more like better-than-I-could-have-ever-imagined. I never thought something this simple could make me this happy. I never knew I was in need of a family."

"Me neither.", Marco answered.

"Aside from the fact I never dreamed of becoming a pirate. It wasn't like I was against it - I simply had no idea. But when I met Pops, well you know how he can be."

"You've never told me something from before I joined the crew -about your life, I mean.", Ace acknowledged.

"I never thought you'd be interested in that."

"Of course I am.", the dark haired protested and Marco squeezed his hand calmingly.

"Well, okay then. But not today."

Ace rolled over, facing Marco as well.

"I feel so small.", he whispered low enough, Marco barley heard him.

"Since he's dead - it's like I am a child again."

Marco could've told from his voice that the tears had made their way down Ace cheeks, but he could also see it.

He squeezed again, not daring to move closer to the young man. In the end, he didn't want to scare Ace off. He was so vulnerable and Marco did not want to feel like he was taking advantage of it.

"Sorry. That's just ridiculous."

"I feel it too.", he admitted and his thumb brushed lightly over the soft spot of Ace skin, just between his thumb and his forefinger.

"It's not ridiculous and if so, then we both are. And I'd guess Izo's with us, too."

Marco could hear Ace sob a little, and he felt the tears pressing on his own eyes.

They held the hands while crying silently until he could feel the younger getting sleepier as the sobbing flattened.

"Good night, Ace.", he whispered. There was only a humming noise in return and Marco felt brave enough to lean closer and kiss Ace forehead.

"Sleep well.", he mumbled, lips pressed to Ace skin, whose dark hair tickled Marcos' nose.

Then he turned around curling into his own blankets.

It was just then, Marco felt a shift behind his back and an arm wrapped his way around him. He felt bare skin touch his own. Ace chest at his back.

Marcos nerves tickled and he felt more awake than ever. The fact alone that Ace could sleep in such a situation had to be a hint he could not feel the same as Marco. Just as he thought so he felt something warm and slightly wet at his neck. Had Ace really just kissed Marcos neck?

He dared not to move and it took him a moment to realize the aching feeling in his chest was caused by him holding his breath, waiting.

Marco had no idea what he waited for, maybe for Ace to say something or do something. Marco felt so nervous, so awake, he would've liked to run for a while to get the adrenalin out of his system. But he didn't have it in him to risk waking the younger man, whose strong, muscular body touched Marcos in spots their bare skin had never met before. Marco could hardly remember seeing Ace in such little clothing, and the sight let alone was enough to keep him up all night. Those definitely were the counterparts of sleeping next to him. Well, there wouldn't be much sleeping for Marco and he started to questions his decision. If it would be like this every night, it would make it impossible for Marco to hid his feelings or at least his affection for Ace from the handsome man, whose skin was as warm as Marco had always imagined it to be. He had dreamed of being in this situation so often but never thought that it would be under these circumstances.

He needed a distraction or he would spend his nights lying wide awake next to Ace while dreaming of things that would never happen.

Screw Sabo and Izo, he thought,they have to be out of their minds if they really believe Ace feels something for me. 

But there was a small voice inside of him, a little hope they could be right about this. But even if they were right, Ace was extremely vulnerable, he was unstable, he was not in the position to make important decisions.

If Marco had learned anything in his life then that one would choose paths they'd never wandered if it weren't for some traumatic incident.

If Ace had developed feelings for Marco, he might only have because he needed him after everything.

Marco exhaled heavily. His thoughts were like a carousel, revolving around the same thoughts over and over again, but there were many figures attached to his carousel, so many things to think about. It would have been a huge carousel if real.

 

Marco woke up to the feeling of warmth at his back, no touching but the feeling another warm body gives when really close, and to a 'click' noise.

He opened his eyes lazily, blinking into red light, that flooded the room as the morning had dawned. He saw a lamp standing in front of his face and he felt the uncomfortable and hard pillow, that turned out to be a desk.

"Damn.", Ace muttered behind him. "I hoped not to wake you up."

Marco blinked at him lazily, his eyes adjusting to the light. He yawned loudly while stretching his aching body, that hated him for falling asleep at the desk again like he had so many nights before.

Expect the other nights he'd fallen asleep doing paperwork, while now he simply fell asleep without having done anything from importance. He remembered having tried to focus on Sabo's book about navigation, but instead, he had propped his head into his palm, watching the dark-haired man sleep.

"It's fine.", he said and tried to suppress another yawn. He failed awfully at doing so. Overall he wasn't quite convincing, he could tell that without taking a look at Ace expression.

"I'm so sorry.", he said contritely.

Marcos' head was still dizzy with fatigue, which was the only explanation he could give for his following actions. He got up from the comfortable chair, he slept in, his movements still weighted down with weariness and shot Ace a broad smile before leaning in and placing a kiss on the others cheek.

"It's fine.", he repeated, showing a rather mischievous smile as he made his way to the bathroom. He felt Ace gaze on his back and as his brain started it's working he doomed his own actions. His behavior would've been appropriate if they were a couple - it had been just last night that he had agreed with himself hitting on Ace would be taking advantage of his bad condition and yet here he was kissing him. Well, his cheek, but the fingers of his left hand had lightly touched the skin of Ace waist, while he did so and their bodies had been apart by inches only.

He used closing the bathroom door as an excuse to turn around and take a look at Ace in his sexy red underwear. He needed to talk to Sabo about the sleeping situation. Marco wasn't sure he would be able to do this. Maybe it would be better to switch places with Izo? Ace would definitely hate him for the suggestion because Izo was a terrible roommate. Mostly so because he used the bathroom always - always. Like all day long - he really invested a lot of time into his looks.

But Marco was not sure if Izo would ever agree with this idea anyway since it would be typical for him to have his mind set on getting Ace and Marco together -against their wills if needs must.

And Marco was not sure if he himself was okay with his plan, because all he could think about right now was getting out of the shower, naked as he was, taking Ace face in his hands and kiss him, for real this time.

It was unfair to be locked up in this room with this gorgeous person he fancied about for longer than he would admit it without being able to touch his body or kiss the hollow of his throat. It had taken all of his strength out of Marco to not run his hands over Ace body, but only the light short touching of his waist had been enough to drive him crazy.

Probably he wouldn't survive to have sex with Ace.

It had been two weeks already since Ace had arrived at Baltigo and Marco hadn't slept more than two hours a night - the sleep deprivation clearly had its call on him.

He got dressed and went back to the bedroom where Ace waited for him with a steaming cup in one of his hands.

"I've organized you some coffee.", he said smiling and it warmed Marcos heart more than the hot liquid ever could.

"Thank god." He took the cup fast.

"You can call me 'Ace'."

Marco shot him a rather amused look. "I take it, breakfasts already over?"

Ace shrugged. "I guess so."

"You don't have to wait for me to wake up. You should eat something for breakfast, yoi."

They had settled into a routine easily. The mornings they spent training with different members of the Revolutionary Army, their afternoons were filled with analyzing Blackbeard and his crew and the search for their missing brothers and sisters and the allies of the former Whitebeard pirates.

"We'll train with Sabo today.", he remarked and Ace nodded slowly.

"I know. I've met him yesterday in the evening and we had a short conversation about it. He wants to show us something new and special, but he was really secretive about it."

Marco had to admit the training was great, it had been a while he had done something to update his fighting skills and he felt really good having some time for that. All these years had him busy with paperwork.

"Then we'll go find out right now.", he decided, setting his already empty cup aside.

"But I'll put on the orange overall just in case.", he mused. He hadn't bothered to put on a shirt so all he had to do was to get out of the tight pants and into the onesie. Ace started to unbutton his pants as well.

It was a horrible moment for Marco, standing there almost naked and watching Ace getting almost naked. Stripping down your clothes at the same time should be forbidden if it wasn't for sex and since they would clearly not do that it was just close to being unbearable.

Ace caught him staring and he turned around swiftly, so he couldn't see how much Marco had enjoyed the view. No matter how often he had seen Ace walking around in his underwear and nothing but his underwear, he would never get used to it. It was like Ace was doing it on purpose and he had gifted Marco some really short and tight blue briefs without blushing, but he avoided his gaze when handing them over.

He heard the sound of a zipper being closed and turned around to find Ace wearing the suit all the way zipped up.

"I don't like the new scar.", he explained when Marco raised an eyebrow.

"Always reminds me, how close Luffy was to death."

It always reminded Marco how close Ace had been to being dead, and how everything around him had gone silent, while he cried out Ace' name. He wasn't sure the fire user had even heard him.

 

They were right to have left early because it took them a full hour to get to the room with the number Sabo had given them.

It was a hugely impressive room, completely covered in a dark metal from the inside, which made it look and feel really modern and slightly off considering the beautiful architecture of the rest of the building.

"Oi, Sabo." he and Ace greeted at the same time.

The blonde laughed while returning the greeting and immediately continued to explain what they were up to do.

