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Mechanical Masterpiece

Chapter Text

A roar from the crowd and a blaring siren signalled the start of the final check sequence. It was only the first round, so there wasn’t much pressure, but then again, it was the first match of the season, so it needed to start with a bang.

“How’s it going, Thatch? Everything working properly -yoi ?” Marco asked through the comms.

“Yeah, we’re all good here! Phoenix’s weapons are up, except... no, wait, the laser cannon’s up too!” Thatch replied, sitting down in his cockpit.

“Good! Let’s scrap the Red Force, and show these losers just who they’re dealing with -yoi!!” Marco yelled, a resounding ‘aye!’ following his outburst.

Phoenix kicked into action, its jet propulsion system lifting it quickly off the ground and into the air. The Red Force also powered up, and Marco could feel the anticipation rolling off the crowd in waves. It sort of fueled his own desire to beat the other mech into a pulp. Normally he was the calm one of his brothers, but in the pilot seat of his own mech (designed and partially built by him, he might add), his adrenaline spiked to new levels of extreme. Thatch was about as bad though, why he chose the man to be his gunner, only his past self knew.

A klaxon sounded, marking the start of the match, and also the start of Moby’s annual mech competition. Phoenix soared into the air, high above the range of any of the red Force’s ranged missiles, or the sword it had currently at one side. This was, of course, crowd pleasing. The real fight would come later.

The Red Force, in turn, unsheathed its massive saber, and slipped into a traditional battle stance. The weapons expert on the other team, Shanks Roux, was a brilliant swordsman in or out of a mech, so it was no surprise to those who knew the man (not that he could really be called a man, more like an irresponsible idiot) that his mech’s main weapon set was a sword and shield combo. Shanks had always been one for the medieval. After about a minute, the real fight began.

Marco turned the phoenix into a dive towards the Red Force, stopping just before it, and gave the signal to shoot the laser. Thatch obliged, all too keenly.

The Red Force saw it coming, though, and raised its shield to defend. Damn that shield!

“How long left till the laser is recharged -yoi?” Marco asked.

“About a minute, give or take. If you want it faster, we’ll have to give up some engine power!” Came the reply. Thatch seemed slightly rushed. Maybe something had malfunctioned.

“Keep the engine as it is please, we need Phoenix to stay functioning for as long as possible, to drag the fight out some -yoi. You doing alright back there?”

“I’m ok but who last piloted the weapons system? There’s a whole pile of food waste down here! It’s disgusting!” Thatch yelled through the comms, while setting off a round of short range missiles at the Red Force, who managed to dodge. Damn Benn’s piloting skills!

“I think it was Fossa, though... maybe Haruta?” Marco guessed. In truth, it was most likely Thatch who had forgotten he’d done that, then blamed his brothers for it. He could almost hear them laughing their asses off in the control tower. Actually... he could hear them!

“What do you guys want? If we’re dying via a critical engine failure, please tell me, because I don’t see anything going on out of the ordinary... well, unless you count that dude with a sax in the stands - yoi. That is something I don’t think I’ve seen before at one of these things!” Marco said, slightly exasperatedly.

“No, nothing like that. Just thought we should tell you the mech lineup for this year,” a cheery, oddly high-pitched voice said from the other side of the line, “we have the old-timers, like Thriller Bark, Punk Hazard, Marineford and of course you guys—“ “Oi!” “— And we also have some newbies! They’ve been dubbed the ‘11 supernovas’ by the press. We have the Polar Tang, the Iron Maiden, the Bonney Mai, the Jack of Diamonds, the Going Merry and the Thousand Sunny who have made it through from the Alabasta league, plus some others! So you’ll have new rivals!”

“Haruta, that’s cool and all, but tell me when I’m not in the middle of a match!” Marco shouted unintentionally, as he turned a tight corner, before digging the Phoenix’s titanium alloy claws into the red force’s shoulder blade gap. “Jeez, I’ll leave then! No need to be so stingy!” Haruta huffed and disconnected.

“Hey, Marco! the laser’s back up and fully charged! Can you dive in for a close shot?” Thatch cut through.

Marco smirked. “One nose-dive, coming right up -yoi!” And Phoenix turned into (surprise, surprise) a nose-dive, levelling out just higher than the Red Force’s visor, then perching on a shoulder pad. Marco moved the controls in such a way that it looked like the metallic bird was preening its feathers, then Thatch (with the same amount of unadulterated glee as last time) slammed down on the laser controls.

Needless to say, when Phoenix was in its blind spot, and it didn’t have the arm capacity to get it off without using its sword and risking cutting its own arm or head off, the Red Force was completely and utterly screwed. Its right arm was sliced clean off by the laser, and on its visor a white flag was shown, signalling its surrender.

Marco, Thatch, and the rest of the Phoenix team cheered, and Marco did a celebratory loop-the-loop before landing back on the ground to exuberant cheering from the crowd.

He and Thatch both got out of their cockpits, and went over to Shanks and his pilot Benn, to thank them for a great match. “Dahahaha, it was nothing. Gotta start the season off with a bang, right?” Shanks brushed it off, completely uncaring that their mech was now down one arm.

Benn was not quite as easily swayed. “You owe us at least half the money there! Our mech now only has one arm, which will take a while to fix and most of us are skint, thanks to someone’s desire to party no matter what happens!” He said, glaring at his co-pilot while poking Marco harshly in the chest. Thatch let out an ‘eep’ and ran off to join in on the celebration occurring in the control tower, leaving Marco to deal with an angry Benn Beckmann. How dare he!

Marco sighed, then asked, “How much is the paycheck?” “Well, the entire arm would be 500 million ren at Spade Mechanics, so half the price? You owe us quite a lot, mate,” Benn said, a smirk flitting across his face. Marco gulped. 250 million? Then they’d be skint!

“I’ll send you the money when i get back home, i don’t have a tablet on me right now. Okay?” He asked. Benn was a demon when provoked, especially when provoked about money. When Marco went to sleep, he and his family were going to be a hell of a lot poorer then before the fight. Hopefully his brothers would be sympathetic towards him. Nobody could fend off an angry Beckmann... except seemingly Shanks. How that one worked, nobody knew.

Benn nodded and Marco took that as his cue to get the hell away from there. He ran up to the top of the control tower, briefly hearing the commentators wondering why he was running so fast. He didn’t stop to answer them. When he got up to the room at the top, he shut the door and grabbed himself a drink and something to eat, then got ambushed by Haruta.

“You’d think that you now and you in the cockpit are two different people from the way you act! Soo.. you wanna hear the stuff I was talking about earlier now?”

“Yeah, sure. The supernovas, was it?”

“Good to see the adrenaline rush doesn’t affect your brain too much! Yes they are the supernovas, or at least the press thinks they are. 11 different teams who’ve been moved up the ranks through Alabasta’s tournament 2 months ago, you remember that one?”

“Yes, I remember that one. Speaking of, there were twelve cleared to reach the Moby tournament, weren’t there?”Marco distinctly remembered there being twelve groups cleared, though the naming sense of the press had sort of thrown him for a second.

“There were, but Sables was disqualified for trying to overthrow the authorities. Anyway, here’s what we know about the other teams.” Haruta handed him a list in a notebook. It read:

Teams list-Supernovas (some of these people wear helmets, so the public don't know all of them)

1) The Iron Maiden. It’s essentially a tank.  Massive missile launcher as a gun turret, based on the anti-aircraft guns of 1945, with a machine gun at the back and spiked tire tracks.

Pilot- Eustass Kidd. History buff, part-time mechanic, has a fondness for guns. Bright red hair and a set of steampunk-style goggles.

Co-pilot- Killer, real name unknown unless that is his real name. Nothing else known.

 

2) The Polar Tang. Think Bumblebee from that really old TV programme transformers, but it turns into a submarine. Homing missiles on shoulders, massive nodachi that comes from.. somewhere. Haven’t figured that one out yet. Blue electrical orb that comes from the hand. Seems able to be launched off, but not yet seen to be able to.

Pilot- Trafalgar Law. Surgeon, known for his 100% success rate, and always tired. Like, always. The bags under his eyes could be used for carrying your shopping! There are rumours circling that he lives in the submarine, and gets very annoyed when it gets broken, ’cause he can’t sleep in his sub.

Co-pilot— Bepo. Albino guy who apologises for everything. Always seen in an orange jumpsuit. Not sure what he does, but he’s good at it.

 

3) The Snake Princess. An armoured snake with a mane-thing which has concealed guns in along the chassis. The teeth on the thing are titanium alloy as well, so watch out for those.

Pilot- Boa Hancock. Known as the most beautiful woman in the world, she’s a model with an immense vain streak. Has kicked puppies. So very evil.

Co-pilot— her sister, Boa Sandersonia. Massively tall, and yet really quite graceful for her size. Really long green hair, a forked tongue and a face about the same width as her shoulders. Don’t say it around her, she’s sensitive. Part-time model, also works as a biologist. She likes to coil the robot around her opponent before delivering the finishing blow like you enjoy doing, but with the teeth.

 

4) The Going Merry. Looks like a sheep. Don’t give these poor notes such an incredulous glare, Marco! (How did Haruta know that was what his facial expression would be?) Armed with 3 cannons on each flank, titanium-alloy horns and hooves. The horns have two settings: placid and angry. Placid they’re curly and the spike is at the side of the head, angry they stand up, like a gazelle type thing. There’s a cavity for the head to go into, so the spikes can cause maximum damage.

Pilot- Monkey D. Luffy. Garp’s grandson. Eats more than should be humanly possible, currently works as an MMA teacher. Pretty damn good at it too. Distinctive ‘shishishi’ chuckle thing. Constantly seen wearing a straw hat with amazing similarities to Shanks’ old one. Maybe that’s where it went...

Co-pilot— Tony Tony Chopper. He’s a doctor, one of the best, works at the same place as law. Has a growth deformity so looks like he’s a kid, when he’s actually 18. Aims to be the best doctor in the world and make something to cure all diseases and injuries. I say he should go for it, it would help us when either of you go out and get injured accidentally! (Hey! They didn’t get injured that often! Only once or twice… A week... okay maybe they did get injured that often)

 

5) The Thousand Sunny. Lion shaped, although the mane looks like a sunflower. Titanium alloy claws, missile launchers on shoulders, barbed spike for a tail. Apparently it can fly, dunno how though. Giant (and i mean massive) cannon in the mouth, never been seen used. Runs entirely on cola. Weird, but true! Seriously!

Pilot- Sogeki Usopp. Part-time mechanic, part-time artist, full-time pinocchio. Yes, I’m being serious! His nose looks like it, plus he has been known to tell long stories about ‘The Great Captain Usopp’. He’s the one who operates the mouth cannon.

Co-pilot— Franky. No surname known. Full-time mechanic and shipwright. He's a cyborg who also runs entirely on cola, so not too hard to guess who made the Sunny. After a train accident he was forced to rebuild himself out of metal. For that same reason his front is impenetrable, but his back is incredibly weak, ‘cause he couldn’t reach it to rebuild. Also has an odd speech trait of adding SUPERR (yes with the extra ‘r’, it’s accentuated) into any sentence, eg. Meet my SUPERR friends, etc.

These guys seem to be in league with the Merry and the next two guys, it could be just as a massive group , or it could be more...(Marco scoffed at this. Those guys a criminal syndicate? He would sooner see Thatch finally admit his feelings for Izo).

 

6) The All Blue. Humanoid mech. Jet thrusters on the bottom of each foot, for extra jumping capacity. Could possibly get as high as you and stay there for an amount of time. The feet also have titanium-alloy soles (soles? What is that on a foot?) Not that many other weapons, so the power comes mainly from the feet. There are, however, missile launchers on one shoulder, and a cleaver on the back.

Pilot- Kuroashi Sanji. A sous chef at the Baratie restaurant downtown. Very good at savate, so it makes sense he can transfer it onto the All Blue. Also has very interesting swirly eyebrows. Like a hypnotising circle thing. Has an obsession with the ladies and becomes a complete pushover when asked to do something for them. Towards everyone else, though, can and will politely say shitheads in the same tone someone else would say sirs.

Co-pilot— Roronoa Zoro. Kendo teacher and professional swordsman, which is probably where the cleaver on the back comes from. I’d like to see him come face to face with Shanks, or Mihawk. Only known user of the three-sword-style. That’s one in each hand and one in his mouth, not anywhere else, Thatch! Has green hair, unsure if that’s natural, but it sure seems to be.

Oddly enough, these two seem to hate each other, which makes for some... interesting situations. Most of the time they work alright together in the mech, but there have been some amazing comedy moments when they haven’t. In league with the last two and the next one seemingly.

 

7) The Ohara. Humanoid female. Fights with a long metallic pole which seems to influence the weather. I don’t know how it works, don’t ask me! Also produces extra versions of its arms, each with different weapons on them, eg. lasers on two arms, daggers on two others. Daggers can be put on the back if the pole arms are destroyed. The pole also has a holster on the right hip.

Pilot- Mikan Nami. Orange hair, constantly in a bikini top. Brilliant cartographer and navigator. Currently working on a map of the world by sailing around with her crew (probably these guys on top!), visiting islands and mapping them out.

Co-pilot—Nico Robin. World-famous archaeologist. Currently working with Nami to find clues about this world’s past. General morbid sense of humour, mainly seen wearing a cowboy hat or sunglasses.

In league with the last three sets of mechs I mentioned, probably.

 

8) the Bonney Mai. Humanoid female as well. Spiked shoulder pads, made with... you guessed it! Titanium alloy! (It was getting rather obvious now to Marco that Haruta had got at least partway bored whilst writing these notes) also has laser beams coming out of one hand, and a massive knife-skewer-thing out the other, made of titanium-alloy! It also has an impressive escape function, in that it can shrink its size down to a sort of childlike version of itself, which shows there’s quite a lot of free space enabling it to be hard to kill.

Pilot- Jewellry Bonney. Yes she named the robot after herself. Pink hair and a complete glutton, no-one knows what she does, but she had enough money to make this thing, so it must be something important.

Co-pilot— Mai. Also named after her. Blue hair, in a high ponytail. Generally sour-looking, but nothing else known.

 

9) The Allosaurus. It’s an allosaurus. That’s it, really. Titanium-alloy claws and teeth. Laser on end of tail, machine gun in the middle of the back. Not much else to say, really.

Pilot- X Drake. Former marine. Left to go do... something. Think he’s a palaeontologist now, but I dunno. Sort of an angry guy, with a stuck-out chin with an x scar on it and an X tattoo on his torso. Sort of obsessed with x’es isn’t he? Maybe he’s had a few...

Co-pilot— unknown. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen a second guy come out after the fights. Maybe he solo-pilots.

Not much to say here, damn. the previous ones had so much to say!

 

10) The Scratchman. Humanoid but with two joints on the arms. Fights using blasts of sound from various places, including both arm joints, shoulders, knees and the mouth. Oh, don’t forget the feet and the hands. It can send sonic blast waves through the floor, or through another mech if it touches them. With the lengthened armspan, it could probably hit you if it tried hard enough. If that (admittedly quite impressive) strategy fails there are a couple of machine guns in the chest area. It also has a last resort EMP remote shockwave. It sort of just throws it vaguely near the target, so it doesn’t hit itself in the process.

Pilot- Rumbar Brook. Really tall, skeleton-thin guy, with an afro. A reaally poofy afro. Bounce-on-it-like-a-trampoline afro. Distinctive ‘yohohoho’ laugh. Musician, most well known for his take on Bink’s Sake and ‘Bone To Be Wild’. You should listen to them Marco, you’d like them! Also most likely in the aforementioned group, though his co-pilot isn’t.

Speaking of... co-pilot— Scratchman Apoo. Yes that is his name. Don’t mock it, or he will END YOU. MESSILY. DJ, he only asked Brook to pilot because he wanted to use the sonic blast weapons himself. A bit egotistical as well. Comes from the land of Longarm over in the east and does have the double arm joint which is fabled to come from over there. His teeth also look like piano keys. Just a random fact, there.

