“Come on, out with it,” Deuce said angrily, arms folded so tight across his chest that Ace was positive they were never coming undone again, “what the hell was that in aid of?”
Ace barely glanced up, unable to meet his first mate’s eye properly. He hated it when Deuce got angry with him – proper, genuine anger borne from concern, Ace knew only too well. Concern that he rather thought was ill-placed and not deserved in the slightest.
It wasn’t like him to mope, to be down and defeated so easily. But this came off the back of a string of humiliating, public defeats, after almost three months of having Whitebeard throw him clean off the deck and into the sea below, left at the mercy of whichever poor crewmember happened to lose at that day’s hastily thrown round of rock-paper-scissors. Only today, out of sheer rage more than anything, Ace suspected, Deuce had leapt in after him for a change, flinging his white medical coat off and casting his stethoscope away before diving off the side of the Moby.
“Is this a tantrum?” Deuce needled, determined to get a response out of Ace, it seemed, even though Ace’s body language clearly told him to get the hell out of the storeroom he was using as a base in their enemy’s camp. Or, rather, Ace reminded himself bitterly yet again, they weren’t Deuce’s enemy now. Not anymore. “Is this how you deal with things you don’t understand?”
“Fuck off,” Ace mumbled into his knees, drawing them tighter to his chest, “I’m not in the mood.”
“No, we’re doing this right now,” Deuce retaliated, and Ace closed his eyes in a bid to stop himself flaring up and attacking. “It’s one thing to attack Whitebeard day after day, but to go after Marco? Really? What did you think I’d do, suddenly change my mind and say, ‘sorry guys, my partner’s an idiot who can’t comprehend that I might know what’s best for us, so I’m going to go back to trying to kill you all with him’?”
“I’m not your partner anymore,” Ace hissed, “not since you decided to play happy families with the Whitebeards.”
The room went dark as Deuce slammed the door, shutting out the light of the corridor to the windowless storeroom. Flames sprung to life in Ace’s palm, illuminating the small room along with Deuce’s obvious anger.
“Yes, you are,” Deuce shot back, “we’re not over, not because of something like this.”
Ace huffed a mirthless laugh. “Something like this? You mean defecting isn’t a good enough reason to break up with someone?”
Deuce ignored him, this tangent not why he had come to speak to Ace when he was feeling vulnerable and embarrassed as he was. “Don’t go after Marco again,” Deuce warned, “he’s nothing to do with your dick-waving contest you have going on with Whitebeard. You can’t hurt him; you’ll only end up beaten into the deck again.”
Marco hadn’t gone easy on Ace when he’d launched what he thought to be a surprise attack on the commander. Marco, unlike Whitebeard, hadn’t simply batted Ace away like an irritating fly, sending him sprawling to the deck or thrown into the sea. No, Marco had beaten him down into the wooden floor on deck for all to see, scolded him like a naughty child in front of their audience, and then flung him overboard like a rancid piece of meat that wasn’t even fit for the garbage cans. The point had been to humiliate, teach him a lesson, and make Ace realise that no matter what he did, he was never going to get one up on anyone in this bizarre crew.
And Deuce, Ace’s first mate, Ace’s partner who he loved, despite everything that had happened in the last couple of weeks, was apparently taking Marco’s side.
Once a traitor, always a traitor.
“He’s got nothing that I haven’t,” Ace spat, “I’ll get him next time, you’ll see.”
“Nothing except an extra twenty years or so of experience,” Deuce snapped, evidently not thrilled to learn that Ace wasn’t going to give up on this new venture either, “and nothing except being level-headed enough to not throw himself at the nearest person he deems strong enough to flex at, unlike someone I know.” He paused, took a breath, and then asked, as if it were costing him tremendous effort, “this isn’t because of me, is it?”
Ace looked up at him at last, flames in his palm throwing Deuce almost entirely into shadow where he still stood by the door. “Because of you?”
“Because Marco’s mentoring me. Because he showed me that saving Whitebeard is imperative.”
Ace could have spat at him for figuring it out so easily. Was he really that easy to read?
And, clearly, the look on Ace’s face was all Deuce required as an answer. “Did you honestly think that was going to impress me?”