"This is our newest training room.", he started, "It's covered in fireproof metal so don't you worry Ace. It's designed to withstand the strongest powers. Since it's hard to train with one another without hurting someone and still find a way to improve your fighting once you're on a certain level some of the brains in the Revo's came up with this training room. As you can see it's full of Den Den Mushis of different types. They all communicate with each other. We have the Self-Propelled Visual Den Den Mushis that will detect our every move and are able to move around freely to cover every inch of the room as well as the normal Surveillance Den Den Mushis. There are Proko Den Den Mushis that will project whatever we select on the Operating Den Den Mushi. There are many options to choose from. Basically, it means the whole room serves as a training field with projected enemies that will attack you. You can decide what kind of features your enemies should have, how they attack there are difficulty levels and we are even able to let you fight against certain opponents. We fed the Proko snails with video material of some devil fruit users, everything we could find, and programmed them. You could fight off Luffy for example if you wanted to. Not that the Revolutionary Army plans on doing so but you could train with him if you wanted to. There are also freestyle modes in which the system decides for you, but you can choose the difficulty there as well."

"Sounds like science fiction to me.", Marco commented as Sabo had finished.

"That's so cool!", Ace exclaimed enthusiastically and Marco had to suppress a loud snort. The similarity to Luffy was undeniable in this explicit moment.

"Can we really use it?", he asked, beaming.

"Of course.", Sabo confirmed. "I'll show you how to use it. You can fight alone or together, Battlefield mode or against a single opponent."

"Can we do quick round just for trying?", Ace pleaded impatiently.

Sabo laughed. "Sure. The Surveillance Snails will also tape your fight and the Proko snails will visually mark when you get 'injured' by your opponent. So you can later watch yourself and detect possible weaknesses."

"That's really spectacular.", Marco attested, turning to Sabo.

Ace, in the meantime, had swooped up the Operating Snail from his brother, pressing some buttons.

"Yeah. I thought about your Payback War with Blackbeard. Since Ace has fought against him he could fill us in on how he works with Yami Yami no Mi and you could tell us about the Gura Gura no Mi and how Whitebeard used it so our programming team could try to convert it. This way you could get at least a little prepared for the fight ahead of you. No one knows exactly how he works with his two devil fruits."

"That's amazing.", he said, while he casually avoided a projected laser attack, just to dodge one of Ace fire attacks a moment after, pulling Sabo down with him. Apparently, Ace had fun with the fighting simulator.

"Oi, Ace. Give back the Operating Snail so we can train properly, yoi."

Ace grumbled a little, but he handed the Snail back to Sabo who showed them how to use it. It wasn't that complicated.

"I have to go and do some paperwork, just make a call when you're finished. The Den Den Mushi is outside of this room to prevent permutation.", and with that Sabo left them alone.

"How about we start with a Battlefield simulation?", Marco offered and Ace nodded. They decided on starting at a high difficulty level and train together at first. But they also took turns against single opponents.

Marco liked watching Ace perform during a fight he was so concentrated and covered in sweat - he had decided on fighting bare-chested after a brief time. Ace was just not used to fight with clothing, he assumed.

"It's almost lunchtime.", Ace announced.

"So let's do one last set, yoi?"

"Like you've read my mind.", Ace grinned and Marco returned it while being aware just how self-satisfied he must've looked.

"Battlefield-mode together I assume."

"Like you're in my head."

Marco set the Operating Den Den Mushi aside and walked over towards his crewmate. They stood together backs against each other, ready to start the fighting.

"I know you, Ace. Especially when it comes to fighting, yoi.", Marco explained over his shoulder.

"That's why we're best off training together. We make a perfect team."

"We'll see.", Marco responded while already transforming into his Phoenix-hybrid he could feel Ace sparking fire behind him.

"And hiken!", Ace exclaimed, his fire fist was his signature attack and Marco felt the heat behind him and how the adrenalin kicked in as he started to take to the air, transforming completely.

"Phoenix Goen!" The fiery shockwave shot forward without mercy. But there were more opponents coming from every side, so he soared even higher while rotating on his own axis maintaining the shockwave.

"Hotarubi Hidaruma!"

The opponents that were about to attack Marco collapsed, being burned by Ace Firefly attack. It looked really beautiful until Ace burned his enemies with the Hidaruma attack that sent the Hotarubi at the attackers and burnt them.

"Down!", Marco screamed, preparing his next attack against the enemy sneaking up behind Ace. "Tensei no Soen!"

He spiraled around the enemies, gathering them into the air and then charging into the ground from a high altitude, releasing another shockwave.

"Mirror flame!" A hot wall out of fire separated Ace and the next wave of attackers. "Up!", he yelled and Marco followed his directions.

"Dai Enkai: Entei", Ace screamed and the gigantic fireball burned the rest of their projected enemies.

"Well, that was far too easy.", Marco noted, landing next to Ace.

"Definitely not enough of a challenge.", latter agreed.

"We should settle for a more advanced level the next time."

 

"Ugh, you two smell like wildfire.", Izo complained as he took a seat next to Marco at lunch.

"My day's been fine, thanks a lot.", he responded and Izo rolled his eyes being over-dramatically.

"I heard you've been training with the simulator?", Jinbei asked, without paying attention to their normal bickering.

"It was great. You should definitely try, too.", Ace decided.

"Anyways, Jinbei, there is something I wanted to ask you." He looked over to Marco who nodded his head. They had discussed this on their first evening.

Ace had asked Marco to take the Sun Pirate into their crew and Jinbei as one of their commanders and he had agreed right away. Jinbei and his crew had always been loyal and nice allies, polite, easy and strong, just how perfect allies were.

Jinbei made a grumbling noise that signaled he was all ears.

Izo exchanged a look with Ace too then turned to him, eyeing him a little too curious. Marco could literally hear his unsaid questions in his head. Why does Ace ask Jinbei to join us, isn't that your job now? 
"Good, well, I've never done this so I'll be straight forward. I can never thank you enough for what you've done for me and for my little brother, Luffy. And since you were always close to the crew I wanted to ask you to join us. We have to build up a new crew and we hope to find as many of our crewmates and members of our alliances as possible. You'd be one of the new commanders and, of course, we would take in the Sun Pirates whole crew if they want."

The three of them watched Jinbei chewing with rapt attention as he did not show the slightest shift of emotions on his face.

"You want me to become a member of the Whitebeard Pirates?", he asked.

"Um..", Ace looked at his brothers.

"Technically, yes. But actually, we are no longer the Whitebeard Pirates. The search for a new name is secondary to rejoining the remaining crew members as well as hiring new ones. We'd be lucky to have you.", Marco explained, dipping a slice of bread into the tomato soup that was served as a starter.

"Oh, I can see it already. I could do the shopping for you. You'd be a completely new person.", Izo announced with a dramatic movement of his left hand.

"Or you ditch the idea.", Marco interfered. "Not everyone is up to a make-over Izo."

"And that's bad luck for all of our eyes."

He was about to respond as Jinbei started to speak: "Yes."

Ace looked as surprised as Marco felt. "Really?", he asked.

"Sure.", Jinbei responded. "But I want to talk to my crew first, make sure they are okay with it."

"Of course.", Marco answered automatically, still a little puzzled himself.

"Huh. That was easy. I guess I'll do all the hiring from now on.", Ace decided a smug grin slipped onto his face.

"Oh, you would be surprised how difficult some candidates are, Ace. Some are really troublesome - and straining.", Izo commented with a cheeky grin.

Izo was in peak from these days and Ace pouted a little.

"Maybe because people don't like to get kidnapped."

"Such a harsh term! We prefer 'surprise adoption'. "

Ace glared at his brother, it seemed both of them had already forgotten about Jinbei.

"It's true when you think about it. We did adopt you.", Izo shrugged and Marco couldn't suppress the smile that stole itself onto his face.

Ace had been so stubborn and sweet, he had been so young and angry it had amused him already back then. How he forced himself to hate everything about them but one could easily tell from his expression how much he was actually interested.

"I have to confess I didn't think you'd join us. I was half convinced you'd be too stubborn.", he admitted, feeling a little nostalgic.

"You were like a little puppy that liked to bark a lot.", Izo added and Ace face heated up. Marco wasn't sure if he felt embarrassed or if he was angry and already busy at planing their murder.

"I was never a PUPPY!", objected Ace.

Marco bit down on his lip and looked away, while Izo was less subtle about the laughter forming in his throat.

"Wuff.", was all he could force out, already halfway under the table, shook with laughter and somehow that sight completely blew Marco's stack and he joined in laughing as well.

Jinbei remained unimpressed. "Good, as long as you never refer to me as a puppy I'm in."

 

The rest of the day went by fast. Marco and Ace had a long talk with the programming team responsible for the fight simulator, both tried to remember as many details about Blackbeard and Whitebeard's fighting style and skills as they could. But it was a nice alternative to the search of their brothers they were normally busy with. It slowly broke Marco's nerves trying to track them but losing their trace quickly after.

After dinner, he didn't feel like going straight to their room and Ace was nowhere to be found. He had excused himself after dinner claiming to train a little and Marco decided to head to the library. Maybe he could find something that wasn't about fighting styles, navigation, devil fruits or anything connected to those topics as we felt tired of it. All Marco wanted was a little distraction. A nice story, with a happy ending, that would be great.

He indeed found a book called 'The flowers of Goa', which was about three young women coming from different backgrounds. One of them was a farmers daughter but she wanted to become a lady of the high society, pretending to be someone else she lay herself all the way into the sheets of a certain Lord Abernathy. The other woman was latter's first wife and not amused about her husband's affairs, which she tended to poison and the last woman was a servant in the Abernathy household. And somehow, Marco wasn't sure how those women became best friends and tried to murder the Lord due to reasons that defied Marco's logic.

But the wing chair he sat in was comfortable and he enjoyed the rather shallow entertainment the book granted, although he would deny all knowledge of said book if asked.