 

11) The Jack of Diamonds. The only flying ship in this list (aren’t you excited, birdy?) (Marco scowled at this nickname. Just because he worked in an animal centre part-time and had a small obsession with birds of prey didn’t mean he wanted to be one!) Shaped like.. you guessed it, a 3D diamond! PIlots like a UFO. Jet thrusters on each corner, including the middle ones, for up and down, and in the other four directions. A 360 degree laser on the bottom, and a flamethrower on each of the top sides. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Nothing known about the pilot. I seriously can’t find anything on them.

Co-pilot, though— Tori Grant. Yes, Sylvia Grant’s son. Yes, Sylvia Grant who piloted the Magnolia until it was scrapped 5 years ago. Black hair with specks of red, orange and yellow dotted around it. Most likely natural, it would take too much effort to dye that. Scar down right side of his face, and another one down his left leg. Currently an electrician at Spade Mechanics. Whether the pilot is someone who works there, we don’t know. It does seem very likely though. A nice guy, endlessly loyal (perhaps too much?) with a pronounced albionic accent. Not posh, more cockney-type. (Not that Marco needed the personal information, he knew the guy personally. He often came round to the animal centre with his albionic bulldog, Buster) If you want the rest of the pilots, go find another list of notes.

“So?” Haruta sprung at him again. After reading that rather lengthy set of notes, Marco needed a drink. Another one. Never underestimate Haruta’s information-gathering abilities! He now knew quite a bit about each of the new guys, and he and Thatch could start planning strategies. Or just him, as was usually the case.

One thing that was really bugging him though, was the mystery pilot, and also Killer, Mai and the possible second guy on the Allosaurus team. Okay that was more than one thing, but meh.

For Haruta to get nothing meant that there was nothing to get without going through extensive hacking (which he would do as well, on occasion) or Haruta was sleep-deprived and not doing it properly, which was unlikely, as Haruta had been bored, and thus more likely to chase any hints he got. “You sure on these guys? For you to get nothing means that either they’re really good, or you crashed - yoi. Did you use any hacking on finding them out, or were you just being lazy?”

“I did use some hacking, but nothing much. Someone would notice if I went poking around the medical archives of the known world. The only reason I know Killer’s name at all is that he is mentioned on Kidd’s Weasl account a couple of times. Whatever these guys want hidden, they’re damn good at hiding it. Or they just don’t interact with the web at all.”

Haruta put on a face of deep thought. “Oh, by the way, what did you think about my theory? I mean, those four have a similar design and if they’re all designed, made and maintained by Franky, it would explain the similarities!”

Marco pulled a disbelieving face. “One: if the things were designed by Franky, it doesn’t change anything, they could all have been sent to the same random mechanic. Or they could all have been sent to franky, but does that change anything -yoi ? No, cause that’s his job! He could’ve been commissioned to make all of the mechs here, and be in one of them himself, and would it matter? No, ‘cause it’s his job - yoi! Two: stop making this into a conspiracy. There’s no rule that says they can’t do that in the tournament, in fact it happens pretty damn often - yoi. Three: go show these to Thatch or Jiru if you want someone to believe your conspiracy theories. I have a massive debt to pay off- yoi.”

And Marco walked back out of the control tower, down the stairs, into Phoenix, and flew off. He didn:t want to deal with this shit. When he got to the mech depot on the other side of Moby, a massive glass-ceilinged hangar which smelt of oil but looked much nicer, full of mechanics, chore bots and random punters who were just there to pickpocket unsuspecting owners, he parked in Phoenix in a garage, locked the doors, and started the long, arduous walk home.

Well, not really. He walked around the corner of the closest street, and got on his hoverbike (named Peregrine) which he had parked there that morning. It had a blue and yellow paint job, a top speed of 150 mph, and it was his second-favourite thing to drive, Phoenix being the first.

He scanned his hand on the dashboard, and it roared to life. He lifted it higher into the air, then leaned forwards, and it whooshed forwards. It only took a left, straight, left, right, straight, 3rd exit, left, right and another left until he was at his doorstop, sort of.

He parked the hoverbike on the drive of the apartment block he lived in, and started for the stairs. Yes, there were more efficient ways to get to the fifth floor, but Marco liked to stay fit...ish. He still had muscle definition, but they weren’t anywhere near as defined as they were when he came off that summer job at a railyard. When he reached his apartment, number 510, he ran through the door, through the living room, and into his study. There, he found his tablet, still on charge.

He logged on using a fingerprint scan, and immediately went onto his banking app, Kingston. Thankfully, he had had to pay Benn before, so his name was quite high up on the list of people he could send the 250 million ren to. He clicked the send button, then put down the tablet and went to get himself some food. He had a lot to think over, and food always helped with that.

He put a pasta tray bake into the oven and sat down on a worn sofa in the adjoined living room. First on his thinking agenda? How to combat a sonic shockwave.

Chapter Text

At 4:00 the next morning, in a completely different part of town, a tired part mechanic was waking up to start his day.

Ace yawned lethargically, then pulled himself out of the mess of blankets, pillows and duvet that he called his bed (and others called a war zone). He walked- well, sort of fell really- downstairs, giving an absent minded “morning” to his brother Sabo, who repeated the same. Sabo’s job as a lawyer had him up this early just to go to work, Ace only did it to get in his early exercises, and to make sure that he was fully functional for his actual job about 2 hours later. He grabbed some pre-made toast off the kitchen tabletop, covered it in way too much jam to be healthy, and scarfed it down about a second later. He then repeated the same steps about 7 times. what could he say, he was a big eater!

After not really filling himself (he’d get some actual breakfast on the way into work), he went outside of his and Sabo’s rickety two bedroom house to start his stretches. It may have been cheap, and some parts were pretty badly broken, but it was home. And besides, Ace was a mechanic for a living! The broken parts didn’t matter! After doing those, plus some rigorous weight training for half an hour, he headed back indoors to grab a shower.

Once that was over and done with, he chucked on some clothes, that being a loose term. He wore black knee-length shorts with an orange buckle, an orange cowboy hat with dual faces on the seam and black combat boots. He then walked back through the kitchen, made himself another 5 sandwiches and ate them before he got out of the door.

“Hey boss!” came the cheery welcome when Ace strolled into his own workshop-turned-store, Spade Mechanics. Once literally run out of a garage he had rented from the mech depot, it now had three different stores around Moby. One in the original mech depot, one down near the arena and (his personal favourite) one in the Wepril business park, which was the one he was walking into right now.

It had a full glass front, made up off 9 separate panes of glass. The rest of the building was brick, and there was a metal staircase with platforms that could be folded out across one wall. The main, and most noticeable part of the interior was the massive claw suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room, on a movable x and y axis, like one in an arcade game, but a lot more kickass. In each corner was someone’s project, and in the centre would normally be the main thing they were working on. Today, however, was a to-scale model of each and every mech in Moby’s competition, done when Ace had too much time on his hands.

“Hey guys! How’s it going? Any orders complete yet? Tori, you managed to get the wiring on that altean-class ship ready yet? And you Alice, has the Spirit arm come in yet? Diana, have you managed to relocate the invisible jet you had over there yet? If you haven’t we’ll have to spray paint that corner!” Diana’s happy expression fell off her face almost immediately.

“That would ruin the purpose of it being invisible,” she hissed dangerously. Ace stepped away from her in that corner.

Alice spoke up from her corner, obviously seeing her boss’s plight. what a considerate worker she was! “Ace, I have to agree with her. Don’t spray the invisible jet in spray paint! It ruins the invisibility!” Oh, it seemed not. What a shame, “oh, and the spirit arm for Shanks is due in partway through tomorrow, so we have more than enough time here.”

Thankfully, Tori actually came to his rescue. “Don't worry about it, mate. If they don’t want the invisible jet made beautiful, then, suit themselves,” he said, with the smirk and twinkle in the corner of his eye that promised he had something planned, and that it would be very, very fun to watch, “and the wiring’s almost done, just give me a few secs to sort out any remaining issues!”

Ace nodded, and went over to his workspace. He was currently working on creating a prototype for a self-hoovering hoover. It would save him, Sabo and a good many others time that would be better spent somewhere else. He engrossed himself in the project. Many people were counting on him here!

After a good half an hour or so of the store opening, the first customer walked in. He was a blonde, with a bum chin and a hairstyle that made him look like an onion. And as Ace was doing the least, he got the delightful task of serving the guy.

“Hello and welcome to spade mechanics, how can I help you?” he asked, in the most polite tone he could manage.

“I would like a robot dog,” onion head said. His voice was high-pitched and incredibly nasally, he could’ve been talking straight through his nose and there would be no difference.

“Okay. Any specifications?”

“It has to be big, and have sharp pointy teeth, so it can protect me. Other than that, I don’t care. You peasants must have it done in 5 days, or I’ll tell my father about this, and he’ll be able to close your business down for good.” There was no lenience in his tone. 5 days, or him ‘telling his father’. Ace had to ask, really.

“And who is this father you speak of?”

“The great, mighty and powerful ‘axe-hand’ Morgan!” At this, Ace and the rest of the mechanics started laughing their asses off. Alice had to give a bear hug to the metal pole she was in the middle of sawing the end off of to stop herself from falling off it.

“Why are you laughing? This is no laughing matter! Daddy will come and end you!” Onion guy yelled in outrage. The mechanics only laughed harder.

“Here’s the deal, ‘big boy’. I could probably beat your daddy with one hand. Even if you were to tell on us, most people in the authorities won’t believe you, so you’ll be alone on that front. And, because you called my coworkers peasants, I don’t think I’ll be taking your job request. So, see ya! Goodbye! Leave to wherever it is you came from and stay there!” He said, way too cheerfully for what he was actually saying.

“Fine, see if you get anyone else coming into your shitty little corner shop then!” And onion head left, though not before making Ace angry to the point where Diana had to throw a barrel of water at him to distract him from his own anger.

Tori wasn’t much better. “That stupid-ass shitty motherfucker. Why I oughta flash-fried him the second he fucking stepped in! He’s just a fucking daddy’s boy, that’s all he’ll ever fucking amount to. Bet he’s never been fucking hit either, he looks like the kind of fucking kid who would be bullied. Apparently his dad’s meagre fucking name saved him from that one! He should go die in a fucking hole on fucking Duluxi!” Needless to say, a bucket of water found its way onto him as well.

 

“You don’t need to curse them into dieing on some planet! Stop being such hotheads, both of you!” Diana reprimanded.

For the rest of the day, Ace and Tori were not allowed to do customer service, as they were both deemed too angry. While Alice and Diana were dealing with customers, Tori was going at full throttle with the altean-class transporter ship (a very considerable 1 cable finished every half an hour), and Ace... well, he now had a first concept.

At the end of the day, when the two were left alone after Alice and Diana left, Ace locked up using his keys, and the pair started off towards Tori’s little apartment. It was going to be a great night of drinking and pizza.

With focus on was going to be. When passing through the middle of High Town, which was the closest way to get to the apartment, Ace’s ear wandered, and he caught snippets of a conversation he would really have liked to avoid.

“Oh, I say! Look at those scruffbags! Why are they here, sullying our fair town with their presence?”

“Yes, I agree. And look at that one! Showing off his back like an animal! He needs to go get a shirt, at the least!”

“What I wouldn’t give for the authorities to arrest ruffians like these!”

Ace’s calm facade started cracking. Tori noticed, and started speeding up his walk, eventually getting to just short of jogging and dragging Ace with him. They took a left and ended up at the gates that separated High Town from the rest of Moby. Anyone who wasn’t a stuck-up noble much preferred the much grimier streets everywhere else, and often just left the rich bitches to themselves in their little corner. The only reason they had gone through was to get to Tori’s house quicker. It was now clear that had been a mistake.

After they had left High Town, Ace exploded in anger, and had to be shoved into an alley forcefully to keep from alarming the other citizens. Ace didn’t much care in that respect, but Tori did. If there were complaints, someone would look into them, see it was Ace, and something would happen to Spade Mechanics, which he didn’t want. There weren’t many places where he could work with as much freedom as he did, after all. So he submitted himself to being Ace’s personal punching bag for a few minutes.

After Ace had finally calmed down, he apologised to Tori, who shrugged it off, and asked if Ace wanted to eat out that night. He replied that it was probably a good idea, so the two headed to the nearest restaurant to Tori’s house. Ace pinged Sabo to tell him he was staying over at Tori’s, and so the two headed into a family restaurant, The Wyvern, 5 minutes later.

“Hi and welcome to The Wyvern. Table for two?” A blond waiter wearing a black beanie along with a maroon shirt and dress pants asked when they opened the door. His eyelids were drooped, and to many it would seem like he didn’t care about being here. Ace, however, saw a highly intelligent person who seemed to take some enjoyment in observing things through his carefully-made facade.

“Yes, plea—“ But he was cut off by Tori asking, with a slight tone of disbelief,

“Marco?”

“Yeah- oh, Tori! Hey.” His blue eyes sparked in recognition, “So yes to the original question then?”

“Yup!” Tori said, popping the ‘p’. Ace’s brow furrowed. Tori only did that with people he knew pretty well, and trusted. Just who was this Marco?

Tori noticed that Ace must be feeling out of the loop, and so said, “Ok, you guys don’t know each other, so let’s do introductions! Marco, this is Ace, my friend, fellow mechanic and employer,” Ace greeted Marco, a little awkwardly, “And Ace, this is Marco, the guy who I keep telling you about who works in the animal centre part-time!” Marco somehow managed to be more awkward than Ace had. How the hell was that even possible?

“Well, here’s your table and menus, I’ll be back in a minute to take your order,” and the blonde left. He seemed to escape the awkwardness as he had just switched back into the mindset of being a waiter. Ace absentmindedly wished he could do that. It would make many things so much easier. Like dealing with annoying customers and noble prats. Maybe it was a skill you could learn?

“—ce? You got your order yet? It doesn’t take the much thought, you know!” An annoyed voice pulled him from his ruminations. Tori was staring at him like he’d done something incredibly stupid, or annoying, or possibly both.

“Heh? Order? But I’m not a customer...” Ace said, still slightly disoriented from his mind mutterings.

“What do you want to eat? This is a restaurant, dumbass! You need to actually order something! And you are a customer!”

“Oh, right. Sorry, lost in thought. The classic with cheese, and as a drink—“

“Diet coke. I know,” Tori finished for him.

“How did you know though?” He asked, halfheartedly.

“Ace, you pretty much live on diet coke, it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out!”

“Fair point.”

Marco returned, still in full waiter mode. He asked for the orders, and Ace and Tori obliged. He then left again, leaving the two alone. And as soon as that happened, their conversation turned to mechs. Namely their own one, the Jack of Diamonds.

“So, we’ve got our first match in the moby league on Thursday. How you feeling? I mean, the piloting system is a sort of weird one. You sure you got it right this time around?” Ace groaned. He didn’t need to be reminded of that impressive failure. The first time he tried piloting a small-scale model of his mech, he hadn’t quite sorted out the lag time, and the drone he was using spiralled out of control, and hit a mug of coffee which narrowly missed his Aunt Makino’s hand. Tori had been there at the time and laughed at him while he apologised profusely to Makino, who (for some reason) shrugged it off like it was nothing. Tori still mocked him for it, all these years later. (It was in fact only two years ago, but everyone loves a bit of exaggeration!)

“I’m pretty confident, actually. It’s been ages since I’ve mispiloted the Jack, and it’s against the Allosaurus. We have a clear advantage with the lasers mounted on all sides for 360 degree shooting, plus the flamethrowers. The only real things it has at range are a mounted back machine gun and the laser tail. As long as we avoid those, we should win without any hassle. Hopefully.” He said, confidently. It was true. Ace was feeling better about this match than he had been for any in the Alabasta tournament. Why, he didn’t know. Maybe it was unfounded adrenaline.

“Hey, couldn’t help but notice you were talking about mechs. You guys pilots of one?” A brown-haired, pompadoured man with a scar around the left side of his face and a cattish grin approached their table, obviously intrigued with their conversation. Ace stared at him in suspicion, but Tori had obviously seen something trustworthy in the man, and started talking with him.

“Yeah, we are actually! We’re doing our first match in the Moby Competition on thursday, actually!”

“Oh, that’s cool, which mech are you piloting?” The guy asked innocently. It probably was a very innocent question, but Ace couldn’t help but doubt him.

“The Jack of Diamonds. I’m co-pilot, Ace here is piloting it. Say hi to... what’s your name?” Tori realised that neither of them knew the guy’s name surprisingly late.

