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You Only Live Once

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“Never trust a man who used to be a feral jungle brat,” Thatch sighed to himself, “it will only end in tears. My tears, to be precise.”

Ace squirmed beside him, clearly uncomfortable. “Look,” he said, voice edging into desperate, “I said I was sorry. I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean—”

“You broke my fucking nose,” Thatch snapped, wincing as Marco dabbed at the blood that was congealing on his face, “you, my very own Sunshine Child, have turned against me and destroyed my beautiful face. The hell is wrong with you?”

You moved at the last second,” Ace huffed, trying to defend himself, “I was aiming for Douma, you know I was.”

Thatch whimpered in pain when Marco pressed the damp towel a little too hard against him. 

“I personally raise you, love you, shower you with my affections and transform you from this little ball of angst into a wonderful young man, and this is how you thank me. Well, you know what? No more midnight snacks for you. That’s right,” he added with a sideways glance at Ace’s horrified expression, “I’m serious. From now on, if I see you hanging around the kitchens after they’re closed, I’ll break your freckly nose.”

“Now hang on a minute, there’s such a thing as going too far, Thatch—”

“Oh, this is nothing, boy. You want to see me go too far? Do you? No dinner tonight for you. Nothing. And Marco, don’t you dare slip him anything; I’ll be watching you like a hawk.”

“You can’t do that!” Ace wheezed, shocked that his good friend would punish him so severely.

“Can’t I? Watch me.”

“Thatch,” Marco said quickly, cutting in front of Ace’s protest, “you are aware that I can heal the break, right? You don’t need to be so harsh on him; you’ll be fine once I clean you up.”

Thatch puffed out his chest indignantly. “Of course I know that,” he said, “but that’s not the point, Marco. The point is that he attacked me.”

“It was an accident!”

“Silence, traitor!”

“Oh my God, Thatch.”

 

Chapter Text

He has been gone for so long. The two-day mission had stretched out beyond two weeks, keeping him quarantined to the island that was fighting an outbreak of a particularly aggressive form of the flu.

The comms guy of the day who had taken his call home had laughed at him. “Seriously?” He had giggled, “you’re having trouble against the flu?”

Marco hadn’t had the patience to explain that yes, some strains of this thing had the ability to kill the healthy, and it was his damn job to make sure that didn’t happen.

But he was home now, and nothing mattered as he touched down on feet that flashed from bird to human in a flurry of flames. Not the comms man, not the islanders who were probably still celebrating their quarantine lift, and not the fact that his shoulders ached from having flown too far for too long, excited to get back.

The only thing that mattered right now was Ace, standing there among the crowd, his face shining brighter than the rest of the men put together. Ace, bouncing from one foot to the other as Marco descended, shoving his way to the front without a care for how he knocked into the others, his impeccable manners forgotten for the moment.

And Ace, flinging his arms around his neck with a grin, stepping in close.

The feel of Ace’s warm lips to his when Marco forgot himself in the blinding light of that smile, pulling him in by the waist and kissing him.

In front of everyone.

They broke apart when someone from the crowd wolf-whistled them, earning a chorus of rumbling laughter from the men. Marco snapped at them to shut up, yet he was unable to stop the grin from spreading across his face.

“You’re all just jealous because you wish it was you giving him his ‘welcome home’ kiss,” Ace laughed, tightening his hold around Marco’s neck and bringing them cheek to cheek.

“Can’t argue with that!” Someone shouted, raising more roars of laughter from everyone gathered.

“Think he mighta missed you, Commander,” a middle-aged man from the first division yelled through cupped hands.

“Did you?” Marco grinned, turning back to Ace, forehead to forehead, hands trailing patterns to the warm skin of the younger’s back.

Ace hummed, stroking his thumbs into the nape of Marco’s neck. “A bit. Maybe. Sort of,” he smiled.

Marco tilted to kiss Ace again, suddenly not minding in the slightest that they had an audience, or that said audience was whooping and cheering merrily for them.

Maybe he should go off on long missions more often…

 

Chapter Text

“I care about you! A lot! And when I see you running off into danger, it scares me. It makes me think of a world without you, and I don’t want to think about that, because it tears me to pieces. Maybe that makes me selfish, but I don’t care, so long as I get to be selfish with you!”

Ace stared at Deuce in shock, tankard in his hand all but forgotten. Deuce trembled where he stood, breath labored and teeth bared, daring Ace to laugh at him, to challenge his outburst and maybe put him in his place.

Only Ace never did do things like that. Not to Deuce, and not to anyone in their crew.