His tea had cooled down long before as someone stormed into the room, loud thuds in the silent room and Marco quickly set the book aside just in case someone would catch him reading it.

As he looked up he could see Sabo nearly tripping over his feet as he hurried to him. "Marco!", he exclaimed.

Marco opened his mouth to greet the blonde as he continued to speak, stopping in front of him, his hands desperately gripping Marcos' arm.

"It's Ace.", he gasped.

Within a second Marco had jumped to his feet. "What's with him?", he asked alarmed. The panic evidently in his voice.

"He collapsed mid-training. There's so much blood, Marco."

 


Chapter Text

"...and Luffy cried the whole night. Even though he escaped unscathed. I tried to calm him, but it did not work."

 

"...like he used him as a pillow.."

 

"...maybe we should wait before we call..."

 

" ..Trafalgar!?.."

 

Someone cried.

 

 

Someone cried - again. Or still?

"Please, Ace..."

 

"Peep, peep, peep...."

More sobbing. "...leave. Just don't..."

 

"I love you.", someone whispered. Every noise sounded strange and muffled.

Everything went dark again.

 

 

"Well, but I am worried about him, Izo!"

"Believe me, Marco, Ace is going to be okay."

"You have no idea.", Marco panted. Only a second later the door was yanked open and an annoyed looking Marco stormed outside, catching him eavesdropping in the very act.

"Ace.", he said, surprised, the anger mostly gone from his voice.

Behind him, Ace could make out Izo as well, but his other brother had turned his back to them and it seemed he did not listen. Apparently, he was busy with changing again, wearing another kimono than at lunch only a few hours ago - but it wasn't unusual for Izo to change a few times a day.

"Oh, hi.", Ace responded lamely. He wouldn't even buy that performance from himself.

They looked at each other the silence began to feel a little awkward if not uncomfortable. Izos kimono was blue, Ace acknowledged. He was pretty sure at lunch it had been green with flowers, maybe some birds?

This one looked like it an embroidery of water, waves on it.

"I, um, wanted to ask Izo something.", Ace offered the same time as Marco said: "I'll better hurry to my appointment with Hack, yoi."

"Oh.", they said unison. And then both laughed a little in relief.

"Seems like Hack has a tracked down at least one of our siblings."

"That's great news."

"Yeah, yoi."

"Sooo...see you tonight.", Ace concluded and hastily fled into Izo's room.

He had closed the door swiftly and exhaled deeply just as Izo raised his voice - Ace had completely forgotten about his brother, even though he had just used him as an excuse.

"Just go ahead, already!", he said impatiently waving around with his left hand, not even bothering to turn around and look at his brother. Although he could probably see Ace in the mirror he sat in front of.

Today's nail color was purple, Ace acknowledged, even though it didn't help him in the matter. But it seemed like his head had cleared itself out, leaving Ace behind with nothing more than dumbness.

"Oh, um, I", he swallowed hard, trying to not sweat he glanced around the room in search of something that would provide an idea for an excuse. "I just wanted to ask you how you're feeling."

Izo turned around in his the revolving chair. He sat in front of a normal desk that he had transformed into a makeshift vanity. The ever-present fan snapped as he closed it. That was like Izos trademark noise. The snapping of a hand fan. Whenever Ace heard it he immediately assumed Izo around.

"Ace.", he said annoyance written all over his face and Ace was pretty sure he used the fan to underline his annoyance. Snap. "Don't play me for a sucker. One little brother being out of his mind is enough for a day! I honestly don't want to argue with you as well, so why don't you just spit it out?"

It was rare for Izo to be that rude, normally he loved a little small talk, but right now he seemed to be seriously nerve-racked. He did look harried, Ace thought.

"It's nothing really. I'm sorry about that, I was just walking by and-"

"Oh!", Izo exclaimed, cutting him off. A smug smile crept onto his lips. Ace wasn't sure if he liked this version of Izo better. Normally that smile meant nothing good. Izo stood up and the blue waves on the kimono danced, the whole garment moved when being moved. It was impressive.

"Oh, my fire-darling!", Izo got up to cup Ace face with both of his hands. He looked so graceful while doing it.

"Look at you two!", he said, emphasizing every word. He smiled a little smile while shaking his head lightly.

"What?", he dared to ask dumbfounded and Izo shot him a deadpanned look.

"Darling, Marco's been acting like a 13-year-old ever since you showed up here. He's openly glaring at you like a naughty baker! And by that, he's the one more subtle about it."

Izo leaned back against the vanity, arms folded in front of his chest, one of his brows raised at Ace who decided he sure didn't like that particular look.

"Naughty baker?", he repeated appalled.

He mainly asked to gain time, or maybe even distract Izo from the original topic, but he wasn't too optimistic about it. When settled his mind on something Izo could be pretty persistent. But one could still dream, right?

"A joke between Thatch and me.", his brother replied shortly. "Doesn't add much in the matter." Fuck.

As uncomfortable as Ace was with Marco and him being the topic it was way worse to talk about another dead person. Especially since Izo and Thatch had been .....well whatever it had been between his brothers, he could feel Izo's pain from where he stood.

"I miss him.", he said quietly. "You know that I'll always listen if you want to talk about it."

"Thanks, fire-darling.", Izo responded with a sad smile. "But I am far from ready to talk about it."

"Take your time.", Ace said. He felt stupid - little did he know about love and even less about broken hearts. Ace wasn't one to get his heart broken he was more of a heartbreaker himself. And he was a pirate so had no plans for family life, settling down, kids and all that stuff.

Ace had his family with the Whitebeard crew, and with Luffy so he felt he had covered that field enough. No need to put a child of his into the world if he'd only had to abandon said child and mother - like his father had. Or Luffy's father. Or maybe he would make a shitty father, like Garp or like Sabo's father? No. Ace had been fine with how things were.

He enjoyed meaningless sex from time to time, even though he had to admit it had been a while for him.

"See, I don't want to get involved in your love life-", Izo started, apparently an attempt to make it back to the original topic.

"Since when?", Ace asked automatically, sarcasm straining from his voice, but Izo simply ignored his submission.

"But, seeing how you two are completely incapable of handling things yourself-", he continued but got cut off by Ace.

"Izo, I really appreciate your worries about my love life-"- that was a bloody lie and Izo took his turn to cut him off.

"Oh, you should! How long has it been Ace? Over a year?"

"Over a year what?", he asked.

"Sex."

"Oh, god."

"Your crush on Marco is at least two years old if you haven't fancied about him ever since joining our crew?"

Ace shot him a deadpanned look. As if he'd answer that. There was no use in trying to deny it or play dumb, but he sure wouldn't confess things that easily. At least their other brothers weren't there for some bad cop/ bad cop or bad cop/ crazy cop interrogation thing. Because they tended to do that a lot, but it was usually Izo who sat the others up. He was the one most curious of them all.

"You're wasting your time. It doesn't matter.", he informed him.

Izo had only gotten to put some eye make-up on one of his eyes, that's what caused him to look so funny, he realized. He had already wondered through their whole conversation, what exactly was off with his face.

Izo raised one perfectly drawn eyebrow at Ace questioningly, so he continued. The faster he admitted things the faster Izo would let him go.

"It's not like Marco feels the same, okay? He treats me as a younger brother, that's all and I've accepted it a long time ago." Another lie. Ace had tried to convince himself, that he was okay with how things were between them and maybe he would've started to believe his own lies if it hadn't been for the last couple of weeks. Not after all the naked skin, the short underwear, the, and holding hands and sharing beds and...

He started to believe that maybe, just maybe, Marco felt a little just a little bit the same.

But, no matter how hard Ace tried he couldn't prove his speculations right.

And hell, how had Ace tried! Marco seemed to be immune, he remained unimpressed at whatever Ace pulled off. As if there had been an actual reason to walk around half-naked that often! But all the sexy underwear and leaning close seemed to leave the Phoenix cold. Ace hadn't even bothered hiding his morning boner - nothing. Marco tended to politely avert his gaze and read or occupy himself with something else.

Ace tried to make skin contact using every excuse he could come up with - still nothing had happened. Marco never jerked back or something, but he never leaned closer, he never...

Sure, this morning Marco had kissed his cheek in a really sweet kind of way and his fingertips had lightly brusher over Ace skin on his left body side, but he wasn't even sure if it hadn't been on accident, given how lightly the touch had been. It seemed all of it was just in Ace head.

Izo threw his hands up in the air. "Okay, he's probably going to kill me for it, and as fun, as it was to watch you beating around the bush, I can't let this continue this way. So if it makes things easier for you Ace: MARCO IS IN LOVE WITH YOU! For over six years and I have to say I wonder who's bird-brain now! And if I were you I wouldn't risk losing Marco in that stupid Payback War, before I could confess my feelings!"

The topic got to him - which wasn't surprising.

He had already guessed that Izo had been in love with Thatch and he knew that latter hadn't been so sure concerning his feelings, wanting to keep things "simple". Izo had accepted things for what they were - he probably regretted that now, even though Ace wasn't sure that there was a thing to regret, but he didn't feel like arguing with Izo. Especially not when he was in such an emotional state.

"I-in love?", he repeated unbelievingly. Marco was in love with him?

Excitement pooled in his stomach but he held it back since one could never be sure with Izo. Maybe Marco never confessed that himself and Izo only told Ace to encourage him to make a first move that wasn't even wanted by Marco?

"Yes, you fool.", Izo replied while rolling his eyes.

"Even Pops asked me about you two!"