“Oh, right, sorry, I’m —“ whoever he was, he was violently kicked out of the way and through the window by Marco.

“Thatch! Stop annoying the customers, you freaking own this place, get your ass in gear! Plus you’re supposed to be cooking! Do you WANT these people to go hungry? Sorry about my brother, he can be a bit... overbearing,” Marco apologised. Tori and Ace just stared at the hole in the window that had been created by Thatch, who slunk back in through the hole moments later. Marco had to have amazing leg strength to do that. Where did he hide the muscles? Both Tori and Ace were noticeably muscled from all the time they spent lifting and working with heavy pieces of metal, but neither of them could really kick someone through double-glazed glass without putting some noticeable measure of difficulty into it. From the way that everyone continued eating like nothing happened, this was probably a normal occurrence, which spoke volumes for the sanity of those who ate here. It also spoke volumes for the amount of weird shit the two had seen that they got over it pretty quickly, all things considered.

Thatch crawled in through the hole he made a couple of minutes later, looking much worse for wear. “Maarco! You’re so meaan! At least warn me before you send me flying!” He whined, with Marco looking entirely unsympathetic.

“You know Thatch, I’ve been thinking. We should turn this place into an open-air restaurant. What do you guys think?” Marco threw his arms wide, while still holding a tray full of food on one hand. He seemed to be putting on a show. One of the many talents of Marco, it seemed.

The audience seemed to be in favour, as shown by a loud cheer from most of the tables. Tori cheered as well, seemingly for the hell of it.

“Plus, if you’re still unconvinced, brother of mine, it would mean we no longer need to pay for new windows. Plus, we’d have an upstairs level which I wouldn’t be able to go up to for the people who want to stay warm. How about it?” Marco smirked.

“...fine. But you’re paying for it!” Thatch relented. Another cheer rung out around the assorted tables.

“Of course. Why would I propose this plan otherwise?” Marco smirked again. For someone who seemed pretty easy to figure out, the guy had loads of different talents, which showed themselves very randomly.

“Aand here is your order,” Marco placed the tray down in front of the pair. A classic burger with cheese and a diet coke, and a seafood paella with fruit juice. They thanked him, and he went back to the kitchen, dragging Thatch along with him. Ace stared at the unlikely pair of brothers, and wondered if they were half-brothers, or perhaps adopted.

He then decided he didn’t care, and tucked into the burger. It was heaven in a bun. He would definitely eat here more often if this was what the food quality was like! Tori seemed to be having the same thoughts, and they unanimously decreed that they would be coming here for eating out from now on. Ace then finished his burger about a minute later.

Marco stopped by, to ask if everything was alright with the meal and if they wanted anything else, so Ace ordered one of everything else on the menu. Marco’s eyes widened for a second, then settled back into their droopy state as he went to relay the order to the chef team. That would keep Thatch busy for a while, at least.

He returned about a minute later with a plate full of starters, then said that the main courses would come one at a time. Ace started on the starters, and Tori had only eaten 7 garlic dough balls off the plate when the entire rest of it vanished down into Ace’s stomach. Tori mourned his poor wallet, which would be several hundred ren lighter by the end of the evening, at least.

No-one else was really entering The Wyvern anymore, as it was nearing the closing time of the restaurant. Those who were still inside were now watching Ace devouring food like there was no tomorrow as Marco rushed back and forth from the kitchen and Ace’s table. He had been at it for ages and still hadn’t seemed to break a sweat. Just what had this guy done before working here?

Ace was now swallowing the last bite of his seafood paella. This was his ninth order and people were now placing bets on how many things he could eat. He had ordered the whole menu, and so people were now betting by how many types of food he could get through. Marco arrived again, this time with pepperoni pizza. A fact Ace had learned whilst ordering the menu was that ham and pineapple pizza had been banned by order of Marco, though no-one (except Thatch, who wasn’t telling as he’d be the first blamed and so the first kicked out of a second-floor window) knew why. Ace thanked him, as was customary, and ate the pizza in seconds.

3/4 of the way through the menu, most people had left, not seeing the point as Ace was most likely going to eat straight through the thing. Tori was further mourning his wallet, and Ace was still eating. Marco was actually working to keep up with both the chefs and Ace, which was a hard job.

And, after one and a half hours of non-stop eating, waiting and cooking, Ace had eaten his way through everything. And, for the first time in ages, he felt full to burst. It was well past closing time, and between orders Marco had shut up the restaurant, plus most of the chefs had left, meaning it was just Thatch making the desserts. It was a credit to him that they managed to be made so fast.

“Ok, so final bill is 976 thousand, 420 ren.” Tori produced a 1 million ren note and sighed, “Keep the change.”

 

Ace then noticed something interesting. “Uh, Tori? I think I’m stuck. I ate too much…” Tori turned his head around so fast it could’ve snapped his neck. “What?”

Marco went to put the bill in the cash register, and Thatch walked up to the two. At some point he had stripped down to just his trousers. Seemingly cooking in the rest of it was too hot. Ace didn’t blame him.

“Ok,seeing as you probably won’t leave for a bit, I didn’t quite get to introduce myself properly. I’m Thatch Newgate, owner and chef at this amazing restaurant, younger brother to beanie over there, and all-around the greatest guy you’ll ever meet!” He got hit over the head lightly by Marco, who had walked up behind him with 4 beers.

“Beers, anyone?” Everyone took one and cracked it open, then a cheer of ‘kanpai!’ echoed around the room.

“I just noticed now, but that hole in the window is still there, and I’m starting to get cold. Anyone else?” Thatch noticed. Tori said he was, and Marco and Ace said they hadn’t noticed the temperature, they were the same temperature as normal. They patched up the window using some wooden planks that were out back, which were used for when the windows were broken and they couldn’t fix it. Marco broke the windows way too frequently...

“Just a question, but how muscled are you to be able to kick a guy through the through double glazed windows and then out the other side by about 10 metres?” Ace asked hesitantly. He didn’t want to be kicked through a window himself after all. In answer to that, Marco took off his shirt to reveal...

“Holy shit it’s the abs of steel!” Tori yelled, and Thatch cracked up in laughter. Ace had to agree with the mistaken assessment. Bronzed abs, toned to perfection. The only problem with the image was that Marco had his arms crossed and was staring at his brother with the most pissed off expression he could muster. He was also staring with the same pissed off expression at Tori, though not quite as harshly.

“Thatch, knock it off! It wasn’t that funny, dammit! They are not the abs of steel! And you!” He rounded on Tori, “ I trusted you to be halfway sensible! You failed me!” He then proceeded to kick Thatch to stop him from laughing. It didn’t work, unsurprisingly.

“Marco, how the hell did you get the abs of steel? You must’ve been doing something really taxing to get them!” Ace exclaimed. He was probably looking way too into this, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t intrigued.

Marco sighed, “We aren’t getting off this topic for a while are we? A while ago when I was in between jobs, I took a summer job at a railyard -yoi. It was basically moving heavy train cars and such with just me doing it. Needless to say, I looked like a muscleman after I came back off it -yoi. Thatch laughed at me for weeks. So did Haruta, now I think about it - yoi. That was ages ago, though, so the muscles have sort of toned down since then.”

Ace stared at him questioningly. Who the hell would be so desperate that they’d do that for an entire summer? Marco, apparently.

“Okay, you’ve quizzed Marco for two questions, so he gets to quiz you for two. Marco, your first?” Thatch asked. Ace sort of itched the back of his neck sheepishly. He had been quizzing Marco, hadn’t he?

“Okay, let’s start off simple. Full name and age, if you will -yoi,” Marco started. Odd thing to be curious about.

“Portgas D. Ace, and 22.”

“Next: where the hell did you learn to eat like that?”

“My dad. I don’t remember him, my mum once told me that he had a massive appetite. So did she, actually...” Ace trailed off. it was always hard to talk about his mum, who had passed away 10 years ago. He then decided to change the subject to stop himself from brooding. “So, Tori, you’re up in terms of questions, go ahead!”

“Thatch: how long does it take to do that pompadour, and Marco, what lies underneath that beanie of yours?” Tori asked.

“About 3 hours, give or take. I love this thing, it needs time to become amazing like me!” Thatch stroked his pompadour possessively.

“A magical portal to another dimension,” Marco said, with a complete straight face. Seemingly Marco didn’t want anyone to know what was under the beanie, and Ace had the sneaking suspicion he changed his answer each time he was asked. Tori backed off on the question, and said, “Thatch, your turn.”

“Okay, Tori: favourite food, Ace: is there anything you won’t eat?”

“Hmm, that’s a hard one. I’d have to say chicken paella or pastanalian meatballs,” Tori answered honestly. The pastanalians were brilliant with food, of literally all types.

“Ummm... I don’t like peanuts. That’s about it.” Ace said, after thinking about it for about a minute. He’d been mentally cataloging all the foods he could think of, and had come up with peanuts as the only thing he really didn’t like. He would even go so far as to say he hated them. “Okay, me again! Are you guys biological brothers, and what's with the -yoi all of a sudden?”

“Okay, first of all, none of us are related. We were all adopted at different times and ages by Pops. Marco was adopted first, and I was fourth. In total there are sixteen of us.” Thatch answered, with pride buried deep in his tone. Marco’s face softened a little as well. It was clear that both loved this Pops with all of their hearts. Aww.

“And as for the yoi, I only suppress it when I’m sure no-one I want hearing me with it is around. Takes a lot of effort, but it works somehow -yoi,” Marco said mysteriously, “You see, I’m in hiding from CP9, the government secret police. I saw something they didn’t like, and now they want me gone -yoi...”

“What was it? What did you see?” Tori asked, his voice filling with excitement.

“One of their highest in command, Admiral Sakazuki, riight in the middle of doing it!” Marco whispered dramatically, so no-one outside of a 5-metre radius could hear him. Ace, Tori and Thatch burst into laughter. Ace didn’t care that it was probably a lie, but if it wasn’t… how many jobs had Marco had?

 

“Thatch, you’ve heard this story millions of times, you shouldn’t be laughing -yoi,” Marco halfheartedly reprimanded.

“You should know by now that I don’t care about these things, most jokes are just as good the second time round!” Thatch replied from his place on the floor, which he was currently rolling around on.

“Most does not mean all. Plus, you’ve heard this one about 19 times so it should be wearing off -yoi. Aand, it’s back to my turn. Do either of you have siblings, and who’s your favourite mech in the tournament -yoi. It can be your own, I’m not that mean! THATCH, stop with that disbelieving look -yoi. I’m not, and I’m hurt for you thinking so!”

Tori answered first, “No siblings, I’m an only child. And I will say my own, because it is the best there. Otherwise? Probably the All Blue, ‘cause the fights are... interesting, to say the least.”

“Fair enough, and you Ace?” Thatch asked.

“A half-brother, and a guy that I share a house with that is close enough to be considered one. My half-brother is called Luffy, he’s so cute! And a complete idiot, and a bigger eater than I am, “ Thatch grimaced,” and he’s a pilot! He pilots the Going Merry, and he’s pretty damn good! And aaah I’m so proud of him, ‘cause our mum died when he was little, and so I’ve taken care of him and watched him grow up and I’m just so very proud! And—“ he was cut off by Marco.

“We don’t need to hear so much about your amazing brother right now, do it later, okay -yoi?”

“Right. Got it. There’s also Sabo, my pretty-much brother who I live with, and he’s blonde and training to be a lawyer. He hates the injustice in the world and hopes to change it, and he’s doing a better job than I ever could. As for mechs, ours, of course. But other than that, I’ve always thought the Phoenix was cool, just cause of the design and the paint job, and the way that the pilot manages to do bird-like actions with it, which is pretty cool in itself, and the amount of hard-hitting weapons that it has on it whilst still being able to fly! Seriously, the designer and makers must have been geniuses!” He saw Marco and Thatch share a look, but decided to play it off as nothing. It was probably an inside joke or something stupid like that.

“I dunno, I think the designer was a bit of an idiot. They probably needed to get an entire raid force of people just to make one wing of it work!” Thatch said, in a jesting tone towards Marco, and there was definitely something going on here, especially seeing as Marco flinched slightly when Thatch mentioned it, like he was reliving a painful or embarrassing memory. But...

“What’s a raid force?” He asked. If he didn’t get all the facts, he wouldn’t be able to get all of the info out of the conversation.

“Aww, I forgot you were so young! Wayy back when we were kids, and that’s a very long time ago, we had these things called desktops, and you could play MMO’s on them. Raid forces were when a group of 14-24 people who probably didn’t know each other out of the game came together to beat up monsters in a dungeon. If they won, they gained rewards, if not, well, they probably died. Or their avatars did anyway, to be respawned in the nearest safe zone, ready to go at it again, but with worse armour, as it got damaged. I still have a desktop up in my loft, actually. I could show you guys sometime?” Thatch offered, but before he got Ace or Tori’s answer, Marco cut in.

“You still have one? Why didn’t you tell me -yoi? My one crashed about a year or so, can I use yours?” There was a strand of excitement- or perhaps composed glee- in Marco’s tone which hadn’t been seen before. Curiouser and curiouser...

“No! I love mine! Go get another! Or just buy yourself a new CPU, or motherboard, or whatever it is that needs to be fixed! I can’t let my guild go on without me!” Thatch said, possessively. Ace was now thoroughly confused, but he sensed he wasn’t going to get any answers any time soon.

Marco was currently staring at the space above Thatch with an expression of annoyance, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that? Damn, I’ve been gone from my guild for a year because I didn’t think of something so simple -yoi!”

“Well, do it tomorrow, you need sleep. So do the rest of us, actually. Ace, can you move yet?” Thatch asked. Ace tried, and stood up with ease. “Good. Well, I’m off. Marco, close up will you? I’m too tired.” He said, stifling a yawn. Marco nodded in affirmation and Thatch, Ace and Tori walked out through the door of the wyvern.

Ace and Tori headed for Tori’s house, and parted ways with Thatch soon after. When they got in, Ace immediately went for the sofa (it was impolite to sleep on the one bed in the apartment) and fell asleep just as fast. His final thought: ‘damn, that food was good.’

After shutting up shop for the night, Marco headed for his Oyaji’s house, where all of Haruta’s notebooks were kept. He searched through the drawer where Haruta had hidden them, and found the one he was looking for buried under a few others. He flipped through to entry no.12 and began adding the information he had gained.

‘Portgas D. Ace, 22. Black hair, freckles. Seen with a gaudy-ass orange hat with red beads and two blue circular theatre masks around the brim. Also the head of Spade Mechanics. Eats way too much to be normal; ask Thatch! All-around a pretty nice guy.’

He then put the notebook back in the drawer and closed it, then went upstairs to his old room, where he had slept until he moved out. He figured it would be best to do so, as driving home would be too much effort. He would show himself to Whitebeard tomorrow. For now, sleep.

Chapter Text

Ace woke up to the smell of bacon. A very nice smell to wake up to, in his opinion. But where did the bacon come from? Hmm…

 

He sprung up from the sofa he was on and walked towards... not his kitchen. This one was too green and brown. It must be Tori’s then. The guy was near obsessed with khaki colouring.

 

“Ah, good to see slugzilla up and about, and in the morning, no less,” the smug face of said khaki-obsessed person greeted him as he turned the corner.

 

“I am not slugzilla thanks very much, now how long till the bacon’s done?”

“Jeez, no need to be so snappy slugzilla! Bad slugzillas don’t get bacon!” Tori said, in his annoying-ass patronising tone.

 

“Hey! So mean! I just wanted to know, seeing as it smells so good~” Ace whined.

 

“Ace, I’ve been around you long enough that that doesn’t work on me. The bacon’ll be done in 5 minutes, now bug off, I’m busy!” Ace moped off into a corner of the sofa he had slept on.

 

5 minutes later, Tori sauntered in with two plates of bacon, one piled high, the other… not so much. “Remember to savour the food, or I’ll kick you. Hard.” He said, a good-natured smile on his face. 

 

Ace filled his mouth with the bacon, left it there for a minute, crunched down on it a couple of times, and swallowed. Tori sweatdropped beside him, but figured it was the closest he would get, so relented.

 

“So, you’ve now met Marco. What d’ya think? He’s a cool dude, no?” Tori asked when he sat down. Ace did not see how this question was relevant in any way.