“A world without me in it wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” Ace said lightly, recovering from his surprise. “C'mon Deuce, just last night you were kicking off because I bothered you right in the middle of—”

“That doesn’t mean I want you gone!” Deuce snarled, fists balled. “All the stupid shit you pull, all the fights you leap into without a single regard for your own life - sometimes I can’t sleep at night, worrying about you! I have to stand outside your door and check you’re snoring in there before I can calm down! What would I do if you snuck away at night to go prove yourself in a fit of dumbassery, or—” he shoved a hand through his hair, turning the usual sleek locks rumpled and messy, “or what if you do something deliberate and I find you dead one morning?”

“Deuce, I would never—”

“I don’t know that!” Deuce shouted, and suddenly the seething anger gave way to something far more fragile and delicate, something that Deuce continuously did his best to keep wrapped up at all times. “I don’t know what goes on in your head, Ace, but it isn’t good! And I—” his chest heaved, fighting back a sob, “and I can’t stand the thought of you going looking for more than you can handle in the hopes that someday…”

Deuce sniffed angrily and tore his mask from his eyes to rub at them with his sleeve. Ace stood and moved to touch him, but Deuce shrugged away.

“Don’t,” he said, voice thick through his coat sleeve and tears. “I don’t need your pity.”

“How about my love, then?”

And Ace pulled him into a hug that was hotter than any Deuce had ever had, Ace’s bare skin burning, comforting, melting away the terror that had seemed to freeze his first mate’s heart solid.

“You’re welcome to be selfish,” Ace said gently as Deuce shook with barely repressed sobs. “In fact, I encourage it. You’re my voice of reason, Deuce. You keep me on the straight and narrow. I need to hear this from you. And you don’t have to worry.”

“Yes, I do,” Deuce cried into the curve of Ace’s neck, burying his face into that achingly familiar scent of his captain, “I can’t live without you, Ace. My life has no meaning without you in it. Don’t make me…” his voice cracked and he swallowed, “don’t make me have to face losing you. Don’t ever run off on your own like earlier again. Please.”

“I won’t die,” Ace consoled him, stroking warm fingers through his hair as his shoulder got wetter and wetter with Deuce’s tears, “I made a promise to Luffy when we were kids that I wouldn’t, so I won’t. Nice and simple.”

Deuce sniffed noisily against Ace and laughed weakly. “God, you’re an idiot.” As if that could ever protect anyone.

Ace huffed a silent laugh. “Your idiot, though.”

“My idiot.”

 

Chapter Text

“Those two,” Thatch muttered, leaning in so close to Deuce that their heads almost touched, “are insufferable. Don’t you think? I don’t think I’ve seen one without the other for… jeez, I can’t even remember anymore.”

Deuce followed Thatch’s nod over his shoulder. He glanced over to where Marco and Ace sat huddled together at a table not too far from their position at the bar, clearly deep in conversation and happily oblivious to the goings-on around them. 

Deuce took a sip of his drink before answering. If Thatch had only dragged him away from the chapter he was in the middle of writing to bitch about their best friends, then the chef would find himself lacking his chosen drinking partner very soon.

“Not really,” Deuce said, refusing to partake in Thatch’s constant whining about how Marco never paid attention to him anymore, “I think it’s great that Ace is so comfortable with Marco now. They seem to make each other really happy.”

“Hm,” Thatch didn’t sound convinced. “Marco does usually make a habit of trying to get the new recruits comfortable within the crew, but that role shoulda ended months ago. He stopped bothering you, like, the day after you accepted his offer to join, didn’t he? Well, Ace has been well-integrated for ages now. Still,” he cracked his shoulder, groaning at the relief, “could be worse, I suppose. They could be dating or something.”

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Deuce asked, genuinely surprised. “They’ve been together for weeks now.”

“They what?!” Thatch exploded, spilling beer all over the bar counter as he thumped his tankard down. “They are?!”

“Yeah,” Deuce said, alarmed at Thatch’s reaction, “how have you missed that? They’re always together, as you so crudely observed, and doesn’t Ace’s room share a wall with yours?”

“Oh my god,” Thatch moaned into his hands, “oh my god, Deuce, no, don’t put that image in my head, please.”

“I thought you knew,” Deuce admitted, “and that was why you were so annoyed with them all the time. Your crush on Marco is frighteningly obvious, by the way.”

“My what now?!” 

 

Chapter Text

They had promised they would stop this. This. Fanning the flame they held for each other, feelings running out of control and emotions rampant with need for one another. They had agreed, had they not, that this was to stop once their old crew was disbanded? That they would no longer indulge in each other, that whatever desires they had given into before, were gone, ended, and they would be professional and decent now?

And yet Ace had cornered him, and more importantly, Deuce had let him.

Unnaturally warm hands braced themselves against Deuce’s chest, and Deuce watched the way the Adam’s apple in Ace’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. He was too close, and this was too much for Deuce to be dealing with if Ace was just going to change his mind again at the last second.