"Nah- he didn't." Ace wouldn't fall for that.

"Okay, maybe not, but only because he never wanted to get involved in his son's love lives. I mean c'mon parents never want to!"

They went silent for a moment.

"But-", Ace started and was cut off by Izo right away.

"But 'Marco never said a thing'", he imitated Ace voice.

"Marco technically was your direct supervisor, he's older than you by almost 20 years, and he never wanted to take advantage of you. You know how cautious he can be! Plus, you made it extra clear that you weren't looking for a relationship."

Ace felt the heat climbing from his cheeks to his ears.

"He really said he loves me?"

Izo impatiently rolled his eyes at him. "Of course not! Are you listening, Ace? It's Marco we talk about. He once admitted that and I'll quote: 'might have a little crush on Ace'. But we all know that's one of his typical understatements."

Ace wasn't so sure about that. "Once" and "a little crush". ..A crush could fade easily. Marco could've overcame his feelings for Ace a long time ago.

"I'll think about it. Thanks, Izo.", he mumbled nevertheless. There was no need to discuss his concerns with his brother.

Ace didn't feel like arguing with him, so he excused himself.

He was not sure if he was willing to risk a thing. And there were plenty of things he would put at risk. Plus the current situation was actually quite pleasing to Ace. He even got to share a bed with Marco and most of the nights they ended up cuddling, while both HALF NAKED! It that alone wasn't reason enough. Even though Ace most of the times pretended to be asleep while curling into Marco.

On the other hand, he couldn't deny that his feelings had worsened from day to day and it seemed that with every touch and every step they seemed to take forward Ace only carved for more. He had survived for all those years without most of it and now he couldn't imagine sleeping a night without Marco by his side. And without taking a look at that toned sexy body of his. How his muscles moved underneath his skin, when he moved or stretched his body, yawning.

Well, Ace wasn't THAT sure about "nothing had happened before". There were some blurred memories hunting his thoughts, that he couldn't place. Maybe those were only fantasies or images of dreams he had? There was one, that involved kissing and the information that Marcos' mouth had tasted like booze and cigarettes - and apple tart.

Marco hardly ever smoked, but he sure could handle a lot of booze and he had a weakness for sweets.

Ace couldn't stop himself from fantasizing about kissing the Phoenix - this time for real and for sure- and how it would feel like, what he would smell like and taste like. How it would feel to touch his body in a certain, special way one only did when making out...

But he wasn't bold enough to try it. He could've turned his head this morning when Marco had placed that sweet kiss on his cheek, faking an accidental kiss. That way it would be easy for both of them to back out. Maybe he should try?

Ace was still caught up in his thoughts as he bumped into another human body. He bowed absentmindedly and muttered a short apology without taking a closer look at the person he ran into. Whoever did not seem familiar to Ace, put spoke up: "You're Ace right?"

"That's right."

"What a fortunate coincidence! Sabo asked to deliver a message for you. He wants you to know he'd like to have your daily conversation in his room today."

 

 

Ace had been excited to see Sabo's room for the first time. It was like he got to know his brother all over again. Having lost his memory Sabo had forgotten about so many things that had been a key to his personality.

But personality could develop in a different direction - Ace himself was the best example. Maybe that was the whole problem, that Ace wasn't enough...Ace.

Right after dinner, to which Sabo had been absent, Ace knocked at his door with a plate of food in his hands.

Even though Sabo invited him in immediately, Ace still felt like invading his space as he stepped inside the room. It wasn't as big as the room he currently shared with Marco, but the window-side had no walls and was, similar to theirs, completely made out of windows. But unlike their room, the windows looked like a puzzle, like someone had grabbed a bunch of old windows at the Gray Terminal and crafted one giant wall out of them.

All sorts of shapes, colors, and materials formed into one giant window wall.

Apart from that, he recognized that the room was full of books and cards and Ace saw that Sabo apparently owned his own collection of metal pipes he still used for fighting - just like they had as kids. They were neatly lined up at the wall one next to another in a perfect row. The room overall seemed so collected and tidy.

"I thought we could sit outside. It's a little tight but so's the room.", Sabo started without further greetings.

"Sure.", Ace responded. Holding up the plate of food he added: "I got you something to eat since you weren't there for dinner."

Sabo looked at the huge plate and gulped. "Wow, um thanks, Ace."

"Don't worry, I'll help if you don't want to eat it all. Your cooks, by the way, are amazing!"

Sabo laughed. "They're pretty good, that's true."

He led the way as they maneuvered around his bed and over to the window side. There was a door in the puzzle of windows, through which one could step out onto a little porch. Sabo tugged at one of the horizontal windows which opened to the porch instead of the room, then he took the plate from Ace and placed it there. The window functioned as a little table.

Seeing Ace looking at all the little details, Sabo confessed: "I did the whole window wall myself. I like to build new things out of old stuff. It's sort of a strange hobby."

Ace eyes widened a bit. "Really?"

"Yeah. Is that unlike me?", Sabo asked.

It was strange but that was how most conversations between them went, with Sabo asking Ace if he behaved like himself.

"No. Not at all. Actually, that's so much like you.", he said, still a little astonished. " As we were kids we had a treehouse in the woods and one time after a visit from Garp we decided to live there, so we had to build a lot of things ourselves. You were always creative with that. Admittingly Luffy was completely unnecessary. But everything he broke, you fixed. I was actually a little jealous. You two worked as a perfect cycle. You spent a lot of time trying to teach Luffy to create something, but destruction was more of his strength."

Sabo had grabbed one of the eggsalad sandwiches Ace had gotten them and chewed eagerly while listening to every word.

Ace had to admit it was weird having someone listening to every word he said.

"After all, I heard about him, I'd like to meet him someday.", he mused and Ace flinched.

"By the way where is he? Didn't you escape together?"

"We did.", Ace answered shortly, trying to sort his thoughts. He wasn't sure how to tell Sabo, so he picked his words carefully - something Ace usually never bothered to do.

"Actually, Sabo, the thing is: Luffy doesn't know.", he said it fast and it sounded a little muffled, but he was sure Sabo had heard him.

"He's oblivious, too?", Sabo asked, a crease folding between his eyebrows, as he narrowed them, thinking.

"No.", Ace sighed. "Sabo, Luffy has no idea you're still alive. I haven't told him."

"Oh.", made Sabo. Then silence. Ace grabbed one of the egg-salad sandwiches himself, not because he was still hungry, but because he needed a distraction and something to do. The silence felt too heavy between them and the atmosphere was tense, even more so than usual.

Ace felt sadness washing over him, pressing down like a heavy creature, it was like the air was heavy with unsaid words, pain, and misery. Like a thick cloud. It was like the pressure he felt on his chest was real and he had a hard time breathing normally.

He inhaled sharply in an attempt to say something, but the words slipped his mind before he got the chance to say them out loud.

He glanced over at Sabo who looked at the floor, nestling with his hands, but he lifted his gaze and caught Ace looking before he could glance away.

Ace sweated, he felt like Sabo caught him doing something, really really wrong. But he couldn't tell Luffy. It would break his sweet heart, and hadn't Ace sworn to break everyone who dared to break Luffy's heart only days before? Still, he wanted Sabo to understand.

"It's-", he started, but struggled with the words.

"He's my little brother.", he said finally.

"I understand.", Sabo said, but his voice sounded strange, and he looked away as soon as he must've felt Ace gaze.

"I mean he's your brother, too.", he hurried to add.

"Yeah, no. You don't have to explain, Ace. It sounds like Luffy is a really emotional person."

"He's a crybaby.", Ace corrected.

"That's what the letter 'C' in this tattoo stands for.",he said after a brief moment of consideration, tapping the arm with the inked skin.

But changing the subject seemed to be for the best, he decided.

"Is that the tattoo I have somehow managed to ruin?", Sabo asked with a weak grin.

"Yeah.", Ace confirmed baffled. "How do you know?"

"It's the first thing you said after you've realized who I am. Actually the first words you ever directed to me.", he said. "Or at least the first ones I remember.", he added a little bitter.

"Do you want to see it?", Ace asked because he couldn't think of a way to comfort Sabo. After all these years he was still awkward an clumsy and unable to comfort one of his brothers properly.

Sabo looked unsure, so he added: "Don't worry it's on my upper arm. Nothing scandalous."

"Sure. If you want to show me?"

Ace smiled instead of an answer and unbuttoned the shirt just enough to pull the sleeve down for Sabo to see it.

"'A' stands for 'Ace' - I know it's a bit lame, but who cares, I was twenty- the crossed out 'S' stands for you Sabo - as I thought you were dead and it resembled the flag under which you set sail this particular day - the 'C' is for 'Crybaby' as a reference to how we used to call Luffy when we were kids - he cried a lot- and the 'E' stands for 'Edward Newgate' because to me, he was my father. So I've got my whole family united in this tattoo since everyone from Whitebeard crew belongs to Pops and this way is there within his name."

"I've really ruined it.", Sabo agreed.

"Not really. The 'S' resembles your jolly roger from now on."

"A reminder that not everything you consider lost is gone.", Sabo hummed.

"That sounds a lot more poetic than what I've just said."

"Read a lot of poetry."

Ace nodded and there was a little silence before Sabo asked:

"How did you get it?"

"Everyone got them in our crew. Actually, some of our siblings learned how to do it from professionals and then passed the information on to other crewmembers. Everyone is able to tattoo in our crew -it's important.", he spared the information on why it was important, it seemed too intimate, something no one apart from them knew about.