 

“Well yeah he seems cool. Seriously mysterious though. How many jobs has that guy had, for one? We’ve got him down as being a waiter, an animal carer-guy, once a guy working at a railroad, and a guy who somehow got high enough in the government to see akainu in such a… compromising position, if that one’s true at all. He’s an enigma, so many different facades. There’s the bored, analysing one, the showman, the family guy, the so-done-with-this-shit one, the how-did-I-end-up-with-this-for-a-brother one, the awkward one, the deadly serious one, and the yoi-ish one. Seriously, where did the -yoi come from anyway? That doesn’t just appear. It has to be a speech tic, so he has to have excellent self-control to keep it in when out and about, which gives his perhaps-lie more credibility. He wouldn’t have to refrain it otherwise. Unless… maybe he has split-personality disorder? No, that’s a bad theory, and most likely untrue… i’ll have to investigate this guy. The game is afoot!” Ace finished off his rambling streak to find Tori staring at him like he had gone mad. “What?” 

 

“Well, it’s been ages since you’ve done this, I thought you’d stopped, only to find the rambling is still there, in perfect condition, if not better than when you last did it. Seriously, and you talk about Marco being multi-faced! Although… the last time you did this, you were doing it over that mint-condition AC Cobra car you found, which you were pretty interested in. Ace… you got something to tell me? You know we’re friends and I won’t judge you, right?” Tori asked, with mock concern on his face.

 

“Yeah, it’s nothing. Guess i got a bit overexcited about the new guy. Well anyway I’ll be off to work now, self-driving vacuum cleaners don’t make themselves so bye!” And Ace sprinted out of the door as fast as he could while still having all of his necessary stuff (actually, it was just his hat, but meh), leaving Tori confused. Why would Ace leave so quickly and whilst looking like a tomato? After about a minute of pondering the question, his face split into a mischievous grin. He’d ring Sabo later. For now, he had to get to work. 

 

After about half an hour of non-stop running (it would’ve been shorter but he avoided High Town), Ace reached the Wepril Spade Mechanics shop, to find a massive arm being loaded off a holo-truck, with Alice and Diana supervising.

 

“Ah, Ace! Slept in didya? Well, this is Shanks’ spirit arm. You’d better phone him, to see where and when he wants it fixed,” Diana said after seeing Ace. He groaned, not wanting to deal with Shanks right now. It was too early in the morning. Not that Shanks was a bad guy, he was just a bit… overbearing. Ace really didn’t want to deal with that today. So he trudged off to make the call.

 

Ten minutes later he was back outside with his team with the arm unloaded, and Tori had finally arrived. What had taken him so long? Oh yeah, he hadn’t run.

 

“Ok folks, Shanks will be here in ten. Tori, what took you so long? We left from the same place!” He teased, pretty sure his voice had gone back to normal.

 

“I didn’t run, nitwit. I need my energy reserves. So do you, so I bought you something.” He produced a chicken pasty and a diet coke from a bag he had. How had Ace missed the bag?

 

“Thanks,” he said, then ate the pasty. Well, to anyone else it probably would’ve been ‘devoured’, but it was him, so the word was ate.

 

Shanks arrived early, which was a surprise. Thankfully the claw arm used for this kind of job had been set up and tested, so the mechanics could start early. 

 

“Ace! How’ve you been? It’s been ages since i last saw you! How’s Luffy? And Sabo?” Shanks said overexcitedly. Why was he always this excitable? He was worse than Luffy at times!

 

“Shanks, you saw me two weeks ago and spoke with me 15 minutes ago, I think you know how I am. Sabo’s fine, and Luffy’s found himself a friend who can actually cook enough for him fast enough, which he’s pretty pleased about. But enough of that, we have business to attend to. Please move the Red Force in here, or get Benn to. I know he’s already in the cockpit. Now come on!” Benn moved the Red Force in, and positioned it under the claw arm.

 

Alice and Diana placed a two-way pulley system around the arm, then signalled for Ace to get lifting. Ace grabbed the spirit arm by the hand, and with the help of Alice and Diana, moved the hand into roughly the position it would be in when attached. Alice and Diana ran up the stairway that was on the wall with either side of the pulley system, and stopped at one of the landings, about ¾ of the way up. Tori grabbed the Red Force with the claw arm and moved it over to where Ace was now hauling the spirit arm upright, with the girls’ help with getting it into position with where the circuitry was. Once in position, Tori started on wiring the two parts together. 

 

Ace meanwhile was battling with keeping the arm upright and dealing with Shanks’ infuriating questions. Did the man not notice that he was physically straining himself?

 

After about 20 minutes (though to Ace it seemed like hours), Tori had finished with the wiring, and the weight was off his shoulders. Benn fiddled with the controls to check it was in working order, by moving the fingers, wrist and elbow. Once he was sure it did, he came down from the cockpit and thanked the team, dragging Shanks with him. Ace did not want to follow. 

 

About 5 minutes later, the two came back in, got into the Red Force and left. Ace decided that his team could deal without him for the day, and lay down on the floor. His muscles ached, and he needed sleep. It came to him within seconds.

 

At some point during the day, a muscled man with an impressively combed moustache and a top hat strolled in. He wandered around the shop, occasionally stopping to examine a particular part or machine. At one point he reached where Ace was asleep on the floor, and took a picture with his phone. He then strolled back out after looking at some more parts and engines. The rest of the day passed without incident.

 

Ace woke up again around closing time to Tori pulling down the shutters.

 

“Hey! Mean!” He yelled.

 

“Sorry, didn’t know you were still here!” Tori apologised.

 

“Well maybe check next time! Remember, the match is in two days, we need to be co-operative!” Ace said, dusting himself off and helping Tori with the rest of the shutters. It went much faster with two. After that, he waved to the electrician and headed back to his own house. 

——

Tori reached his house way before Ace did his. Ace’s was on the other side of the city after all. He suddenly remembered what he had thought earlier, reached for his phone and rang Sabo. 

 

“Outlook D. Sabo, who’s this?” Sabo’s voice came from the other side. Sabo mustn’t have looked at the caller ID as if he had, that question wouldn’t be needed.

 

“You thought it was a client, but it was me, Dio!”

 

Sabo’s groan could probably be heard throughout the whole of whatever building he was in. “Tori, what do you want? I’m at work!”

 

“Just got a bit of information regarding a certain freckled idiot.”

 

“What is it? What’s he done?!” Sabo’s voice indicated he was likely to strangle someone if Tori didn’t answer him. There was, however a consistent tapping on the other side of the line that indicated he hadn’t finished typing whatever it was that he was working on.

 

“Acey has a crush~” he said in a singsong voice. The tapping stopped completely.

 

“Tell me everything.”

 ——

Sabo had not had a good day, to put it lightly. To put it heavily, it was really fucking shitty.

 

It had started off normally enough. He had a witness who claimed to have proof of the leader of one of the most notorious assassin groups in the known world murdering someone, which was always a good way to start off a case.

 

He had the information written down in shorthand on a post-it and only needed to type it up officially. The evidence there would be damning enough to keep Vinsmoke Judge (who was having his trial later) behind bars for good. 

 

It was all going smoothly until Tori called him. The electrician had gossip on Ace (and his crush. Marco, eh? He’d find the guy later) so he couldn’t just let it off! It was what any good brother would do. Unfortunately he hadn’t stopped typing during this, so the document was a mess of the actual statement and Ace’s love life. And he hadn’t noticed a thing!

 

The point was brought up in Judge’s trial. The evidence was considered invalid, and the witness was ill so couldn’t testify. As such, Judge was ruled innocent (as there was no incriminating evidence to say he wasn’t) and Sabo was fired so he ‘didn’t screw up like that again’. Damn, did he hate the guys who ran this place! The Celestial Law Firm would get it. Just wait and see...

 

To top it off, his hoverbike had broken, so he had to haul it to the nearest gas station, not that any ‘gas’ was being sold anymore. The tools there did the trick, and Sabo was back home at a very reasonable midnight. 

 

When he got home, he had wanted to have a nice, long shower, go to sleep and be suitably pissed off at the world when he woke up, and Ace would be sympathetic. But no, the water pipe had broken, so that was out of bounds to him too. Plus he had no idea how to fix it.

 

The world truly hated him.

Chapter Text

Marco groaned into his bacon as he was met with the might of Thatch and Oyaji. Seriously, one was bad enough, but both? He was going to drown of a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. At least he got Thatch’s amazing breakfast.

 

For some reason last night Thatch had decided that walking to his own house was too much effort on his part, so, like Marco had been doing for the last two days, had crashed at his old room in Oyaji’s place. And, as Marco was seriously tired when he came downstairs, he greeted him with a ‘morning, where are the others?’ because in his half-asleep state he forgot that everyone had their own apartments elsewhere. He promptly got laughed at.

 

And, because it was Oyaji’s house, he got double the laughter, twice as loud, as his foster father’s rumbling laughter echoed around the various hallways. Marco needed a coffee.

 

While he was making himself one, Thatch was seemingly filling Oyaji in on everything that happened on Sunday. Oh joy. Now along with double the laughter there would be double the teasing about his ‘crush’ on Ace. ‘Crush’ because it was nonexistent. Completely and utterly.

 

He went back into the dining room, which looked pitifully empty without all of his brothers sitting there. Thatch and Oyaji were speaking in hushed tones, but immediately stopped when they saw him.

 

“Ah, Marco! Morning! Thatch was telling me about the interesting customers you had on Sunday. Also, apparently the plans for a two-storey restaurant…” Oyaji trailed off, expecting a response.

 

“Morning, Oyaji. And yes, I do have plans -yoi. After yesterday, I realised just how much money we spend on repairing windows. So to stop that, we get rid of the windows on the bottom floor, and add a second floor for those who want to be warm -yoi. Plus, to make sure Thatch doesn’t get kicked out of second-storey windows, I’m not going to go up there. Unfortunately that means we will need to hire new waiters -yoi. Koala’s overworked as is, she could use some extra hands.” Marco summarised, after drinking his coffee. Ah, coffee.

 

“So, what are you both going to be doing today, sons?”

 

“Well, I’ll be at the Wyvern, cooking. Thankfully today is Koala’s day, so no being kicked through windows for me!” Thatch almost sang.

 

“No, instead you’ll be punched through the floor,” Marco said sarcastically, then continued, “as for me, I’m fixing my desktop today, and going to see the mech fight tomorrow. The Jack of Diamonds vs. The Allosaurus. See if I can gain any info on fighting techniques.”

 

Thatch looked at him skeptically, but didn’t say anything. Whitebeard laughed, and waved him off, so he left, stealing some bacon on the way out.

 

——

Once Marco left the building, Thatch sidled over to where Whitebeard was sitting.

 

“Psst, Pops. So this boyfriend I was telling you about… I sorta asked Vista to go get a photo of him yesterday to show you, just in case you thought he was made up or something… Here!” Thatch quickly shared said photo, then went back into the kitchen oddly suspiciously.

 

“Guararara! What are you doing, son? I think this is a new level of Marco-induced paranoia, even for you! He doesn’t know about this does he?”

 

“No…”

 

“And your behaviour didn’t give off any suspiciousness earlier, did it?”

 

“No…”

 

“Then stop being so afraid Marco will jump out of every corner! Now, let’s see here…” Whitebeard pulled out his tablet (which worked as a phone, he was too large for a general one) and looked at the picture on the screen.

 

A young shirtless man wearing knee-length shorts, a bright orange cowboy hat, a crimson beaded necklace with a face-full of freckles stared back at him. He chuckled. Definitely Marco’s type from what he had seen before.

 

“Well, son. There’s only one thing to do now!”

 

“And what’s that?” Thatch’s voice still sounded mildly uncertain that Marco really had left, and wasn’t going to appear around a corner.

 

“Guarara, start a chat discussing Marco’s love life, of course!”

 

“Pops! He’ll kill us if he finds out!”

 

“Nonsense! If I tell him it was you, I’ll be safe. Guarara!”

 

And so, the ‘Marco’s Boyfriend’ chat became a thing, much to the terror of Thatch and the amusement of everyone who knew they could pin the whole thing on said Thatch.

——

 

Marco strolled through the town, not particularly caring when he reached his destination, that being the computer store near his apartment. Seriously, how had he not thought of this before? He could just buy the replacement part, fix the desktop and be done with it.

 

Unfortunately, finding the broken part was easier said than done. There were no CPUs which fit his computer space. It was either find another store, buy a new computer or make an entirely new one. Damn. He left the store and headed for his apartment.

 

When Marco got inside his apartment, he grabbed a tape measure to see how much space he had to work with to fit the computer. 750mm. He could work with that. Plus there would be extra space for the wires to fit. 

 

Armed with specifications, Marco grabbed his hoverbike and set off. He would go back to the same store, and if there was nothing there that caught his eye, he’d go around the other stores in the city. He had his hoverbike after all, it would be much faster.

 

One hour later and he had a new computer, ready to play. It was a ‘Dragonair 300’, the one with the most storage and best cooling fan in the store. He could finally get back to his guild. The place had been missing their second-in-command for a year! Geisha-Marvel was going to kill him for this, if not the rest of the commanders as well.

 

He was so absorbed in his thoughts of being killed virtually that he forgot about the world in which he could be killed physically. A horn beeped and he swerved Peregrine sharply, which got him out of the way- but not the back of his hoverbike. It took the hit from the incoming ship and was sent spiralling out of control onto the floor with a sickening crunch. Marco had jumped off once it had started to capsize, and flinched when he heard the sound. His precious Peregrine, broken along with the computer. He stood stock still, trying to comprehend the sight before him.

 

A yell from behind snapped Marco out of his shock. He turned to see a black haired woman running towards him. “Is that yours?” She asked. Odd question, that.

 

“It is, yeah. Don’t suppose you know where the nearest mechanic’s store is? I don’t go to this part of town often.”

 

“If I didn’t it would be embarrassing, I work there after all,” the woman smiled impishly (Marco was reminded of Haruta) and took off with the Dragonair, leaving Marco to follow after her with Peregrine’s remains.

 

By the time Marco had carried the wreckage to the woman’s shop, he was panting. Carrying the bike he was fine with, but the fact he had to run to keep up with the female Haruta was draining. She walked right into the workshop in front of her and yelled, “Ace, we have a customer!”

 

Hang on, Ace? It was then that Marco realised where he had walked into. Spade Mechanics. The place where Ace owned. Meaning this Ace was…

 

“Hey Diana, what do we have here?” Ace asked, then froze once he saw Marco. “Marco! Hi… so, what do you need? I guess it’s to do with the hoverbike in your arms and… ooh, is that a Dragonair 300?” 

 

“Yeah it is, bought it earlier. Sort of broken now though,” Marco lamented, then realised something. “How did you know?”

 

“After Thatch mentioned one, I did some research… But anyway, we can get Tori on that. Diana, you doing anything right now?” Ace asked. It seemed to Marco like he was trying to avoid him, but he didn’t comment. Maybe Ace had things to do.

 

Diana scoffed, “Ace, you know I have to find that invisible jet. Mum will kill me if I’ve lost it! But, your self-driving vacuum cleaner isn’t that important, so you can do it! See ya, sucker!” And she left to Ace protesting that yes, his self-driving vacuum cleaner was that important. Well, that idea was blown out of the water. 

 

“Okay, well, my name’s Ace -but you knew that already- and I’ll be your mechanic for the day!” Ace smiled. Something in Marco stirred at that smile, but he chalked it off to being excited about his bike being fixed. Peregrine was special, in a way he couldn’t quite describe. Like his child, sort of.

 

“Right, what happened here?” Ace asked, while inspecting the damage to the hoverbike.

 

“Well, I lost concentration, then noticed a ship and didn’t get out of the way in time. I was fine. Peregrine… not so much.” Ace frowned. 

 

“The damage sustained isn’t that much, it just looked worse because of the style of your bike. The Force II has an abnormally long tail end, probably for incidents like this. I must say this one is in surprisingly good working order -not counting the tail end- for something so old. The one you have is one of the earlier ones, so must have been up and running for about 20 years, give or take,”

 

“22, actually. Got it as soon as I got out of uni.” Ace took a while for the time to sink in. 

 

“That thing is as old as I am! How have you not crashed before?”