“I wasn’t trying to impress you,” Ace bit out immediately, “I was trying to—” He cut himself off, deliberately swallowing down words of proving himself in Deuce’s eyes. It was irrational, it was stupid, and Ace knew better than anyone that Deuce wasn’t one to be swayed by power. He hadn’t been able to help it, though; Marco hadn’t been doing anything to provoke an attack, and that was precisely the problem. “He stole you.” The words were hissed through clenched teeth before Ace could stop himself, exposing what he hadn’t even fully acknowledged in the safety of his mind before.
Deuce, to his horror, barked a short laugh. “No, he didn’t,” he said, “I joined them of my own volition.”
“Oh, that makes it so much better,” Ace rolled his eyes, anger flaring back up instantly. “What’re you wasting time in here for? You need to get back to your new crew, don’t you? So off you go, don’t let me keep you. Go get Doctor Birdbrain to teach you about aviation or whatever he’s doing.” It hurt to say such a thing, even in the haze of red anger that gripped him, and Ace wouldn’t have been surprised if he had welled up. He could stand betrayal – he’d faced it before, after all in the shape of a bounty hunter trying to join the Spades as a pirate, and while it had stung, it hadn’t threatened to choke him in the way this did. And, he remembered with a jolt, it had been Deuce who had thrown that traitor overboard by the neck, hadn’t it?
But Deuce ignored this command, instead crossing the small room to sink to his knees in front of Ace and lean in close, too close, parting Ace’s own bent knees with frightening ease and pressing up against him. Ace had never seen him so set, so determined before, not like this, never like this.
But Ace’s protest was cut short as Deuce kissed him fiercely, shoving him hard against the wall behind him and pressing flush to Ace’s chest. It felt good, and Ace moved instinctively, his unlit left hand tangling into Deuce’s hair to pull him in, gasping when Deuce nipped at his lower lip, licking into Deuce’s mouth with such vigor that his head swam.
But then his senses returned; Ace pushed Deuce away by the shoulder, gasping, “get off—” before being pulled in again, reciprocating the kiss with no hesitation and such ferocity that he was sure to bruise them both. Ace sucked Deuce’s lip between his own, finding purchase at his neck and digging blunted nails in, seeking to mark, to claim, to show that fucker first mate of Whitebeard’s that while Deuce might now be his doctor, Deuce would always be Ace’s everything else. Deuce gasped in pain but didn’t seek to break free, instead seizing Ace’s right wrist that held the flames and pinning it to the wall above his head.
“Just talk to Marco,” Deuce hissed, the words almost pleading, “or at the very least, actually listen to what Thatch has been telling you. If Whitebeard dies, their territories suffer. People will die. You can’t risk their lives just to justify your own.”
Fury coursed through Ace instantly, rendering him helpless to its blind impulses and slamming Deuce onto his back with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. Ace had him pinned before he could move, straddling his hips and holding him in place with his free palm to his bare chest.
“Fuck you,” Ace snarled, teeth bared, “I’ll surpass Roger, with or without you.”
“You’ll do it with me, like I promised,” Deuce gasped, scrabbling at Ace’s wrist where it pressed into his sternum, “just not this way. Why can’t you just—”
But what Deuce wished Ace would do, he never found out. He kissed Deuce hard, moving against him like a starving man falling on a lavish meal, thumb tucking between Deuce’s teeth to pry his jaw open. Deuce didn’t fight him, actually moaning into the kiss and fisting at Ace’s open shirt to pull him closer.
“You’re everything to me, Ace,” Deuce declared, breaking the passionate kiss with a tilt of his head back against the floor, “you know damn well you’re my only reason for living. So why can’t you get it into your head that I’m not against you? I love you, you fucking idiot.”
“Shut up,” Ace commanded, shrugging his shirt off and extinguishing the fire in his palm, drowning them in almost total darkness, “just shut up for like twenty minutes.”
“No,” Deuce argued, sitting up enough to allow Ace to almost rip his jacket from his shoulders, “I’m going to keep telling you I love you until you believe me.”
Whatever. Ace would like to see him try forming words around his tongue pressed down his throat.