"But this one", he traced the lines of the tattoo with his fingers," is Marco's work. He's good at everything it seems."

"Obviously.", Sabo agreed.

"Sucks, doesn't it?", Ace laughed.

"A little maybe."

"Aw, you're so polite, Sabo.", he said grinning at him.

"So...that's how close we've actually been.", Sabo said more to himself.

"What do you mean?", Ace asked.

"You've got our names on your skin."

"I wanted you with me no matter where I'd go."

"Who's poetic now?", Sabo said teasingly and they shared a smile.

"I am sorry - about not telling Luffy."

"I understand, I really do. Actually, Ace, I thought about something. We've done this for days, two weeks to put it more precisely and there's no progress, to be honest with you. I can't remember a thing no matter what you tell me and often I can't even relate to it. I thought that maybe it would be better to take a break."

"Oh."

"Yeah, I mean not that I don't want to spend time with you. But maybe things need to settle a little? Actually, I guess we should....move on? It sounds terrible I know but it'll only hurt the longer we try to do this. Maybe we should try to get to know each other the way we are now?"

Sabo smiled at him, and Ace forced a grin on his own lips. "Sure.", he pressed between gritted teeth, probably not his best imitation of a smile.

Sabo exhaled, laughter of relief on his lips. "I am glad you agree with me."

"Sure.", Ace repeated. His lips felt numb. His fingertips as well. Even his tongue. He set the sandwich aside, all appetite gone.

"Sorry I-I", he stuttered thinking of a reasonable excuse to escape.

"I forgot I promised Marco to train with him." The lie escaped his lips naturally. Ace was a good hand at lying.

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. He can be a little - I should- ", he turned around already stalking towards the door, all he wanted was to get.the.fuck.out.

"You sure, everything is okay, Ace?"

"Absolutely."

"Is it in because of what I said? I didn't mean to-"

"It's fine, really.", Ace pressed. They stood at the door, Sabo eyeing him critically, while Ace stared back determined not to let the effort show on his face.

"We're good. But I need to go now."

He was aware that leaving right after Sabos offer, wasn't the smartest choice, but Ace didn't feel like there was a choice left for him.

All he could think about was getting away as fast as possible.

There had been no more air to breathe.

He rounded the next corner without looking back and pressed himself against the wall as soon as he could be sure to be out of sight.

He slid down the wall and dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.

Breath in, Breath out, In, Out, In...

Ace felt like crying but the tears never came and desperation overtook him, wild desperation. And anger.

He got up. Sabo's room wasn't that far from that high-tech training room.

Ace needed to calm his thoughts. He needed to get this feeling out of his system. He felt unable to escape himself, he was unable to escape his mind, his body his feelings.

He needed to get away before someone saw him in this state.

Without having an idea or sense of direction and orientation he started for the next corner, turned left and stormed ahead.

Out. Just out. Somewhere out. Out of this hallway. OUT, OUT, OUT.

His room? No- Marco. Crap, the Phoenix would sense his mood right away and Ace was sick of Marco seeing him all messed up and miserable.

Out of this building. Fresh air. But what then? There wasn't much on his island but rocks. Ace felt like going insane, as he recognized one of the doors he passed by. He froze a few feet apart and walked back.

And indeed it was this high-technology training room, Marco and he had so much fun with this morning. A little fight was just what Ace needed.

Without hesitating, he opened the heavy metal door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He tried to open his eyes, but he couldn't. It was quiet, despite the on-going "Peep, peep, peep.".

He tried to speak, but his body disobeyed him. Not even a groan escaped him and he couldn't move.

But the noises seemed clearer and he was sure he heard someone breathing. His body felt numb, which normally would've freaked him out, but he was too tired. He was somehow between sleep and waking and he decided to give in, drifting off to sleep.

 

It must've been night the next time he woke up because the room was dark even after Ace managed to open his eyes. But he didn't dare to move. His whole body felt like it was on fire but not in the usual way. For the first time, it felt like a bad thing.

 

Ace' body was back to feeling numb again, and he mused they'd given him medication. Although he still felt the pain and he still felt the warmth wrapped around his left hand. It had to be another hand, the skin was soft - maybe Izo? Ace willed his eyes open and succeeded.

He even managed a low groan but it was enough to alert the blonde male sitting next to him, holding his hand.

"Ace!", Marco whispered and he sounded relieved and pained the same time. He groaned a little in response, his throat felt so dry and hurt like hell, he couldn't manage a single word out. Marco immediately handed him something to drink and Ace thankfully slurped a little bit of the water.

"DAMN ACE, you'll be the death of me.", breathed Marco and he sounded a little angry but he smiled at Ace nevertheless.

"I'm sorry.", he formed with his lips.

"You need to rest. Go back to sleep, I'll be here when you wake up."

 

The next time Ace opened his eyes Marco indeed sat next to him, holding his hand. He talked in a low whisper and Ace kept his eyes closed for a little more. He liked to listen to Marco.

"..but I can't lose you. I love you, Ace."

Without intending Ace had opened his eyes, the surprise was to blame and Marco and his words.

"Ace.", Marco exclaimed his voice higher than usual.

He clenched his hand even harder.

"Hey there."

Marco smiled at him and Ace answered with a weak smile.

 

"Calm down, birdie! That Trufa-Trafulgar-Traflagar- that Law guy said he's good to sit up a little."

"He's perfectly fine with sitting up, thanks.", Ace said sarcastically.

"HE is right here by the way. His ears are working PERFECTLY FINE."

Izo simply rolled his eyes, Marco hadn't dropped the worried expression on his face.

He hurried to help Ace up, placing more pillows behind his back, handed to him by an equally worried-looking Sabo.

"I am so SO sorry, Ace."

Sabo had excused ever since Ace had opened his eyes and it seemed even after about half an hour later he hadn't found another topic.

Ace had given up reacting to it. He had given up to tell Sabo he wasn't mad at him, it wasn't his fault and that it wasn't all about him anyways, but the other man did not seem to listen.

Ace was in a clean, white room, it felt like a real hospital, Ace didn't like it. Hospitals made him feel sick - even sicker than he already was.

There was a tray of food waiting for him and it was clearly worth the effort it took to sit up. His chest hurt horribly and he ached a little.

It was only soup and a slice of bread but Ace would've eaten anything right now, that's how hungry he was. Well, that wasn't unnormal to him, but it was worse than usual nevertheless.

He was sitting now, at least a dozen pillows in his back, the tray with the hot soup on a little table over his lap. Ace had just grabbed the spoon, ready to start the eating, as he felt the prickling feeling in his brain. Fuck.

 

Marco cleaned up Ace face. It had been a perfect landing, right into the soup that was hot enough to burn his skin a little. His face was all red, but Ace did not wake up.

"Easy, Sabo.", he said." Ace got narcolepsy. He tends to fall asleep randomly - it's nothing bad. He'll just sleep a little."

Sabo next to Marco breathed out, collapsing back into his seat. "Damn."

A sudden look crossed his face and he jumped back up.

"Everything okay, yoi?"

Marco got no response.

"Sabo?"

The man did not answer, he stood there frozen, wide-eyed a strange expression on his face.

Marco reached out to touch his arm. "Sabo, everything alright?"

The blonde turned his head to him slowly and Marco saw that tears streamed down his cheeks, pooling at his chin and dropping onto the cravat.

"No. Nothing is alright."


Chapter Text

The next time Ace opened his eyes it was dark again. His face hurt, but he had no idea why. It hadn't hurt the last time, though. At least Ace thought so, he wasn't sure what had happened actually. Maybe he had dreamed it all?

Maybe he hallucinated? Had he even been awake yet?

All he knew was that something bad must've happened to him because his whole body was on fire - not in the good usual kind of way- and because felt that sickening feeling settling in his guts.

He was still new to feeling nauseous. It was a side effect of the traumatic incidents he called his life, that he just didn't get used to.

Maybe it was only appearing now, being confronted with his feelings and actually letting them out?

Like the way he let go, just let it all out, maybe that process simply involved nausea. Like his body tried to imitate what he was feeling like. Because breaking down sobbing, gasping for air, the hurting in his chest and the stomach clenching, all those symptoms that accompanied his feelings just fitted the throwing up. Ace felt like he threw up feelings when crying. It was just as embarrassing, painful and disgusting to him.

Although he wasn't sure he deserved it. It had to cost everyone so much energy constantly having to be there for him, and it wasn't like Ace was the only one suffering from loss. He wasn't the only one grieving.

Somehow it made him angry he was the center of attention. Knowing he wasn't alone sure helped a lot more. To know he wasn't the only one hurting like hell.

Ace glanced around the room it was still very dark. His eyes needed a moment to adjust to the low light and his sight was still blurry. Dim bluish light floated the room, drawing the shape of the window onto the floor before his bed. He could see the whole window there even from where he lay. This had to be a huge room. It was strange how his eyes needed to adjust every time. They needed to adjust to a lot of light just as to the lack of it.

He tried to recall things. He needed to get the facts straight in order to enable some helpful thinking here. He was at the Revolutionary Base and Sabo was alive. And Marco had to be here with him. He glanced around the room, trying to make out something in the dark. He saw dark shades, outlines of human bodies sitting next to his bed, but he had no idea who was who. It would've been pretty scary for him if he was still a little boy. The silhouettes were illuminated with the bluish light coming from behind of them, their bodies all dark and still. Ace shivered a little even though he was no little boy.