 

“Normally, when i’m not thinking of my imminent despise, I have pretty good reflexes and speed control.” He didn’t add the part about being the reigning champion of the Mech Tournament, because Ace didn’t need to know. And he wasn’t going to take the beanie off either, his haircut was too much of a giveaway.

 

“Well, you’ll be glad to know we have the parts needed to replace this in stock! Now, because I like you as a friend, you get a discount! The replacement should only take a few hours, less if you’re willing to help out. Tori’s over there—“ Ace pointed over to where Tori was fiddling with the inside of the Dragonia, with his phone to one side blasting out music. It was in a rather strange position though. Maybe having your phone upright amplifies sound better… “— with your computer, so if you wanna see what’s going on there, feel free to leave!”

 

Marco then went over to Tori, to see if he could do anything to help for a bit. Plus, Peregrine was in good hands. He could trust Ace.

 

“Well, I need some more electrical cables. The ones here are damaged beyond repair from the crash,” Tori contemplated, “There should be some in that blue box over there. I need everything, so just bring the box over,” and with that one request, Marco became the errand boy for everyone in the shop, including the occasional customer. Every now and then, someone would call him over from wherever they were asking him to get something for them, or hold something in place. He much preferred holding stuff in place, as it meant he didn’t have to search all the way around the shop for something that he didn’t know the size or shape of.

 

(Plus he got to discreetly stare at Ace. The guy never wore a shirt, so he had a perfect view of Ace’s sculpted abs, plus the mysterious ASL tattoo on his left arm. They were both a sight to behold, and he thought he was being subtle in his staring.

 

He wasn’t. Tori saw, took a photo, and wrote the information down on a sheet of paper. He would have to go down to the Wyvern later.)

 

About 4 hours of being an errand boy later, both things had been fixed, and Marco had never been so glad to have worked in a railroad. Ace, Alice and Tori were slave drivers and he hadn’t had a break from them the whole time! 

 

He thanked the mechanics and left, noticing the change in speed on his hoverbike. It seemed Ace had made some modifications, ones he approved of.

 

Once he got back to his apartment, he set up the computer and, after a year of waiting, logged into Ultimate Adventure, the best MMO this side of the century, in his opinion. It was a game where players sailed the ocean for treasure, adventure and things called ‘devil fruits’, which gave the player a unique ability at the price of not being able to swim. He himself had one, the phoenix fruit, granting him the power to turn into… a phoenix. He couldn't wait to rejoin his guild. God knows he’d missed them. Even if he would probably be killed on sight. Twin-Blade and Geisha-Marvel were petty like that.

 

He logged on and proceeded to stay up all night playing to re-familiarise himself with the controls, and rejoining the WBP guild. And, like he had predicted, he was killed on sight by Geisha-Marvel. 

——

 

Tori smirked to himself as he walked into the Wyvern for the second time since discovering it. This time, instead of waiting for a waiter (huh, how about that? If you were waiting for a waiter you became a waiter!) he walked straight through to where the kitchen was, and opened the door.

 

“Thatch! We need to talk! NOW.” he yelled. Just in case the pompadoured man didn’t hear him speaking normally. 

 

Thatch came out a moment later, passing off a plate of onigiri to a brown-haired girl with a flat cap thing. “Yes? What did you want me for?”

 

“Well, I propose an alliance. You saw your brother and Ace being idiots two days ago, right? Well, I propose we get them together, or at least hint towards it, because they’re both stubborn idiots and will deny their feelings for ages. So, what do you say?” Thatch paused, “ I also have blackmail on Marco ogling Ace while trying to be subtle. The only ones anywhere near who didn’t notice were Alice, who was concentrating, and Ace himself,” Thatch agreed this time. After all, he would be a disgrace of a brother if he didn’t take any and all blackmail sources away from those who’d use them with malicious intent (not counting himself, of course)!

 

“Good, okay. We have a fight tomorrow, wanna get Marco to come?” Tori asked.

 

“He’s already coming, for ‘research purposes’. I call bullshit, personally. But phone number? It’ll be a hell of a lot easier to communicate that way, instead of barging in here and demanding my presence. But now you’re here, food?”

 

“xxxxx xxx818. And yes please, pastafarian meatballs if you can?” Thatch got right on it, and Tori had an enjoyable night eating meatballs and chatting about how oblivious his friend was to someone who understood the sentiment.

 

Halfway through, Thatch sat up straight in his chair, as if he had been electrocuted. Tori stared at him for a while, before he slouched back in his seat like nothing had happened.

 

“So… what was that?”

 

“Oh, right. If you wouldn’t mind sending the photo to me, so I can show it to... people.” Thatch trailed off awkwardly, then realised something. “No, wait, I have your number; you can do it yourself!” He ran into the kitchen almost faster than Tori was able to realise he was gone.

 

“And what exactly am I doing?” Tori yelled from his seat at the retreating back.

 

Thatch returned and sat down. “Well, against my wishes Pops set up a group chat to discuss Ace. Or rather, how he got Marco to fall for him. I’m going to add you to it, then you can add the photos, and people will believe you as an authentic source of info!”

 

Tori was still confused, but let it slide. He was added onto ‘Marco’s Boyfriend’, and placed the photo on the chat after introducing himself.

 

Almost immediately he got a response from someone called ‘The Fabulous Izo’. He smirked. This was going to be fun!

——

After accidentally oversleeping, Marco reached the Moby Arena later than he would’ve liked, but early enough for there still to be some good seats around, so he didn’t have to stand up and watch which was nice.

 

(He didn’t see Thatch sneak in behind him and grab a chair two rows back and to the left of him, which was good for the chef as he was relying on the element of surprise. Not so good for Marco later though.)

 

After sitting down for 15 minutes, the commentators started up. “Welcome, one and all, to the first round fight between the Allosaurus and the Jack of Diamonds! And what a fight it is geared up to be!” The stats for both mechs showed up on-screen and Marco immediately geared them up against Phoenix’s. 

 

The Allosaurus: speed - 90/120

                          armour - 110/120

                          damage - 100/120

 

The Jack: speed - 95/120

                 armour -100/120

                 damage - 110/120

 

Against the Allosaurus, Phoenix would probably be handicapped in some way, to make the game fairer. The Allosaurus had impressive firepower in the lazer, but if something was too fast for it, the thing became null. They would either have a speed decreaser of some sort, or their lazer unplugged for the match.

 

The Jack of Diamonds though… not as fast, but more than making it up in firepower. The armour wasn't half bad either. If they fought with Phoenix, the end result could go either way. It was one of the perfect examples of speed vs. strength. Marco couldn’t wait for that. For now though, it was time to observe strategies used by both in the current match. (And marvel at Ace’s piloting skills, but that wouldn’t be written down.)

 

(It would, by Thatch. Being Marco’s best friend/brother meant the man could recognise Marco’s hints and write them down — not for blackmail, of course. Just to give the family the joy of Marco actually being interested in someone after so long!

 

Oh, and put the gist of it on the group chat. He’d probably be killed if he didn’t. It was a dangerous thing, ‘Marco’s Boyfriend’.)

 

Marco tuned out the commentators as the siren started. The final check sequence, and he was getting an adrenaline rush just watching. The crowd cheered, then fell into a deathly silence as The Jack and Allosaurus fired up. 

 

The klaxon blared, and the jack rose directly upwards. That was odd. When Phoenix kicked off, it went forwards as well. Marco had to cancel it out by kicking off backwards if he wanted to stay in the same place. The thing piloted like a drone, seemingly. He wondered if it had the same left-right controls, and when the Jack moved directly right to dodge an attack from the lazer tail, he knew he was correct.

 

Ace moved the double control with the ease that came from years of experience, which made Marco question just how long he had been piloting the thing. The Jack swerved to evade the machine gun fire coming from the Allosaurus, and sent a jet of flame towards the mechanical dinosaur. Ace had got the Jack at a 90 degree angle to get the flame in optimal position. Marco was in awe of his piloting.

 

(Thatch smirked at the face his older brother was making. He had such a crush, it was pretty cute actually. He wouldn’t post this, he was a kind person after all.)

 

Drake seemed to be getting frustrated, seeing as the Allosaurus had started to make jerky movements and the weapons were unfocused. This solidified Marco’s hunch that Drake piloted everything in the Allosaurus. If so, he was pretty impressive, but his fear ruled him. And, as Yoda used to say, ‘fear leads to the dark side’. Marco generally stuck to this rule, and didn’t let his fear rule him. But back to the fight at hand.

 

The Jack flew towards the Allosaurus, flamethrowers blazing. The Allosaurus charged its lazer tail and fired. The Jack dodged, and Marco mentally praised Ace’s piloting skills. It then flew in, charged its own short-range lazer and fired at the body. The Allosaurus went up in flames, and a white flag was shown on the visor. Marco, along with the rest of the crowd cheered in celebration. Thatch smiled his cat-like smile. Marco had fallen hard. Time to notify Tori. He walked out of the crowd as the pilots exited their cockpits, with Drake giving a begrudging ‘well done’ to the two opponents.

——

Marco strolled down the corridor to the exit of the arena, taking his time as he was lost in thought. All in all, that was a brilliant match. Ace was an amazing pilot, and Marco could probably get some flying advice from him. Which was impressive, given that the man was about half his age. Marco was good, he knew, but Ace? Using drone controls to fly a full-size, heavily armoured ship? Amazing! He was so busy in his mind that he didn’t notice the black-haired man until it was too late. They crashed in the middle of the hallway, and the man dropped what he was carrying.

 

“Sorry!” They both apologised simultaneously, and Marco reached down to help pick up what the man had dropped, only to see it was a helmet with the Jack of Diamonds insignia on the side. He paused, then looked up.

 

“Ace?” It was Ace, as he started, then asked, “Marco? What are you doing here? I thought you had work!”

 

“Well, Thatch is a kind boss, especially as I have blackmail on him. Plus, mech fights are fun, and I need a break sometimes,” Both were technically true, but not the full reason why he had come. But Ace didn’t need to know he was the pilot of Phoenix. Yet another reason for the beanie. His hairstyle was just too recognisable, and he didn't like the press. They twisted things in ways that, when compared to the original, were almost completely unrecognisable.

 

“And? What do you think? Of the match I mean,” Ace stuttered. It was kinda cute, in a way.

 

“Well, your piloting is awesome, and your teamwork with Tori was almost as good as Phoenix’s! One question though, is the piloting system based off of a drone? Oh and also can I try it?” Marco was sure his eyes lit up at the final question, while Ace seemed to look more and more like a tomato every passing second. Again, pretty cute. Seeing Ace like this was a stark contrast to the other times he’d seen the man, and he liked it. Maybe he did have a crush after all. Huh.

 

“Uhh thanks? The piloting system is based off of a drone, yes, and as for flying the Jack… you nearly crashed something much smaller, how do I know I can trust you?” Ace said with a cocky smirk, his personality flipped in only three sentences. 

 

“That was with something on my mind -yoi! I won’t crash yours! God knows how expensive some parts are -yoi…” Marco trailed off. In the early days of piloting the Phoenix, crashes or weapon malfunctions happened every other week. Marco and Thatch were incredibly grateful to Curiel, who owned a mechanics shop of his own. If he hadn’t, the two would be face-deep in debt right now.

 

“I know right? Well, if you’re able to, Tori and I are doing a systems check on Saturday, if you want to fly it then? Oh, or I could give you my number and we could talk then!” Ace said hurriedly. He agreed and the two exchanged numbers.

 

As he walked off, Marco was almost entirely sure he had an overly smug grin plastered on his face, and was in too good a mood to let it slip. He climbed onto Peregrine and flew off. Today had been a good day.

 

(As the two walked off from each other, Thatch and Tori exchanged conspiratorial glances from either side of the corridor. They had both seen the identical smiles of Marco and Ace. It was time for operation ‘hook-up-our-friends-slash-brothers’. They hadn’t thought up a better name for it yet, so that it stayed. First thing on the agenda: confrontation!)

 

Chapter Text

Ace was currently squealing in excitement inside the Jack. Marco had said his piloting was awesome, and to be compared to Phoenix? Brilliant! Plus, he wanted to fly his mech! His! Aaaah!

He didn’t actually know when Marco’s opinion became so important to him, but at some point it had happened. He supposed this was what love felt like, or something. Of course, it was pointless. Marco probably didn’t like him beyond a friend anyway. What a shame.

At least the fight had gone well. He had tried replicating some of Phoenix’s past moves, but they didn’t look all that similar, really. It was a shock to discover that Drake piloted on his own, and Ace had a newfound respect for the man. He absentmindedly wondered whether Marco would come and see the rest of the fights with him or X Drake in. Perhaps he should ask?

Aargh, why did his thoughts circle back around to Marco again?

He docked the Jack in the back of the Wepril Spade workshop, then grabbed his phone, earphones, hat and keys. He set off for his house, running to the tune of Mambo no. 5. The run calmed him down some, but he still needed to speak to someone about it. Not Tori, he knew both Thatch and Marco and could become a nuisance later if he was told. Luffy wouldn’t care, neither would gramps… Sabo wouldn’t be around for a few hours, at least. He could wait though. He stepped up to the door and turned the key.

“Hey! Ace! Come here! I need someone to rant at!” Came Sabo’s annoyed yell from the top of the staircase. Ace was momentarily shocked, then locked the door behind him and ran upstairs.

“What is it?” He came into the room Sabo’s voice came from to see Sabo laying in bed, staring angrily at the ceiling.

“I was fired. By the Celestial Law Firm.” Sabo sighed, still mildly angry.

“What? What the hell did you do?”

“I got distracted while writing up an evidence point, the guy they were trialling was guilty but got out innocent, and apparently the whole thing is my fault! Shitheads have no idea what ‘it was an honest mistake’ or common courtesy mean! So now I need to find myself a new job, and hopefully get into Revolution. The lawyers, I’m not going against the monarchy! Ace, seriously?” Ace had no idea what he had done, but it was probably a face of either shock, horror or outrage.

“Yes, seriously, it’s you we’re talking about here, ‘Bo. And, I know a place that is looking for employees. It’s called the Wyvern. Great place, brilliant food. Just watch out for people -well, it’s only one person really- flying out of windows!” Ace was pleased with his recommendation. It meant he could eat there more often under the pretense of wanting to see Sabo!

Sabo, however, looked concerned. Probably about Thatch flying through windows. So Ace offered, “I can show you the place if you want?” Sabo agreed, and they set off again, this time for the Wyvern.

It took them a while, as it was on the other side of Moby, but eventually the two got there and grabbed a table. Marco was around, waiting other tables, but they were served by a cute, brown-haired girl. Her name was Koala, and Ace spent a large amount of time teasing Sabo about her, as he had stared for a while without either noticing.

Eventually the conversation turned to mechs, and Ace boasted about his win, plus the fact that Marco thought his mech was cool. Sabo chuckled at the insinuation that a waiter was now Ace’s world authority on mechs and piloting, even though it seemed like the guy wouldn’t know anything on the subject. Ace mentally laughed. Sabo hadn’t seen the abs of steel yet. Those were a sure-fire way of knowing he’d done something involving them in the past.

They ordered, Ace his favourite of all the things he’d eaten last time and Sabo mac and cheese. Koala came around with the order a few minutes later, and Ace full out laughed at Sabo’s face of absolute pleasure. Sabo pouted at him —which he later denied— which caused Ace to laugh more.

(Across the other side of the room, Marco fought to keep his hand from crushing the cola he was currently serving to a teal-haired man who insisted on wearing a hawaiian shirt in the middle of a cold spell. Though Ace chose to go shirtless, so it wasn’t that bad, he supposed.

But anyway, who was this person Ace was with? If they did turn out to be a boyfriend, hopefully they could still be friends, right? But they had to have been together for a while to be so familiar with each other. He hadn’t seen Ace this happy… ever!

Then again he had only known Ace for a few days, but he liked to think there was a connection between them. Maybe it was his love-drunk mind? He returned to giving the colas out to the remaining people at the table, most of whom seemed oddly familiar...)

Back at the table, Ace asked Sabo what he thought of the place.

“Well, it’s nice, homely. Koala seems cute as well. Could you contact the manager? I think I’ll see if the job is open for as long as needed to get into Revolution. If so, you’ll have an excuse to come here often. But enough about me, who’s this ‘Marco’ I heard you have a crush on?”