All thoughts of protesting were wiped clean from Deuce’s mind when Ace pressed up against him properly, hips flush against Deuce’s, hands sliding upwards to tangle in his hair, possessive and tugging a little. Ace was hot against him, as he always had been, and everything about this felt so right.

“Ace,” Deuce gasped, unable to tear his eyes away from Ace’s – he was sure he wore the same expression as he, eyes lidded with something dark and dangerous, lips parted and shiny from where he had licked them nervously, “we can’t do this.”

Something in Ace’s eyes flickered, and Deuce yearned for it to consume him.

“I know,” Ace’s voice was barely more than a whisper, “it’s not good for us, being so reliant on each other.”

“Right. Exactly.”

Yet neither made any attempts to move. Ace’s pulse sped up against Deuce’s chest, his heart working frantically as they searched each other’s eyes for a hint that the other actually wanted this to stop, and Ace’s skin at his waist felt like it was heating up under Deuce’s hands.

“So,” Deuce swallowed, “you should probably… move away.”

Ace gave no indication that he was going to do so.

“You should let go of me, then,” Ace prompted quietly, but Deuce was also just as guilty for not doing as instructed.

Ace’s face was so close, mere inches from Deuce’s, his fingers continuously carding through his hair at the back of his neck, silently urging, pleading, for Deuce to dip his head, to move as they both knew he wanted to.

“I can’t do that,” Deuce admitted, merely a breath sighed, “I can’t let you go.”

“Then,” Ace’s lashes fluttered against his freckled skin, “we have a problem.”

Deuce didn’t trust himself to nod and bring Ace’s lips any closer. “We do.”

Oh, but how he wanted him. How Ace so clearly longed to have him back, too. How stupid this was, this self-imposed ban on the man who made Deuce feel like life was actually worth living. How, and why, had this even started? Who had decided, and when, that they needed to try and act like they weren’t desperately in love with each other?

Ace hummed as if in thought, but Deuce knew he had already made his mind up. Pushing his ex-first mate up against the wall of his shared bedroom had been no accident, and doing it when Ace knew full well that Deuce’s division were currently involved in a raucous drinking game on deck was without a doubt part of the plan. Ace would have known that Deuce had no intention of joining his men, taking himself to bed instead of pretending he was anything close to happy ever since he and Ace had broken off their relationship.

And Ace knew, had to know, that Deuce would never refuse him if he really, honestly decided that enough was enough.

“I want to kiss you, Deuce,” Ace murmured, and damn if that didn’t set Deuce’s blood ablaze in his veins, “but I can’t.”

Again, Deuce swallowed. “No, you can’t,” he agreed in a hushed voice, and despite himself and his ban on his love, he felt himself leaning in.

“This is bad,” Ace said so quietly he could hardly be heard, “so bad, Deuce. I can’t kiss you; it’s forbidden.”

Deuce groaned at Ace’s choice of words, noting with building tension within him how Ace angled his jaw ever so slightly, exactly in that same way that he used to do whenever he wanted Deuce to initiate a kiss.

“We’d be so angry with ourselves if we kissed.”

“Furious,” Ace agreed, “raging.”

“And we wouldn’t want that.”

“No, we wouldn’t. And imagine how mad we’d be if we ended up having sex right here in your bed.”

Deuce suddenly felt lightheaded. “Terrible,” he managed, although he felt like he was choking, “just awful. But what if—”

Lips crushed into his with such force that Deuce accidentally bit Ace, moaning into his mouth and pulling him in at the waist in a heartbeat. The feel of his heat against him again, Ace’s tongue slipping in without hesitation at the first chance he got, angling to deepen the kiss when Deuce sighed a shuddering moan against him – it was heaven, bliss, perfect, sensational bliss.

But they broke apart too soon, both gasping for breath, and Deuce was sure he was going to faint with relief. Finally, after months of their stupid breakup, their pointless ban, he had Ace as he had always belonged.

“Enough thinking,” Ace said after a second, pulling Deuce down again, “and kiss me again. I’ve missed you too much.”

They were idiots. Both of them.

 

Chapter Text

“This is an unusual move, even for you,” Marco commented, cocking a hip and looking up at his father. “Would you care to divulge why we now have twenty unconscious rookies taking up all the space in Infirmary A?”

Whitebeard rumbled a laugh, holding out his hand for his nurse to insert the cannula into his vein. His nurses had protested, as they always did, when he had ripped all of the IV drips out and headed off to deal with the mouthy brat himself. The mouthy brat who, even when faced with the likelihood of instant death at Whitebeard’s hand, had protected his crew and told them to leave without him.