There was only the woozy green light of the peeping machine that helped his eyes in the slightest. From this side of the room, it was the only source of light and therefore the only light that fell onto the persons around him.

Maybe some of them were even awake, although it had to be night and maybe they all stared at one other, but no one said a word because they all thought the others were asleep. That would have been so awkward. His thoughts were drifting off, obviously. He had problems to concentrate. The bad feeling spread across Ace body. From the heavy feeling ins his guts to the sickness in his stomach, the tight feeling in his chest, the aching of his lungs, the tickling in his fingertips and his toes and the dizziness in his head.

Two persons held his hands and one apparently ...his right foot? Strange.

That left him with a 50/50 chance, Ace was pretty sure one of the hands belonged to Marco. One of the hands that held his hands to specify it as he wasn't sure who would be awkward enough to hold his foot.

He squeezed the left hand lightly. Just a little as if to check that it belonged to a human body - one that was actually breathing and alive.

Some vivid memories from his latest nightmare jumped to his consciousness, but he pushed them aside. It worked a little like sticking your fingers into your ears and singing. His whole body tensed up and he was unable to move or let loose while he repeated some calming mantra in his head.
No.No.No. Go away. Go away. It's alright. It's all fine. They are alive. Marco's alive you touched him with your own hands. Sabo's alive too. Yes, you've checked on that. You pinched yourself several times to make sure you weren't dreaming. 

It was a little like talking to yourself, but in your head. Like some exorcisms of the demonic nightmare. Ace clenched the left hand holding his. Wasn't that the side Marco had sat? Ace had a foggy memory of Marco bowing over him from the left side of his bed. He felt like panicking even though he repeated the soothing mantra in his head.
Concentrate on what’s now. The pillows are soft, the bed is comfortable. It’s all fine.

A low whisper followed his actions: "Ace?"

"Sabo?", he asked back, startled.

He heard someone sniff, maybe Sabo?

"Yes.", his voice sounded thick with tears and heavy. Definitely Sabo. "I'm here." As if to emphasize his words, Sabo squeezed Ace hand.

"Where's Marco?", the questions slipped his tongue before he could think twice.
He didn’t want to hurt his brother's feelings, but right now he wished for his best friend. For his soothing impact on Ace and his soft voice, his gentle hands…

"To your right side. He's fallen asleep, been awake the last days non-stop.", Sabo whispered, but he struggled with the words. His voice sounded heavy and even though he tried to cover it, Ace heard it breaking several times within this one sentence alone.

"Days?!" He knew he sounded dense repeating after Sabo like a parrot.

"Yeah. I am so sorry about what happened." The last word came out almost breathed as Sabo's voice broke so hard he couldn't really finish the sentence.

Ace swallowed hard. Days, that sounded bad. "Um, what happened?"

Sure, he was curious about himself but just as curious about the reason Sabo struggled so badly. Could it really be about him?

"Oh. You don't remember?", Sabo asked while laughing a little. At least his voice sounded a little steadier, which meant that it trembled and sounded shaky, but at least he managed to get all the words out at a moderate volume.

"Not really. I know I've been training with Marco and we had lunch, but after that everything is a blur."

What was so funny about it?

"I'm sorry. It's just-", he broke of shaken with laughter.

Ace heard some rumbling noise, as Marco snapped out of his dream at Sabo's laughter.

"What's wrong? Why are you crying?"

Above his bed, the light was swiped on and bathed them all in its cold glow.

Marco was right, Sabo wasn't laughing anymore, somehow his laughter had turned into sobs. And he covered his face with his hands. If it was due to the unexpected loud light or because he didn't want them to see his tears, Ace couldn't tell.

"Oh. It's only you, Sabo.", Marco mumbled, falling back into his chair. He sounded weary, but still, it wasn't much like Marco to react that cold.

Ace felt a little anger rising in his chest, but it didn't last as Marco showed a small apologetic smile.

"I'm sorry. Just so tired, yoi." His hair looked good though, all ruffled like that, Ace thought. Marco-damaged -that’s what his head surely was.

Ace was able to make out Izo sitting in a chair behind Marco, sound asleep. Next to him was Jinbei. His head on Ace bed right next to his feet, one hand holding onto Ace foot.

He probably hadn't noticed himself. He looked almost cute, although Ace would've sworn a warlord like Jinbei could never look cute.

"S-sorry I woke you up.", Sabo sobbed.

"What's wrong Sabo? What happened? Could someone please fill me in?"

He looked from Sabo, still all in tears, to Marco, who looked at Sabo.

"I'll see if I can get us something to eat, yoi.", he stated while getting up.

Ace couldn't be mad at that, food sounded amazing to him! No food - no concentration. But on the other hand, he also ached for pieces of information and Sabo did not look like he could provide that, at least not in his current state of an emotional outbreak.

The Phoenix gently shook Jinbei awake. "Time to go to bed."
Jinbei grumbled reluctantly - when Jinbei grumbled it sounded like a thunderstorm.

After that Marco bowed down and placed a faint kiss on Ace forehead. "I'll leave you two some space.", he whispered.

It all happened too fast for Ace to protest. Marco had thrown Izo over his shoulder and was out of the room within a blink. Jinbei followed after him, but he was still a little sleepy, bumping into several beds on his way out, cursing.

Ace looked back to his brother. Sabo looked so much younger the way he hunched up in his seat with all the tears and the sobbing and how he angrily tried to wipe them away with his arm in the same familiar way he used to as a kid.

"Ah, I-I'm sorry, this is so dumb.", he said, embarrassed, but Ace saw that a little smile had stolen itself onto his face.
“FUCK!”, Jinbei cursed, interrupting the sobbing Sabo.

"It's just all this time I couldn't remember and now you're the one who forgot about something.", he explained, looking a little irritated as Jinbei continued his swearing.

Ace had a hard time not breaking into a burst of hysteric laughter. Despite the fact he had just waken up, he already felt worn out.

"Now I can relate to how horrible it feels not to remember some important things."

Sabo stopped laughing and wiped the last tears off his eyes.

"So it's my turn now. I'll fill you in. At least on what I know."

Ace smiled. "That would be great."

"Okay.", Sabo said slowly and Ace could tell he hesitated to continue."We had a talk after dinner. You came by, you brought some snacks along with you because I didn't show up for dinner and you -", his voice broke again and he clenched his teeth in a horrible grimace. The tears danced in his eyes once again and he had to swallow hard, shaking his head a little. He shoved his chair closer to Ace holding onto his hand even tighter. It was probably the first time they really touched. Everything had been so awkward their whole reunion had been so horrible, they hadn't even hugged. Sabo didn't remember. He pushed some of his rather wavy than curly blonde hair out of his face. It was an impatient and frustrated gesture, something Ace hadn't seen on him as a grown-up yet.

He bit down on his own lip and swallowed at his own throat lump. It wasn't easy for him to watch Sabo act like that. Something horrible must've happened. Did they fight over something?

"You brought dinner for me and I - I", the tears finally won him over and he closed his eyes as if to focus or will them back in.

"I was a horrible brother, Ace. I hurt you. I knew it, I saw it in your eyes as you escaped. You literally ran away from my place. That's how bad it was. And you...I don't know what exactly it was that you did. I-I found you a few hours later...", his voice broke off again. "I thought you were dead.", he whispered.

Ace swallowed hard again, but it helped him nothing with the huge lump in his throat, besides the fact that it hurt horribly. He had screwed up. If even Sabo, who did not remember him properly and only knew him by two weeks cried that bad, he couldn't imagine how terrible the last days(?)must've been for Marco.

What did Sabo even do to hurt him?

"I went to talk to Koala after and I already saw someone used the training room, but it didn't' cross my mind that- ", he stopped. "I walked back from her room and I saw that the room was still used, but I heard nothing which made me suspicious. I -I thought maybe someone left the system running - which costs a lot of energy you know - and I wanted to turn it off that’s when I saw you lying on the floor bathed in blood."

They shared a look and Ace felt really uncomfortable. He had no idea what he had done, but he could imagine it. He had lasted longer than he thought.

It had still seethed within Ace and apparently, he crashed that day.

He must've overdone the training more than just a little bit. Ace couldn't remember it, but he knew how the world went blank when he desperation got its grip on him and how he didn't feel a thing anymore. Or did everything just to feel something. He had been in more than one fight that went exactly like that. Like the one with Jinbei. Or when he tried to kill Pops.

Only thinking about it hurt him. He had really tried to take his head. The head of the man he loved and missed so much now. His father.

Tears made their way down his cheeks.

"What was so horrible about our conversation?", he asked to distract himself.

Sabo shook his head. "I was an idiot, Ace. I wanted you to give up. I didn't believe I would remember - like ever. I was so frustrated that day and you were so hopeful and I thought I made it easier for us, but I just made it easier for myself. I just wanted to stop feeling guilty, but I made it worse and now -", he broke off once again.

"It's not your fault, Sabo."

"Yeah. You've already said that, but it's not true.", he said bitterly. He closed his eyes."I have to tell you something."

Ace closed his eyes for a moment as well. He had no idea what Sabo was about to say, but he was sure that it would be something important.

"I love you, Ace.", he said while smiling at Ace, who wasn't sure how to take said words. That was an unexpected turn of events.

"And I can say that because I - I finally remember. I remember Ace!", he started to cry again, but Ace could see this time it was in relief as his eyes glittered with hope.