Ace nearly spat out the mouthful of diet coke he had in his mouth all over Sabo. As it was, he gagged for a bit before swallowing.

“What? Who told you that? I-I mean, what Marco?”

“Ace, brother, you may be good at many things, but lying is unfortunately not one of them. And to answer your question, Tori.” Sabo chuckled at Ace’s murmur of ‘that snitch! When I find him… ooh he’ll be sorry!’ Before patiently waiting for an answer.

Ace sighed and gave in to Sabo’s questioning, yet also vaguely malice-filled gaze. His brother really was very stubborn at times, but he somewhat feared for Marco’s safety now. Just what had Tori told the guy?

“Well, Marco’s actually that guy over there, in the beanie. He’s cool. Funny, kind, interested in mechs —including mine! He actually analysed it! No-one’s ever done that on the Jack before!—has the abs of steel…” Sabo nearly choked on his mac and cheese, “Tori’s words, not mine! To be precise, ‘Holy shit it’s the abs of steel!’. Marco kicked someone out the window, that’s why it’s boarded up. I then asked him about it later, when everyone had left. I ate too much and was stuck, so asked. Seriously!” Ace said quickly, trying to defuse the situation. It worked, thankfully. Ace did not know what he would’ve done otherwise.

(Once again on the other side of the room, Marco sneezed violently while carrying a massive pizza. He looked over to Ace’s table to see Ace talking excitedly about something with a small- well actually quite large, Ace looked like a tomato- blush on his cheeks. He sighed. The kid had it good. He would try and be supportive, even if it killed him on the inside.)

(He then had to hurry over to the pinkette who was demanding her pizza, and fast. The negative thoughts were temporarily gone from his mind.)

“Anyway, yeah. That’s Marco. I offered to take him flying or give him control of the Jack when we’re doing our systems check. I can’t wait!” Ace stopped for a bit, realising something important, “If he’s there it means I have to act cool about it, don’t I? Oh shit. That’s gonna be almost impossible!” And he promptly fell into a small hole of despair.

That was, until Sabo pulled him out of it. “Hey Ace, if you don’t stop moping, I’m calling Marco over here,” He whispered in one ear, and Ace could feel his face heat up. It could’ve been on fire from the heat radiating from it. He then sat straight-backed until Koala came around.

“Anything else?” She asked. As Sabo didn’t seem to be amazingly capable of anything except staring, Ace answered.

“The bill, please. Oh, and can you grab Thatch as well? It’s about the job availability,” Koala nodded, and Ace thanked her. He then hit Sabo for staring. Sabo snapped out of it quickly enough.

“What was that for?” He whined.

“To stop you from being a pervert. Seriously! What a hypocrite!” Ace said loudly, ignoring Sabo’s claims that he hadn’t criticised anything, and that Ace was such a mean brother for lying.

The whining stopped when Koala came back with the bill, and Thatch. Thatch, for his part, looked completely and utterly bemused with the situation.

He brightened up a bit when he saw Ace, then went right back to confusion as his eyes slid over to Sabo.

“Here’s the bill,” Koala smiled and walked off. Sabo remembered enough to stop from staring that time, which was good.

“Hey Ace! So, what are you doing back so soon? Not going to order the whole menu again, I hope?” Sabo raised a questioning eyebrow, and Ace signalled that he would explain later.

“No, not today. Actually, I came in about the recruiting sign on your door. My brother here just got fired, and is in need of a new job. Think you could help?”

Thatch had reached new levels of confusion now. “Your brother… but he doesn’t look like… you…” you could see the moment when realisation dawned on Thatch, as his whole face lit up in what could only be called the, ‘it-all-makes-sense-to-me-now’ face of comprehension.

“Sabo, right? Great to meet you. I’m Thatch, your new boss starting in two days. Now, what can you actually do?” Both brothers face-faulted at Thatch. Normally you know what people can do before you recruit them, not the other way around!

“Umm.. I can lift stuff, I guess. And probably wait tables. Oh, I can do the dishes. The one thing my parents taught me…” the last sentence was said deep under Sabo’s breath, so it was hard for Ace, less than a metre away to hear. He’d forgotten about Sabo’s less-than-happy childhood days, and couldn't even begin to imagine how bad it must have been for him. At least Ace had had his mum...Thatch heard nothing however, and continued.

“Okay. We can work with that. You remember we said there were going to be renovations around here? You can help with those! It will be mainly just carrying stuff up and down stairs, really. But you get my food, which is much nicer than any you’ve ever tried!” Sabo nodded, showing he was still listening, “After we’ve done that, Marco can show you the ropes of waiting. I would give you Koala to help, she’s a bit kinder than my dear older brother, but that could end badly for both of you… so yeah. Get here in two days at 7am, okay?” Sabo nodded with a quick, “yes sir” and Thatch laughed.

“Just call me Thatch. See you around, kiddo!” And walked off, to bother some other table. As he started striking up a conversation, however, Marco appeared and kicked Thatch out of another window. At least he was helping with clearing out the windows?

“Ok, I now see what you mean about the abs of steel,” Sabo said, staring blankly at the shattered window frame with a mix of awe, horror and… something.

Ace simply looked at his shell-shocked expression and grinned back at his brother. “I told you~”

Chapter Text

Thatch dropped by Marco’s apartment the next day, relaying an important piece of information that had apparently slipped his mind last night. Marco had to pause the fight he was in to answer the door, which left him in a worse mood than before it.

“Hey, forgot to tell you yesterday, but the guy with Ace is joining the team. Mainly just for ferrying purposes for the minute, but once that’s done, I want you to teach him how to wait tables. I would ask Koala, but she refused, saying she needs to work on her lawyer case. So, can you do it? Can you?” Marco really should’ve been immune to puppy faces by now, but somehow Thatch’s managed to get through his cuteness defense, and he agreed. Thatch’s pleased face at the end was worth it, and Marco found himself saddened he didn’t have a phone at hand to take a photo of it.

After spending way too much time playing Ultimate Adventure, Marco headed out to the animal centre. The place had always helped him calm down in the past, and the fact that today was his day in charge of the birds made it all the more sweeter. Don’t get him wrong, he loved animals in general, but there was something majestic about the birds kept there. From their speed, to their plumage, the ones here were special. Well, to Marco at least.

He signed in, then put on his headphones and started cleaning out the cages, filling them with food and water as he did. He started on the budgies and moved upwards, ending at the majestic peacock affectionately named ‘Showoff’.

Marco himself loved Showoff, his feathers always pristine and glowing, especially when he strutted around with them. He could watch those feathers for ages, but he had other things to attend to. Namely, the birds of prey.

Again, he went round in size order, done by meat. He started with the kestrels and red kites and their voles, went around to the owls, with their… whatever it was that morning. The owls didn’t seem to have a stable food like all of the other animals, which was strange, but Marco rolled with it. Today’s menu seemed to be mouse. After that, he went around to the peregrine falcons, which his hoverbike was named after. They had some rabbit, as did the smaller eagles, plus a random otter who had somehow snuck in. After that, the sea eagles had some tuna, and the condors a large slab of beef between them. The vultures… he had no idea what they were given. Quite a lot of different things seemingly.

Once he’d done that, he lay on the floor near Showoff and began sorting through his head, which took way too long to do in his opinion.
——
At 7 the next morning, he was up at the Wyvern, incredibly glad for the extra manoeuvrability on Peregrine after Ace fixed her up. The added speed and cornering meant he could have a longer lie-in by 20 minutes, which was a good trade-off in Marco’s opinion. He was still pretty tired, but nowhere near as bad as he has been on his other shift days. After all, the tiredness only seemed to disappear for short bursts of time, and occasionally a large part of the day was spent trying not to land head-first in someone’s fry-up. What, did you think his bored expression was just that? No, it was his way of hiding when he was way too tired. ‘If you don't ever open your eyes fully, no-one will think you’re hiding the fact you are tired’ was one of Marco’s favourite bad quotes, if only because it fitted him, his personality and his face shape to a ‘t’.

Thatch appeared with the keys, and Marco had to ‘very gently’ shove his way to the front of the 3-person queue.Thatch’s cooking was amazing and could probably destroy the world with its amazing taste, and he wanted to be the first to get some. Plus, he was the man’s brother, surely he deserved a hint of kindness.

“Hey guys! Food’s ready, so come in!” Was heard a moment later from Thatch. The three hungry people came in and sat down at the table in the middle of the kitchen, which happened to be the only space not covered in plastic wrap. Thatch had really gone overboard with the floor protection.

After they had all eaten, the new guy with surprising speed, almost as fast as Ace’s, Thatch assigned them jobs for the day. Marco and the new guy were clearing out the top floor. It had been abandoned for years, who knew how much shit had been left to waste there?
——
After day one, the two were finished clearing the top floor out. They did however need a skip to get all the stuff away from the Wyvern. The windows were also taken out, replaced with sliding doors, as Marco realised that everyone could freeze in winter if they left the place open-air all year round.

Sabo was a nice guy. Witty, charming and also caring once you got into his good graces. Marco was glad Ace had him, even if he was secretly jealous of the guy. He’d just have to cope.

Speaking of Ace, he appeared twice a week, either with Tori and the rest of the Wepril mechanics, or on his own. Both times it was Sabo who served them, and Ace and Sabo were so open about their relationship that Marco couldn’t help but feel a small part of him break inside. Sabo… that name seemed familiar, but he couldn’t think why.

And so, Marco braced himself for a small bit of heartbreak every Monday and Thursday, while keeping his poker face firmly on. He could probably be an actor next, if the jobs he was currently in went south. He would be able to star in a romantic tragedy. God knew he felt like he was in one now.
——
Tori rang up Thatch somewhere in the week, asking after Marco.

“He seems fine to me, why?” Thatch’s reply came.

“I don’t know… There just seems to be a forcedness between him and Sabo. I don’t know why. Could you check up on him please?” Thatch smiled softly. Ace really had been a good addition to the Wyvern. Marco now had more people around him that cared, and Ace came around more often, but was served by Sabo… again, the realisation on Thatch’s face was amazingly obvious but this time it was tinted by a sense of horror.

“Shit, Tori! I just remembered! I forgot to tell Marco that Sabo is Ace’s brother!”

A confused reply came from the other end of the phone, “I don’t see what that has to do with Marco…”

“Marco doesn’t know the two are brothers, and you know what those two brothers do? They touch, hug, whisper in each other’s ears, tease about crushes! But Marco can never get the context from the other side of the room, so…”

“He thinks the two are in love!” Tori yelled quietly. Thatch hummed in confirmation.

“So how to fix this?” He asked.

“Operation ‘Sabo-is-not-Ace’s-boyfriend’ is go!”
——
On Saturday, Marco drove over to the location Ace texted him the night before. Ace and Tori were doing their systems check that day, and he hoped Ace hadn’t forgotten that he had promised Marco a go at piloting the Jack.

When he arrived, he was greeted with an empty field with some trees in, and so decided to camp out in a tree. It was surprisingly easy to climb and comfortable.

After 10 minutes, the Jack glided down to the ground, and Marco hopped out of his tree, in case it was blown up while he was still there. When he got out, Ace did a double take at his sudden appearance, while Tori screamed. And then got laughed at by the other two people there, because his reaction was funny as hell.

“Hey! I have every right to be surprised! People don't just pop out from nowhere like that!” Ace agreed, but still laughed anyway.

Marco then explained he had been sitting in a tree for the last 10 minutes waiting for the two to arrive, and that if they were actually looking they would’ve seen his bright blue and yellow hoverbike about 10 metres from said tree. The two looked to where Marco was pointing at his hoverbike, which was exactly as described, and had the decency to look sheepish. Once Marco was done chuckling at their expense, Ace asked,

“So, would you like a tour?” Marco agreed, and they spent a good half an hour going through everywhere inside the Jack, with Ace and Tori checking everything worked, and Marco seriously feeling like a deadweight.

That feeling stopped when they reached the cockpit, and Marco gasped in awe. The inside was bright red compared to the grey of everywhere else. In the centre there were two chairs, one with Ace’s name on it, the other with Tori’s. Ace’s had two joysticks, one on each side. Tori had a set of buttons which slid round when he sat down to come in front of him. There was another joystick with a large button next to it, then a series of smaller ones underneath it, labelled flamethrowers.

Ace was standing next to him, a smirk plastered on his face. “You like it? It was my design, and I got the guys to help me make it!” His face lit up with nostalgia, then dimmed again. “But that was before…”

“Stop talking like we’re dead!” Tori interrupted Ace’s nostalgia from the other side of the cockpit.

“Sometimes I still hear their voices…” he trailed off, and Marco suppressed the urge to laugh. These two acted a bit like Benn and Shanks, their antics were pretty similar after all. There was enough of a difference between Ace and Shanks that Marco could fall in love with one of them though. Heavens forbid he fell for Shanks! He would forever be ashamed by his bad tastes then!

“Anyway, you want a go?” Ace’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

“If you would -yoi.” Ace nodded and left the cockpit to set some things up, and Marco got into his chair. Tori got into his, because apparently it needed both sears filled to lift off. Marco then eased the Jack upwards, marvelling at the smoothness.

Not that the Phoenix wasn’t smooth, there was just a point where he and Thatch were shoved violently into their seats as it kicked off. Marco had been tensing in preparation, but it never came, which he was glad for.

Ace had placed some targets around the field, aided by his own hoverbike which had come from… somewhere. According to Tori, they were going to fly past each and shoot it with the lazer. Marco set off for the one furthest away at top speed, to test it out. It was much faster than he had expected, and a trip that from his estimates would’ve taken about 10 seconds only took 6. Tori just about fired at the target before they were onto the next one.

Marco turned a sharp curve and the Jack was flipped on one side for a while. During that time, 3 of the targets were hit, and a loud laugh, almost reaching a cackle, had erupted from Marco. It was fun pulling stunts in not just the Phoenix. After all, if one got too accustomed to one thing, they developed problems that they wouldn’t notice otherwise.

Marco righted the Jack, only to double back on himself to avoid a tree, flipping the mech upside down. Tori was having a visibly difficult time shooting the targets now that he was doing it much faster than he was used to and upside down to boot, so Marco lowered the Jack to a bit nearer the floor. That way the lazer was closer to the place it would normally be when the right way up. Tori was a bit better after that.

Once the last target was destroyed, Marco landed the Jack and lowered the ramp so that Tori could get out quickly. He followed behind the vaguely motionsick electrician at a more leisurely pace.

“So? How’d I do -yoi?” Marco asked, a hint of smugness in his tone.

Ace seemed torn between playing it cool and fanboying for all he was worth. Eventually the cool side cracked, and Ace spewed words at him.

“Uh, a bit slower -yoi? I couldn’t hear any of that, sorry.”

“Oh, sorry. Well, are you sure you haven’t done anything like this before, because all the moves you made with the Jack looked really damn precise! Also, how did you get it on one side so fast? It took me ages and ages to do that, then you just come in all of a sudden and do it straight off the bat! Also, I think you broke Tori. He looked really green when he got out…”

“Oops -yoi? I guess I got a bit carried away there, sorry. Thatch can normally take it, so I forgot to tone it down -yoi. As for your question… well, let’s just say I have a lot of practise with flying and drone controls,” Ace looked suspiciously at Marco, but shrugged it off.

“Ha! And Sabo says having you as my authority on mechs is stupid!” Any good mood Marco had had was immediately dampened by that one throwaway comment. That’s right. Sabo. The guy he could never measure up to in Ace’s eyes.

“Yeah, well, thanks for having me -yoi. You know where to find me if you need me!” Marco waved as he walked over to his hoverbike and flew away, leaving Ace mildly confused.

(Behind a tree, Tori saw the whole scene unfold. The situation really was dire if Marco got depressed from one mention of someone’s name. He texted Thatch about the problem which was spiralling out of control. He hoped Thatch sorted it out soon enough. The two dumbasses deserved to be together, after all.)
——
Marco returned to his apartment later that day, disheartened by that one mention of Sabo. His solution, of course, was to play Ultimate Adventure while eating pizza and beer. He had been at it for an hour at least when his door opened. Not by force though, which prompted him to call out, “What is it, Thatch -yoi?” Thatch, for some unknown reason, was the only person with Marco’s house key except Marco himself.