"You remember?", he mumbled. "You...really?"

Sabo nodded. "Yes, goddamn, Ace!"

"Fuck Sabo you took your damn time!", he cursed.

"I know."

And then they finally shared a smile and hugged. Well, Sabo hugged Ace, but he helped his brother sit up a little so he could hug back more properly.

All they had to do for the bed to move Ace into a sitting position was to press a button so it wasn't really rocket science.

"You're finally back.", he said more to himself than Sabo.

"I am."

"But, how?", he asked, his head still spinning, but for the first time in what felt like ages to him, it was in a good kind of way.

Life gave back his brother and now his brother's memory.

"When I thought you were dead....I-I suddenly remembered. Or my system remembered. I really felt the connection we had with each other. And a single flashback of you and me as kids crossed my mind out of the blue."

"So...that's what you remember?"

"No.", said Sabo, smiling.

"It was when you woke up a few hours ago. You fell asleep into the fresh tray of hot soup. It burned your face, you look pretty funny by the way, and Marco told me that you've got that sleeping sickness and then suddenly one flashback after another flooded my head. Every single one about you falling asleep randomly and after that, it went on to Luffy who had a habit of falling asleep randomly too. And then all sorts of memories came back to me. I'm sure it's only a fraction, but now you can actually help me fill in my memories."

"What do you remember?", Ace blurted out. He couldn't hold back his curiosity.

"You really were so different from now, that's what I remember. Although you weren't as bad as you described yourself and somehow you still are the same you know. You still keep stuff to yourself until you explode, you're just nicer to others in general. And you still tend to stuff your face like a maniac."

"I've learned that not everyone is my enemy.",he admitted.

"Would you, I don't know, if you remember one, would you tell me a story?", he pressed. He knew it wasn't fair to stress Sabo like this - he had just gained his memory back. Probably, he couldn't remember much, but Ace needed a nice story now.

"There's this one story about you, I remembered right away after I found you.

Do you remember how one time you were in a fight with an alligator? We had been hunting all day already and were really tired but you insisted on killing that damn alligator because you liked the meat so much. And then you both went under water, you and that giant alligator and it looked like you would never resurface again, like you drowned. Luffy screamed at his lungs and wanted me to jump after you, but I was confident you had it under control. I was right, naturally, but before you came up Luffy had thrown himself into the water to "rescue" you. So I ended up rescuing him. And even though you weren't injured at all, like you had a little scratch, whereas Luffy coughed up water the whole day, he cried because he was so worried about you. He really cried the whole goddamn night, I did not get any sleep at all.", Sabo laughed a little.

"It was always as if we were his parents. I really felt like a mom that night."

"I remember that night. I felt like you were the mom as well. Which left me with the role of the shitty father. All I could think of was "Shut up" which isn't really nice or comforting."

Sabo grinned at him. "No. You really were bad at comforting people."

"It was hell after you...died. Or you know we thought you were dead. Luffy cried every night and fucking all day. He cried himself to sleep and then continued the crying in his sleep. He woke up completely exasperated and started to cry right after. It was as if he had eaten the sponge-sponge fruit and soaked up all the water from the oceans only to release it through his eyes accompanied by loud whining. I was hopelessly lost at first. But then I learned- I had to learn."

Wow, what a mood killer. Ace wasn't sure why he brought that up. The words had left his mouth too fast to take them back or hinder them to escape.

"I wish I could've remembered earlier.", Sabo sighed.

Ace didn't answer to that. He never wanted Sabo to feel responsible.

Ace was responsible. He should have never accepted Sabo's decision, if only he freed Sabo before all of that could've happened.

Instead, he was busy helping some criminals to blow up Gray Terminal without even realizing it. He felt disgusted with himself.

If only he had been there when Sabo got attacked. But Ace had no idea how he could have taken care of both of them. Luffy and Sabo.

Ace shifted in his bed, making some space for Sabo, then pulled him close without saying a word.

They sat there, leaning on each other for a while, both of them caught up in their own memories.

"How's Luffy doing?", Sabo asked into the quite.

Ace chuckled a little. "He's determined to become Pirate King."

"Really?" Sabo's face lighted up. "He's so stubborn."

But he sounded proud of Luffy. "Is he alright?"

Ace nodded. "He's been injured badly as well. But other than that he's been perfectly fine. Although he befriended some weird scary doctor - sure need to keep an eye on that!"

"It's crazy that I could forget about you two. You were the most important part of me."

Ace smiled a little at that. Sabo's steady breath had managed to calm him down and soon they breathed unison. But somehow he was still hurting.

Despite the wonderful turn of events, Ace felt cold, he felt numb and somehow lonely. And for the first time ever, he felt like he had wasted precious time. Precious time in which he had grieved over someone who was still alive. Ace was so confused. Sabo was alive, Sabo remembered.

Everything was good, so why didn't it feel good?

His feelings didn't catch up after the events. His heart still bumped a little too fast, it still hurt a little too much.

They heard someone clear their throat. It was Marco, who had returned with a plate of sandwiches balancing on his left palm.

"I am going to leave you two some space.", Sabo announced to Ace in a low voice, before he sat up and passed Marco who offered him one of the sandwiches.

"Heard about the good news, yoi?", he asked while walking over handing the plate to Ace, who couldn't wait to get his hands on something edible.

Marco sat down next to him exactly where Sabo had sat only seconds before. Despite not making a move to lie down next to him, so Ace gently pulled on the sleeve of his shirt, dragging Marco after it, closer to him.

He needed the comfort of another warm and vivid body next to his.

Actually, he needed Marco, not just someone, but Marco specifically, next to him. Marco, who smelled like cigarette smoke and salty air.

After all these years at the sea - it seemed the smell of the ocean clung to him inseparable.

"Yes, I heard.", he managed between chewing and swallowing.

Marco had given in, stretching out next to Ace watching him through vivid eyes even though the dark circles under them gave him away.

He had rolled to his side, one of his arms placed under his head and watched Ace stuffing his face with the sandwiches he made for him.

Ace didn't look back, he felt Marcos gaze and he felt, that Marco felt, that something was wrong, but he didn't want to worry him again.

"Ace." Marco's voice was soft and he gently took the fifth sandwich out of his hands while he whined in protest.

Ace glanced over at him, but he still refused to turn his head.

He didn't want to first words directed to Marco being a lie. Not after he had already scared the shit out of him, given how pale and worn out he looked.

Marcos long elegant fingers found their way to his chin and he gently but affirmatively turned Ace face to his.

"Don't shut me off again. Please.", he pleaded. His voice was soft and convincing and his gaze made Ace heart stutter.

"Talk to me.", he whispered, his fingers caressing Ace' cheek. He absently tugged a strand of Ace hair behind his ear that had fallen into his eyes.

Ace felt so little and small under his gaze, with every touch. He felt like he was a clumsy teenager, even though he was supposed to be a grown-up adult. A grown-up adult who had to hold back a bad blush just because he got a strand of hair tugged behind his ear. A grown-up who had kissed plenty of people but was never affected as badly before. Such a simple gesture coming from Marco had him all tensed up, holding in his breath, waiting for more. As if Marco would continue if he'd only lay here still enough for him to forget about his hands in Ace hair.

Without realizing Ace had lifted his own arm, he could see the surprise reflected in Marcos' eyes as he carefully touched his blonde hair. Ace had wanted to do that for years already. For once because Marcos' hair looked really funny, but also because he wondered how it would feel to entangle his fingers in it - admittedly in his fantasies, it was while kissing the Phoenix.

He lowered his fingers to Marcos face, who laid next to him now as still as Ace had only moments before. Although Marco still looked pretty relaxed.

Ace stopped his hand on Marcos' cheek and he debated whether or not he should risk leaning closer, just a little bit. Just a little hint that if Marco wanted this too, then he'd...

He swallowed hard which Marco sure felt with his own hand still resting on Ace cheek as well.

"I don't know how to explain this Marco.", he said, his voice as small as he felt.

"Just try.", he reassured him.

"It's-", he closed his eyes, trying to calm himself down before continuing. As if confessing how bad he felt, would somehow make things even more real. Once he admitted how miserable he was, it was true and he couldn't hide from his own self anymore. He didn't want to face his feelings.

Facing his feelings was never his strategy. Running, moving, fighting, but standing still, surrendering himself to the feeling had never been an option.

It was too painful, too scary. What if this feeling was like a labyrinth and once he'd entered it there was no turning back? Ace felt like he was already running around in this labyrinth his whole life, trying to escape, but ending up lost over and over again.

"I am supposed to happy, aren't I? After everything bad that has happened life gave back Sabo - even his memory now! You and everyone else from our crew you all lost your father too, you lost friends and brothers and sisters and it was all because of me, Marco. I don't deserve this. You every single one of you - youMarco- deserve this! But now it's me so I should be grateful I should feel happy and forget about all the pain from back then and I am trying really, really hard, but-", he felt panic taking him over as he desperately sought for the right words to say.

Marco took Ace hands, both of them, in his and looked him straight in the eye. "Listen, Ace. You have every right to hurt just as much as every one of us. We are all suffering, we are all damaged from the traumatic incidents and as much as you love your brothers, they can't fix this. You are not expected to be a ball of happiness because he's finally back. I don't expect a thing. But please don't push me away, Ace. I know things were bad before this and they're even worse since, but if you ever feel this desperate again, talk to me. Come to me. I can't take it away, but I can make sure that you're safe."

Ace saw the tears glitter in Marcos' eyes and how he did nothing to hide them from him. He openly cried in front of him.

"I wish I could take it from you. " He wished he could take himself from Marco. Despite his wish, Marco had no idea how bad Ace really was for his health. It gave him a headache as he realized that after all these years he was in an equal situation as back then with Luffy and Sabo. He was still that horrible person over had to take care of. He was still hopelessly lost without them. And they still deserved so much better.

"You know, you're not a burden to me, Ace?"

Ace averted his gaze. He knew Marco kept telling him this, but he just couldn't believe it.

"I take it you don't believe me." Marco really knew him too well. He read Ace mind as if he was an open book. Even though Ace was sure his facial expression sure did not give him away in the slightest. 
All these years of training - he could perfectly fake a relaxed expression or whatever he wanted to look like. Sadly, Marco knew all of them.

"I'll have to prove it then."

Ace was lucky he had turned away from Marco because his words had him blushing right away. He still held his hands and Ace started to sweat a little. He had no idea how Marco did it, but he made Ace open up if he wanted to or not.

"Do you remember what happened?", he asked.

Ace shook his head. "I honestly don't. I don't even remember my talk with Sabo. Neither what happened before. I knew we were training together in the morning. Sabo told me he found me there..."

Ace felt Marco letting go of his hands and he was about to be a little disappointed as he felt Marco wrap his arms around his body, holding him close.

Ace didn't dare to move it felt too good. He had leaned forward, so Marco hugged him from behind. He could've stayed like this forever, even though he still felt the guilt eating him up.

But eventually, he had to move, because it hurt his wound to sit like that.

"I wish I could be there for you if only for once.", he admitted.

"You are. You're always there when I need you.", Marco answered.

He smiled at Ace, that beautiful soft smile that got his heart melting.

He was hopelessly in love, Ace realized.

They lay down next to each other again, both of their bodies facing each other and Ace narrowed his face to Marcos without thinking twice about it.

Marco bit his lip a little, a rare habit that indicated he was really nervous. Marco the Phoenix didn't get nervous a lot, that was why it was a rare habit.

Marco leaned closer and Ace heart speed up, he froze still on his side of the pillow. Was Marco about to do what Ace thought? Would he really...?

Was he going to kiss him? Ace couldn't calm down, his breathing went fast and flat as Marco rested his forehead at his.

He decided to hold still. Marcos hands around his face, his forehead next to his felt soothing and exciting all at once.

“I was so worried about you.”, he whispered to Ace, his voice sounding suffocated as his fingers traced Ace face.

A few tears found their way down his cheeks.

“I am really sorry, Marco. I never intended to scare or hurt you.”, Ace replied. The guilt had settled deeply in his guts.

“I know. I might have overreacted a little. At least that’s what Trafalgar said after I called him.”

“You called that Surgeon of Death-creep?”

“Maybe.”, Marco answered grinning. “Maybe more than once. Maybe about 100 times a day, but who counts. I can tell you who does - Trafalgar!" He playfully nudged Ace with his arm."You don’t seem to like him.”

“Let’s say I’m not a big fan.”

“It’s about Luffy.”, Marco guessed and he guessed right. How could Marco see right through people, but when Ace tried to seduce him he was too damn dense to realize?!

“It’s non-debatable.”, he informed the Phoenix.

“Well, in that case, you won’t like the surprise.”

“What surprise?”, Ace asked, but Marco only shrugged, a smug smile on his lips.

“Got to see that for yourself, little firecracker.”

 

"Are you asleep, Marco?", Ace whispered. He couldn't tell in the darkness surrounding them.

Marco hummed sleepily, probably somewhere in between awake and asleep.

Their foreheads were still touching and Marco was still lying close to him. And the way he hummed sleepily was one of the cutest sounds Ace had ever heard. It was enough for his heart to miss another beat.

The only thing his head could engage in, was producing different kinds of scenarios relating to how he’d jump Marco right here and now.
His heart raced at his own fantasies. Marco was too close. It felt too dangerous to think about these kinds of things.

But maybe it was already too late to back out or he was just too tired to care. Whatever it was he slowly moved his face closer to Marcos. He had craved to be near the handsome blond man in a way different more intimate way, apart from their usual cuddling. He had craved for it longer than he probably knew. He had even tried to seduce him. Maybe it was just about time to give it a try? His nose touched Marcos. So damn close.

His breathed got stuck in Ace throat. What was the worst case scenario anyway? Actually, it was his biggest fear: losing his family. Ace knew how little the chances were, but maybe he’d cross a line he shouldn’t. Maybe Marco did not react because he didn’t like Ace that way. Didn’t consider him attractive?

Before Ace could continue his debate on whether or not to close the last bit of distance separating their mouths, Marco took action. Ace could feel the Phoenix fast beating heart under his fingertips that softly made contact with his the skin on his chest, his pulse rising from sleep to sudden excitement.

It felt so intimate it was the bravest move Ace had dared to make up until now. Touching his friend's chest in this particular way combined with his racing heartbeat and fast breathing definitely gave him away. Marcos breath sped up too, as his nose slipped over Ace’s.
His hands caressed Ace cheeks and Ace could feel Marcos breath in his own opened mouth even though their lips hadn’t met.

Marco slid his hands to the back of his head, tangling in his hair carefully, before they moved down, stopping at the crock of Ace neck, holding onto him firm but gentle.
Finally, Marco leaned in the last inch and their lips touched for the first time.

It was the lightest kiss Ace had ever experienced, the softest lips he had ever felt on his own. Marco's lips were warm, his mouth hot as he opened his lips again. The kiss so gentle and soft, so careful and short it was too short for Ace to even react. He could tell it took everything out of Marco to hold himself back. It was in the way his palms sweated and how he still held onto Ace head, almost desperately.

Ace was too surprised to react, the kiss was too fast to respond, but Marco didn't back off. He waited, Ace could tell without opening his eyes that Marco had his eyes closed as well. He felt how Marco stopped breathing and realized he held his breath as well.

Ace had lied still, so he wouldn’t scare Marco off, but now it was time to respond or otherwise, the moment would pass by unused. One incautious move would be enough to close the distance, so Ace gathered all his courage. Time slowed down as he raised his chin to connect their lips again.
Shyly, he kissed Marcos underlip one soft and small kiss his mouth half open and even though it was the chastest of kisses, the way Marcos body responded made Ace almost lose it. How his breath hitched as Ace lips touched his, how his open mouth was hot and his body radiated heat.

Ace had never kissed someone like this. He never really kissed a person as just for the kiss. There sure had been kisses involved in sexual actions, but never just the kiss itself.
Ace wasn’t sure if it was the way they kissed that was different or just the fact, that his body reacted in a completely different, unknown way. He wasn’t even sure he had ever been in love before, but with Marco, it had been different from the start.

A shiver sent goosebumps down his body along his spine and it took all strength out of him not to press their lips together in a hungry kiss and rip Marcos shirt open. Ace parted their lips again, Marco hadn't moved an inch nor had he returned the kiss. "Ace", he panted. It came out shakily, his voice husky and dark. The undertone lingering in it was the hottest thing he had heard up to this point.
Marco sounded almost pained, tortured, and it gave Ace chills in places he’d never thought it could be possible.

Marcos breath was hot on his freckled cheek, he smelled faintly of smoke and Ace didn’t dare to think about the outcome of Marco groaning into his ears. He opened his eyes only to look in longing blue ones staring back at him.

They breathed into each other's mouths Ace felt aroused, he felt dizzy and he didn't care at all.
The only thing he was able to focus on, the only thing he wanted were Marcos lips back on his - and maybe his long elegant fingers in his hair.

Marco played with one strand of his wavy hair, absently while focusing his gaze on Ace lips.

Then he closed them before he pressed his mouth on Ace's already a little less softly, but still very careful. They opened their mouths simultaneously slow as they both hesitated for a moment. It was Ace who cocked his head first while both of their breaths sped up with excitement as they slowly moved their bodies closer together. One of Ace hands slipped into Marcos' hair, Marco lowered his hand to Ace back, drawing small circles on his naked skin, his thumb applied the perfect amount of pressure to his neck.

Ace felt like groaning in approval. Not bothering the fact that their lips hadn’t even touched yet again.

The waiting almost drove him round the bend, but it was the best part of it all at the same time. They savored the moment. Ace kept wondering if it would happen again. He could just...it would be so easy to break the spell.

And how far did Marco plan this to go? He panicked in silent, thinking that if this was the moment of the moments he sure didn’t have it in him to stop anything, but he sure wasn’t prepared. Not in the way he’d wished to be.
He had played through this scene multiple times in his head. Was Marco even going to go for it, given his wounding?

A wave of disappointment washed over him, even though he was just playing out scenarios in his head.
He decided on focusing on the hotter ones.

“Marco”, he whispered not sure if he actually wanted to say something. Maybe he just wanted to test out that name on his lips in a seducing attempt. His voice sounded hoarse and he all but purred out Marcos name who responded with a low muffled groan.

It was like a competition- who could bear the unbearable longer. Ace was really tempted to give in at Marcos soft groan. It was just the exact moment he had closed the distance his lips touching the corner of Marcos' mouth already, there was a loud rattling noise to be heard.

A horrible scratching tone, a loud scattering. Someone had to have pushed open the doors as powerful as they could. Ace and Marco shrieked away from each other, terror written on their faces. Both of their brains had automatically switched over into fight-mode.