“Well, you seemed down, so I came to check up on you. So, you ok?” Thatch asked.

“Not really -yoi. You know Ace? I think I might be in love with him -yoi. Great guy, funny, and also cute when embarrassed, which is always good to look at. But one problem -yoi. He has a boyfriend, called Sabo, which sounds familiar from somewhere—“

“Marco!” Thatch interrupted, only to be ignored.

“And I’ve literally never seen Ace happier. So I guess I’m just crushing on this one really damn hot guy who also happens to have a boyfriend -yoi. I mean seriously. Why him, why not me? Sure, I’ve only known Ace for a couple of weeks but still why?”

“Marco! Li-” Thatch was cut off again.

“Not to mention whilst I'm going through this I now have to work with Sabo every day and pretend to be nice when I'm really breaking inside. Then Ace comes in twice a week and it's so obvious he's in love and I just have to stand and watch and it's killing me -yoi. Seriously Thatch.” He sighed despondently.

“MARCO! Ace doesn’t have a boyfriend! Sabo’s his brother! Seriously! I’ve been trying to get you to listen the entire rant-thing you just went on!” Thatch yelled. Marco blinked twice, then regained his senses.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me earlier then? I spent ages being depressed over this! Now get out before I kick you out of this window!”

Thatch left, as he didn’t want to be kicked out of the 5th storey window, and Marco had a small party in his room to celebrate Ace being single. Thatch tried to come back in, but Marco kicked him down the hall.

All in all, a good end to a Saturday.

Chapter Text

What the hell had been up with Marco? He had been perfectly fine the whole time, even seeming to have more fun than strictly necessary when flying around. Seriously, where did he learn to do all that? It was so well done he could’ve been a flying mech pilot himself… but that was impossible, right? He knew all of his fellow supernovas and none of them had an aerial mech except Sunny, and none of the old-timers covered their face. 

 

But then again, Marco always had that beanie on, didn’t he? He probably had really distinctive hair underneath it. Like… the pilot of the Phoenix! Whose name was also Marco! 

 

How had he not realised this earlier? Marco had the worst disguise in the world! But the press hadn’t figured it out either. That made him feel a bit better about himself.

 

Ok, next question: If Marco was the Phoenix pilot, who was his co-pilot? Actually no, that was a stupid question. Thatch had to be Marco’s co-pilot. Earlier, he had mentioned that ‘Thatch can usually take it’. So Thatch was that guy with shoulder-length hair? Cool. At least he had thought of a cover name, unlike someone

 

Anyway, he had to talk to Marco. Right now.

——

It was a peaceful day at the Wyvern. Well, it was until Ace stormed in. 

 

“MARCO! WE NEED TO TALK! NOW!” Marco walked over, noticeably confused. Thatch whispered at the two to go sort out their lover’s quarrel, to which Marco hit him.

 

They walked out into a back alley. Ace started speaking as soon as they were out of hearing range.

 

“So, when were you going to tell me you and Thatch pilot the Phoenix?” Marco sputtered for a couple of seconds, then regained his demeanour.

 

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it -yoi… I’m sorry for forgetting to mention it to you. If there’s anything I can do to make up for it, I’d be happy to do so -yoi.” Ace considered asking Marco to kiss him, but decided against it.

 

“Hmm… how about free meals for two weeks?” Marco visibly paled, no doubt imagining the dent in the profit they would make.

 

“Ok, fine -yoi. But just you. Your friends will still have to pay for their own -yoi.” Ace agreed, and they shook hands over the deal.

 

“Oh, one thing -yoi. If you want, ring me and I can get the Phoenix out for you. Consider it returning the favour -yoi. Now, are you coming inside for food or what?”

 

The two walked back inside, unaware that Thatch had seen the entire conversation, and was fully planning on harassing Marco about it in the foreseeable future.

——

“So… you have a date then? Hmm?” Thatch asked as the two left the Wyvern later that night.

 

“No, it’s not a date -yoi. I asked Ace to text me when he felt like flying Phoenix. After all, he let me fly Jack -yoi. Brilliant handling, but we are faster, plus their co-pilot is a bit inexperienced at speed shooting. We’d probably beat them if we fought now -yoi.”

 

“So… it’s the prospect of a date without actually having a date for said date?”

 

“I’m considering it as such, but I doubt Ace sees it the same way -yoi. So we’ll stick to it being me repaying a favour for the minute.” Thatch sighed. His brother, for all he was smart with tactics and the like, was completely useless when he came to feelings of any sort. At least he was competent enough to figure out his own emotions. Now he just needed to work on everyone else’s.

 

“Plus, drop some hints, heaven knows you aren’t going to see if the guy likes you by sitting around like a lemon!” Thatch emphasised. Marco groaned, and reluctantly agreed. 

 

“Fine, but please leave now. I have an event to get to in Ultimate Adventure -yoi. After disappearing for a year, my guild needs me, even if most seem to think I’m an idiot.”

 

“So do I, personally. Which guild are you in, by the way?” Thatch questioned. He was also a player of Ultimate Adventure, and was curious to see if he’d encountered Marco before.

 

“WBP -yoi. You?”

 

“The same… So, does that mean that you’re… no, of course you are. Seriously are all cover names and disguises you make up that simple? MarcoFenwick105. How did I not see it earlier? Plus the avatar is almost the same as you, but with more eccentric clothing. Aargh, I’m so stupid!”

 

“That you are, but my disguises rely on the stupidity of others -yoi. And it’s worked so far, hasn’t it? You didn’t discover who I was after almost 10 years knowing each other in-game, and the press haven’t worked out who I am when all I do is not say my surname and wear a beanie -yoi. Isn’t that right, Twin-Blade?”

 

Thatch growled under his breath. He hated it when Marco was right, then flaunted some random knowledge he shouldn’t know at him, “Well… I guess… But still, how long have you known?”

 

“Since you referred to yourself as Thatch in the chat box. 9 years ago, by the way -yoi.”

 

“I really am stupid.”

 

“Yes, yes you are -yoi. Geisha-Marvel thinks so too. They think you should hurry up and fuck them already, but don’t tell them I said that -yoi,” Marco responded.

 

Thatch stared out of a window in confusion. “How the hell am I supposed to fuck someone if I don’t know who they are?”

 

“You go figure that out for yourself -yoi. I’m gonna get on now, so if you wanna join get in your own room and join the event!”

 

Thatch left, with one question on his mind: How had this pep talk turned into a conversation about his own love life and video games?

——

Tori sighed. Ace was confusing. He’d come rushing into his apartment a few minutes ago, and was now devouring the contents of his fridge without thought that Tori did also need to eat. He’d asked what was wrong, and he’d simply said, “I get to ride Phoenix!” And continued eating.

 

“Hey! Hang on! What do you mean you get to ride Phoenix? Ace? What the hell?” Ace ignored him, until Tori went to the fridge and locked it. The fridge had four separate locks on it, so it would take anyone a while to open.

 

Tori slammed the door shut, turned off the lights and brought over the desk lamp he had bought for this specific purpose. He switched it on, and shone into Ace’s eyes, which distracted him from his food.

 

“Now Ace, you are going to answer my questions. Is that clear?” Ace nodded.

 

“Ok, how did you get a ride in Phoenix?”

 

“Well, I found the pilot, and in return for him not telling me about himself, I get free meals at the Wyvern for two weeks plus a ride in Phoenix, whenever I want it!”

 

Tori was shocked at that, and asked,“So, who is the pilot?”

 

“Marco, actually. That explains why he was so good in the Jack. He said that the piloting was him returning the favour, and I’m counting it as a date. Even if he doesn’t…”

 

Tori sighed. Forget about confusing, Ace was oblivious. This was definitely a date, even if Marco was useless in asking.

 

“Well, you should probably confirm if it is a date then. Ask, or… I dunno, flirt with him?” Ok, he was just as bad with suggesting things. 

 

Why was he trying to get the two together when he was just as confused as both of them?

———

Tori

Thatch: Heyy        (22:03)

 

Thatch: We need a plan          (22:03)

 

Thatch: I’m confused           (22:04)

 

Thatch: Helllp!            (22:05)

 

Tori: Me as well                  (22:18)

 

Tori: Meet up tmrw?                   (22:18)

 

Tori: Or tonite?                   (22:19)

 

Thatch: Tmrw             (22:20)

 

Thatch: Marco knew who I was in-game for 9 yrs! And I knew nothing!       (22:21)

 

Tori: Poor u. Nite.                   (22:21)

——

Thatch sighed as he put down his phone. Such unsympathetic friends.

 

If Tori had known Ace for 10 years on a game and maybe flirted once or twice or several times only to find out the person was his best friend (and also brother), how would he feel?

 

Though this did explain why Marco had only flirted back when he did it the first year. Afterwards he was probably screen-recording so he could laugh at Thatch later.

 

But anyway, Marco had set up a potential date, and that meant he just had to be there to spy on him. And that meant he needed a plan.

 

Okay… so, the date was going on inside Phoenix, so he couldn’t just waltz in, he had to be sneaky. Plus he had Tori as a partner-in-crime, so the two lovebirds (punny) would just have to prepare for trouble, and make it double.

 

No, wait a second. He was a co-pilot with Marco , and Marco was nothing if not overly suspicious of people losing stuff. Meaning he had another headset (or maybe two) around somewhere in his room. Thatch could eavesdrop on them if he was in close enough range. Plus if he had binoculars he knew exactly where the two compartments were, and where their windows/portholes (in the case of the gun turret) were located, so could spy through those. Not at full speed, but otherwise, he’d have a pretty good view of whatever was going on in there.

 

Perks of knowing the place Marco was taking his may-as-well-be-boyfriend almost better than Marco himself. Almost because Marco designed the thing and he couldn’t beat that level of intimacy.

 

Now for a disguise that would allow him to come in close enough to get the radio signal and see the two. Hmm…

 

Thatch stayed thinking for about 3 minutes, then gave up. He’d ask Tori tomorrow. For now… well, sleep was important folks!

——

The next morning the two met up at the Wyvern at stupid o’clock. 

 

“So, I have a way to see and hear them on their date, if we get close enough. The problem, as you may have guessed, will be getting close enough.” Thatch explained.

 

“Okay. So, where does Marco normally fly Phoenix? That’ll give us an idea of where we need to be to see them. Also what were you planning for hearing them?”

 

“Well, Marco is overcautious to say the least, so I have at least one spare headset for the Phoenix inside my house. Also he normally flies in this massive field with a small wood in the corner. One of the trees near the entrance he had dubbed as ‘his’, and he sits in it waiting for me to arrive generally.” It was true, and once Marco had kicked him out of his tree for simply being there.

 

“Okay, I know the one. It’s the feild next to where we took Jack for the test, I think. Marco jumped out of a tree then as well, though he didn’t mention it was ‘his’.” Tori mused, “and as for disguises, we can spin a little bit of the truth in, say we’re interested in the nature of the creatures in the field -cough cough Ace and Marco cough cough- and doing a survey. After all, a bit of truth does make a lie more convincing!”

 

“Or… I have a better idea, plus it’ll be more funny for us as we do it!” Thatch smirked, and confided his plan to Tori, who nodded like an overexcited kid at the idea.

 

“We do need to notify the group about this, though. Should we send some videos of what we find?” Tori asked.

 

“Yeah we should… how about doing them in three-minute bursts?” 

 

“Sounds good.” And so, the plan was confirmed.

 

“So, now that’s sorted, breakfast?”

——

Marco was growing tenser as time ticked by. Ace had asked for this day two days ago, surely he hadn’t forgotten?

 

He was tempted to hop out of his tree and begin pacing when he heard two slightly-off Eiffelian accents floating up to him.

 

“I still theenk we vill have a better chance of actually spotting any eef ve go up a tree to see zem!” One voice, quite nasally, sounded. The other sighed then relented.

 

“Vell then ve’ll check your vay, and vhen it is vrong i shall laugh!” This voice was slightly more melodical, and from what Marco could see it belonged to the shorter of the two men.

 

The two, dressed in greens, browns, and khakis, started to climb up his tree. Which he was fine with, as long as they understood the rules in the tree.

 

“Why hello gentlemen. What a surprise to see you here,” he said goodnaturedly, but with a slight sinister undertone (or at least, he thought he did). The men nearly fell out of the tree in surprise. They probably weren’t expecting anyone else in ‘the tree’. Well, they were wrong, weren’t they?

 

“Ah, monsieur! Ve vere not expecting you either, sorry for ze interruption. ‘Owever, ve need a base of operations for our… ah, how you say it? Stake out! You see, ve are on the trail of a very mysterious bird, the piña fuerte. It is very rare, and ve heard it was around here, so please sir, lend us your tree, at least until you are finished with what you are doing,” the silver-tongued, melodical one said, and surprisingly it was the (much) taller male. The height difference was almost the same as Thatch and Tori’s. Hmm…

 

“Fine, I will give you my tree for the time being, but as soon as I am gone, you two are as well, no exceptions unless you see the thing. You got it?”

 

“Sir yes sir!” The two both did garbled versions of the marine salute. Marco thought it fitted them.

 

“Good.” And he plopped from the tree, just in time to see Ace pull up on his own hoverbike.

 

“Hey Ace! You ready?” 

 

“Yeah, if we can start straight away! C’mon, gimme the tour!” Ace was practically vibrating in excitement, so Marco showed him in, hiding the spurt of joy that flooded through him with Ace’s grateful smile.

 

(Outside, the two ‘birdwatchers’ ripped off their disguises and began setting up their spying equipment, plus the phones they were using to send videos. Thatch had the headset set up, and Tori had a pair of binoculars mounted on the branch in front of him.

 

“Marco has pretty good taste in trees, this one’s so spacious,” Thatch said as they finished, then leant backwards and nearly fell out as there were no branches where he had leant. Tori laughed so hard he almost did the same)

 

Marco had never had to tour the inside of Phoenix before, so he went through doing what Ace had when he was invited into the Jack. Ace seemed torn between marvelling at the design, and worrying about how parts of it were staying together. At 

times, Marco couldn’t blame him.

 

“Ok, so -yoi. Here is my cockpit, Thatch’s is somewhere else. I’m sure you’re familiar with how this type of piloting works, so I’ll leave you to it -yoi. Comms are on, so just speak and I’ll hear you. Just wait ‘til I’ve said I've sat down before doing anything please -yoi.” Marco’s voice held a twinge of concern at the end. Once Thatch had piloted when he hadn’t been in his seat, and he had been flung all over the shop until he landed, suffering some pretty bad injuries.

 

The recovery time was insane. Why would you need two months before you are allowed to walk, even with the cast on?

 

He reached the co-pilot seat, and gave the go-ahead sign to Ace, who pulled off the floor.

 

Marco then had one of the most impressive out-of-body experiences ever.

——

Tori whistled from where he was perched in Marco’s tree. “With that amount of good piloting, I can see why you guys are the top of the league!”

 

Thatch laughed at him. “Haven’t you been listening to the comms? That’s not Marco piloting! Plus, Phoenix can go a lot faster than that. Marco designed them for speed, not armouring, after all,” his voice still held quite a lot of mirth in it.

 

“Of course Phoenix can go faster than that… should’ve known, what with the way Marco wasn’t fazed by Jack’s top speed. And I never knew Ace was that good. He’s been holding out on me!” 

 

Thatch stopped laughing and started observing Phoenix’s movements, “ Well, Marco has always been an adrenaline junkie, for all it doesn’t look it. And damn right Ace has. He’s pulling off Marco’s stunts first time, almost like… he’s practised them on a more complicated system!” He muttered under his breath, “Well, Ace sure was a fanboy, wasn’t he?” 

 

Thatch returned back to normal volume, “Seriously, Marco must be having the time of it. These are all his moves, done to near perfection. Wonder how he’s coping…”

——

Marco was dealing with it by sitting back and enjoying the experience of someone knowing his moves so well they could nearly replicate them, whilst also worrying about that same person being able to beat them in a mech fight because of their knowledge.

 

Phoenix swooped down in an angled arc, landing on the floor, then pushing off straight into the air, talons extended. Marco had pushed the button which locked the claws into place by force of habit, and now he could hear the air being forcibly moved out of the way. A mad laugh escaped his lips. He hadn’t had so much fun not flying his own mech in ages!

 

Ace then pulled a tight right turn before turning into a dive and pulling up at the last second, narrowly missing the tree the two bird-watchers were in. Marco would have cared more, but at the minute he was too far gone into euphoria. A couple more minutes of Ace owning the skies with him as a willing eye-witness, and they were back on the ground. He skipped up to the main cockpit, and sauntered in through the ‘doorway’. (There was no actual door).

 

“Well, I’ve got to say, that was some impressive flying there -yoi.”

Chapter Text

“Well, I’ve got to say, that was some impressive flying there -yoi.”

 

Ace was pretty certain he looked like a tomato at that moment. It seemed to be happening a lot lately. He could feel Marco’s gaze bore into him with the intensity of… well, a flight in Phoenix.

 

“Ah, um, thanks?” He stumbled. Dammit, Ace, now is not the time to turn into a 13-year-old schoolgirl!

 

But he was not listening to himself, unfortunately. Marco simply chuckled. It was a deep and yet silvery sound, like church bells, or maybe he was just being optimistic again. How could he tell? There also seemed to be a faint smell of citrus coming from the man, now he thought about it. Like lime, or perhaps pineapple. Maybe it came from the hair?

 

“It’s not a question -yoi! Anyway, you seem to have gone all red. Are you ill -yoi? Or is it something else?” 

 

“Well, it’s just reaally hot in here you know. So hot I feel the need to strip. You don’t mind, do you?” It was always polite to ask someone if you could strip inside their property, after all.

 

“Well no, I don’t -yoi. But I must say, if you have an aversion to hotness, then I’m afraid we won’t be able to do things like this together anymore.”

 

“Well yeah, that is true..” Then Ace caught up to what he had just said. “I mean, it’s not! But it kinda is, I guess… Err… can we be friends anyway?” Portgas D. Ace, achieved an A* in messing stuff up!

 

Marco chuckled again, the citrus scent permeating off him again. Maybe only his mouth was citrus-y? Later, he’d have to investigate… not by kissing, no! That would be inappropriate! He’d do it by… sampling the air… with his nose… okay that was just as bad.

 

Marco then trailed a hand down his arm. “Well anyway -yoi. What do you say I ride y- take you for a ride? It’ll be worth it, I promise -yoi. Just, ah, if you’re a little prone to vomiting, tell me. Or I’ll go at the top speed without knowing, and that would make me feel bad about it -yoi.” Ace agreed, and Marco showed him down into the secondary weapons cockpit.

 

“Buckle in -yoi. It’s going to be one hell of a ride!”

——

Thatch nearly fell out of the tree at Marco’s verbal slip-up.

 

“It’s not that surprising, surely. Everyone slips up from time to time!” Tori reasoned, a face of ‘you’re-overreacting-you-idiot’ showing.

 

“Yeah, but not Marco! He’s always voice-perfect, and poker-faced! Hell, the last time I saw him trip on words was when he was 7! He is a lot older than seven now!”

 

“I guess that’s a good sign then? That he did? Or perhaps not?” Tori asked. He had no clue.

 

“Honestly, I don’t know. It could be, or perhaps not… maybe?”

 

This particular video clip sparked a massive debate on ‘Marco’s Boyfriend’ on whether or not the slip-up was a good thing.

——

Ace thought his own mech was fast, then he piloted Phoenix. He then thought Phoenix was fast, then Marco piloted Phoenix. He was so very glad for seatbelts at this moment.

 

Marco swooped down and Ace felt his stomach fly up to his mouth. It was strangely satisfying.

 

“Marco, can you slow it down a bit?” He near-yelled through the comms, and Marco slowed down, but not far enough that it came out of the speed range known as ‘breakneck’. It was called that for a reason!

 

It wasn’t helping that the comms went two-way, and Marco kept letting out slightly deranged chuckles.

 

Despite being flown around by a quite-possibly mad person, Ace found he was enjoying the experience. The Phoenix was a bit bumpier when flying, but he guessed he was spoiled by the Jack. Marco had obviously gone to lengths to make sure this thing could fly well, and if that meant having a few questionable infrastructure points, he could live with that. Especially since he wasn’t piloting.

 

All too soon, the ride was over and Ace found himself getting out of his seat and promptly falling on his face as the world stopped spinning. Oops… he forgot standing up too quickly did that.

 

When he reached the exit of Phoenix, he was met with the strange sight of Marco kicking two people out of a tree. The two appeared to be bird watchers, which seemed a bit pointless when there was Phoenix flying around and disturbing everything, but to each their own.

 

“Hey Marco! Thanks for the ride! I gotta go now, but see you around!” He yelled, and Marco said it was no problem, and see him around as well.

 

He jumped on his hoverbike, lovingly called Striker, and sped off, missing Marco’s staring at his toned back muscles.

——

“I am honestly unsure how that went, perfectly or horribly,” Thatch remarked as he and Tori left the field.

 

“Well, me neither, so that makes two of us. What happened in there?”

 

“Let’s agree to leave it alone for now. What’s the next mech fight coming up?”

 

“Oh! It’s Luffy’s! I need to get Ace’s ticket!” Tori yelled. Thatch cringed under the loudness of Tori’s exclamation, and some birds (which they hadn’t seen, despite being ‘birdwatchers’) flew from the hedge next to the two.

 

“Well then… I guess we have date no. 2!” Thatch cheered.

——

Marco sighed contentedly. Yesterday’s not-really-a-date-but-it-was had gone well. Unfortunately today had no such niceties: he had to go back to work. He walked into a bakery before arriving and got himself breakfast. A croissant did nicely when trying to eat fast.

 

“Marco! Marco! Hey! I have a mission for you!” Thatch ran up to him as he entered the Wyvern.

 

“What is it -yoi?”

 

“Well… the Going Merry vs. The All Blue match is on Wednesday. Now, I want to go, as the Merry is supposedly very good, but alas! I have to take care of this place! So I want you to go for me. Can you? I’ve got a ticket for you and everything!” Marco sighed. Thatch was adamant about this, and secretly he had wanted to go too.

 

“Sure -yoi. Now stop, you’ll make me drop my croissant.”

——

“Hey Tori! You got the ticket?” Ace asked as soon as he saw Tori.

 

“Yup! Got one of the nice ones, middle of the stadium. You should be able to see the whole fight from there. Plus, Luffy’s gonna be there, it’s his fight after all, and you know what that means?”

 

“Hunt him down!”

 

“Exactly! Now this is for Wednesday so remember you’re not working that day!”

 

“Will do!”

——

Sabo smiled softly as he saw the ticket he had bought. It had been ages since he’d had a break that he could watch one of Luffy’s -or Ace’s- fights in. Thankfully Thatch was a kind boss, and so he could watch. He was looking forward to this!

——

Thatch and Tori high-fived as they walked into their secret meeting place. It was in fact the small storage cupboard in the Wyvern, but nobody except Thatch was allowed to access it, not even Marco.

 

“So, Plan Accidental Seating is go!” Thatch exclaimed.

 

“Yeah, but we may have hit an unexpected roadblock. Sabo’s going as well.”

 

“Ah, so that’s why he wanted a break on Wednesday! We need a sign, wait a minute.” Thatch returned with a well-used sign. It read:

 

‘Due to around half of staff watching today’s mech fight, service will be slow. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.’ 

 

“Well, that’s an appropriate sign. So, disguises!” Tori said, moving very quickly off the topic of why there was such a specific sign in the back of the Wyvern.

 

“Marco didn’t notice us before, he won’t now. For someone so perceptive, he sure can be an idiot sometimes.”

 

“That can be said for Ace as well, unfortunately. We have two idiots -when it comes to others’ feelings- in love!”

 

“And two overworked wingmen trying to get them together!” Thatch agreed. “So birdwatchers?”

 

“Birdwatchers.”

Chapter Text

Ace sat down in his seat, practically buzzing with excitement. Tori had been right, he could see everything!

Luffy was setting up on the right, with the help of Chopper. They were currently running the weapons checks. He tried to hold in his pride at Luffy being on the same level as him… and failed miserably.

Zoro and Sanji were on the left, and instead of the All Blue’s weapon check, they were doing their own. A fight had broken out for some reason or another, and Zoro had all of his swords out. Sanji was kicking them away gracefully, but the two were eventually pulled apart by a scared-looking assistant. Ace pitied the kid. If a strike hit, both of the two could accidentally kill someone.

“Excuse me, sorry,” a voice said from next to him. Ace looked up to see who it was, whilst tucking his knees in to the best of his ability. It was Marco!

“Hey! Marco! Where are you sitting?” He said, though it may have been quite loud, as Marco started for a second.

“Ace? Fancy seeing you here. And I’m in…” Marco checked the ticket, “The one right next to you.” And sat down next to Ace.

It was then that Ace took in Marco’s appearance. He had a pair of denim-blue dress pants, and a pale blue long-sleeved shirt with the top button undone. He also had a navy blazer and instead of his normal beanie, a navy fedora. All in all, pretty damn hot.

“So where are you going after this? Must be somewhere pretty important to need this much style for it… are you a tap dancer on top of everything else?”

Marco chuckled. He didn’t seem to do much outright laughing, though maybe that was just a character trait. And the citrus smell was back. Where did it even come from?

“No, I’m not. Although I could try… maybe if Thatch fires me. I’m going to an opening ceremony for my brother. Well, he’s coming too but wanted the moral support. Plus I’m sort of being his model for the night.” Ace must’ve looked confused, because he sighed and said, “It’s a long story. We do have time though if you want to hear it.”

“I would, but later. The fight’s starting! And I can see Luffy in action! I haven’t seen him in a fight yet! It is a shame his first fight was Zoro and Sanji though, they’re a pretty bad matchup in terms of fighting style, amongst other things.” Marco nodded, then looked up to the announcer screen to see the specs.

The Going Merry: speed -100/120
armour -110/120
damage -80/120

The All Blue: speed -115/120
armour -90/120
damage -110/120

Ace frowned. Knowing Luffy, he would’ve gone much more for damage and speed than armour, much like Zoro and Sanji had. Then again, he did have a genius as a co-pilot, maybe Chopper had made the designs.

Actually no, Chopper had definitely made the original design. Luffy couldn’t draw. At all. He smiled at the thought of Luffy’s last drawing of him and Sabo, which had looked like a toddler had drawn it. They had stuck it on their fridge like it had been as well.

“What are you laughing to yourself about, I wonder,” Marco looked over amusedly, his tone almost mocking.

“Luffy’s amazingly useless drawing skills. They just popped in and stayed there, I guess.”

“How bad are his drawings? I doubt they could rival Fossa’s. For a guy who’s constantly making designs of one sort or another, his freehand drawings are awful! He tried drawing Haruta once and it looked like he’d drawn a blob with spiked parts! I don't think he’s quite lived that one down yet.” Marco also seemed to be reliving an amusing memory, and Ace didn’t quite have the heart to break his thought process.

“Well, if that’s the case then they’re on the same sort of baseline.” Oops. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped, him and his big mouth.

To his surprise, Marco let out a sort of trill of laughter. Ace was caught very much off guard. Marco’s laugh was like… well he didn’t quite know what it was like. Maybe the feeling of everything being right in the world, followed by citrus. Or maybe pineapple. Pineapple was a citrus fruit, right?

A roar from most of the crowd and a blaring siren snapped him out of his Marco-induced stupor enough to realise it was the start of the final check sequence.

——
Tori and Thatch, still dressed as birdwatchers, entered the stands just in time to see Ace’s expression after Marco’s laugh. Thatch nearly burst out laughing himself.

It was a mix of ‘wow, that sound was utterly amazing, I just want to bask in its presence’ and ‘Marco can actually laugh?’. Thatch had seen the latter expression many times, but what really set him off was that Marco was completely oblivious to the expression.

He snapped a photo and sent it, just to see how many people recognised the expression.

ThatchtheAmazing: (IMAGE FILE)
Who remembers this expression?
And how many of us have actually used it? ;)

Tori shook his head at him, and the two went to find their seats.
——

The All Blue jumped into the sky with a boom from the thrusters. Ace was awestruck at how high up it went. Franky really was an excellent mechanic.

(Meanwhile, Marco and Thatch were both in small states of shock. Haruta had been right. The All Blue could probably fight them on a level playing field if it so decided. Marco then took on a slightly crazed grin. That would be a fun fight indeed…)

(Thatch shivered after seeing the grin on his brother’s face. Nothing good ever came out of that grin. Ever.)

After hovering in the air for a few moments, the thrusters stopped, and the All Blue plummeted downwards towards the Merry. For a second it looked like there would be an impact, but Merry tilted to one side and fired a cannon into the… what’s the bottom of your foot called? The sole? Or was that just shoes?

Anyway, Merry fired a cannon into the bottom of the All Blue’s foot, causing it to lose momentum and fall elsewhere. Merry then charged in hooves blazing and kicked the All Blue. Or tried to. The mech jumped out of the way at the last second, and unsheathed the cleaver on its back.

Ace smirked. So now Zoro was in charge, was he? The two seemed to be working with each other better now than before, and he wondered what had happened. Maybe they just didn’t want to disappoint their ‘captain’ by fighting him half-assed.

The All Blue (and wasn’t it annoying to refer to as that? Ace was now going to call it Blue. Much simpler.) came back down towards Merry sword-first. Merry sidestepped the blow, but not the follow-up strike. It hit with a large clang and embedded itself about a foot inside Merry’s armour.

Merry fired a cannon which hit Blue in the chest. Blue fell backwards, and Merry geared up for another charge.

It pulled its head into its body and elongated its horns into sharp points. It then charged at Blue at full pelt (haha, punny). Blue was up on its feet, and moved as if to dodge, but before it did it was impaled on two sharp pointy horns.

The stadium erupted into cheers, none louder than Ace. Marco had to stop applauding after a while as he had to plug his ears so he didn’t become deaf via Ace.

(There were some other pretty loud people in the stadium giving Ace a run for his money, including a man with bright green spiky hair who was cheering for ‘Luffy-senpai’, a top-hat wearing blonde, and the most beautiful woman in the world. Thankfully the four loudmouths never met, or there would be a Luffy fanclub to rule all fanclubs.)

Once the stadium had quietened down, Marco turned to Ace.

“You know those guys in the tree when you were piloting?”

“Yeah, what of it?” This was unusual. From what he knew Marco didn’t just pick up on random topics as and when he felt like it.

“Well don’t look now but I think they’re following us.” Ace turned around, and was quickly hit on the shoulder.

“What part of don’t look now means turn around?”

“Uh… look now?” Marco sighed, muttering about not bothering with these idiots. “But anyway, despite your muttering, which I can hear by the way, those guys are not birdwatchers. At all. Whatsoever.”

“Well if they’re not birdwatchers, what the hell -no, who the hell are they?” Marco asked, a slight tone of irritation present in his voice.

“Thatch and Tori, of course! Are you stupid or what? Oh wait, stupid question, you didn’t realise so of course you are!”

“Well at least I’m not the only stupid one, Mr ‘stupid question’.” Marco sounded mildly put out. Hmm… “But the fact remains, why are they tailing us?” That was a good question, and Ace couldn’t think of anything, until he remembered a conversation he’d had with Tori.

“You know, I totally ship you and Marco. Did the flirting work, by the way?”

“No, not really. Then again I didn’t really try much…”

“Well, anyway. I ship you guys, so you need a ship name! MAce! Or perhaps MarAce! How about it?”

“MAce sounds like I can injure someone… I like it!” Tori shook his head.

“You are way too violent at times, you know that? But yes, MAce is a thing and I shall make it so!”

“Uhh… I don’t know. But both times it’s just been us right? Maybe they think we’re dating?” Both Marco and Ace chuckled in that slightly suspicious way which said, ‘ehehe… I want that to happen but I’ll pretend I don’t’.

“Dating? No way! We’re just really good friends, right?” Marco said, but his voice was pitched higher than normal, and he was scratching the back of his neck rapidly. Ace was getting mixed signals here…

“Yeah, of course.” That physically hurt to say. Ouch. “But, I think we need to get one back at Thatch and Tori. What say you?”

“I agree. Wanna come round to mine to do it? Later, of course, I need to do the modelling for Izo...” Marco asked. Ace felt his heart jump a bit in anticipation.

“Sounds good!”