“You know I’ve had my eye on that Fire Fist boy for a while, Marco,” Whitebeard said evenly, winking at his nurse when she frowned at him for being a terrible, disobedient patient, and really, who could blame her? Whitebeard didn’t make her job easy. “His crew are just as welcome here as he is.”

“I like how you neatly avoided the actual question,” Marco praised in a sarcastic, but not unkind, tone, “very nicely done. But you know that doesn’t work on me, Pops.” Whitebeard merely chuckled at Marco’s mild exasperation. “Why are there piles of unconscious pirates on my examination tables, taking up the whole room? Was that entirely necessary?”

Whitebeard scratched at his chin with a massive forefinger, eyes crinkling at the corners with his smile. “Kidnapping them was the only way I was going to get them here,” he admitted, and Marco sighed. “That captain of theirs isn’t the type to be swayed or won over with nice words. He was very rude to me when I asked him to become my son.”

“Gosh, I can’t even begin to think why.”

Whitebeard chortled at Marco’s words. “We’ll take the whole lot in, not just Fire Fist,” he confirmed, and Marco’s grin dropped, instantly serious. “Separating a devout crew such as them from their captain is not the way we work, after all. If the papers are to be believed, they are all simply lost souls who have banded together under the care of the most bereft of the lot. They could all use a loving family.”

“Okay,” Marco sighed again, “fine, we’ll take in all of the strays. I do wish you’d stop doing this, though. We always take in more than we can accommodate; we’re going to need another ship at this rate.”

Whitebeard’s eyes twinkled with the grin that stretched his lips. “Can I count on you to be the first person they see on waking? You know I like how people trust you so easily, son. You’ll be a far more welcome face than this old mug.” Whitebeard began to laugh but stopped abruptly - the sounds of angry yells, something breaking, and the unmistakable whoomph of fire igniting issued from down the corridor towards them from Infirmary A.

Marco heaved a sigh that seemed to draw his entire soul out of him. “So which idiot didn’t cuff the human bonfire?”

“Ah,” Whitebeard said, looking uncomfortable, “that would be my fault. I asked the men not to cuff any of them— makes for bad first impressions, don’t you think?”

“Seriously, Pops…” They were already so far beyond salvaging any impressions the Spades could have of them that Marco was actually amused that Pops had even considered this.

Whitebeard made to rise from his chair immediately. “Not to worry,” he said cheerfully, “I’ll see to it that the boy doesn’t cause anymore—”

“No, you won’t,” his nurse ordered, shooting their captain with the most severe look Marco had ever seen on her pretty features. Whitebeard sat back down at once, looking sheepish. “You’re staying right here and behaving yourself for a change, Pops. Marco can handle that kid.”

Whitebeard nodded obediently, and Marco was convinced that if any of their enemies saw him right now, they would be amazed at how easily his Pops could be taken down by nothing more than a pretty face. 

“Marco,” Whitebeard said with something of a whimper, “if you wouldn’t mind.”

Marco flashed him a grin. “Not at all.”

 

Chapter Text

He was cute like this. So cute, in fact, that Shanks almost couldn’t find it in himself to break away from him and leave him to grow cold in bed. The Red Force was bound to be preparing to leave the port by now, and if Benn’s threats were to be trusted then the crew would quite happily leave their captain where he was, held tight in the embrace of their rival’s first mate.

But this was the most vulnerable that Shanks ever saw Marco, where he was allowed to simply look at him and appreciate the man he had craved for his whole adult life. Where the furrow of a perpetual frown aimed at Shanks softened and the corners of his mouth were no longer down-turned in disapproval, instead giving way to a sight of total relaxation - something that Shanks wished he could awaken beside every morning, not just whenever their crews happened to be close to the same island.

With a glance at the clock on the wall, Shanks shuffled back down under the covers to slide into Marco’s body heat, curling his arm around Marco’s waist. He leaned in and, with a smile, pressed a gentle kiss to his enemy’s lips.

“Morning,” he whispered at Marco’s almost serene sigh, pecking another kiss to sleep-soft lips, "you sleep well?”

Marco didn’t reply, at least not properly, sighing something indistinct that didn’t sound like anything in any language Shanks had ever heard. He grinned as Marco mirrored him, flopping an arm of his own over Shanks to rest against his spine, and he took his chance again to place a kiss at the corner of Marco’s mouth.

“I need to head off now,” Shanks said gently, fingertips trailing little shapes to Marco’s back, eliciting a rolling shudder and the lightest of groans from the blond. “The men said we’re pushing off at first light.”

But Marco, for maybe the first time since they had started this game of dominance, this mutual understanding that they both sought and chased and needed, didn’t seem in any way ready to play ball. Marco snuggled in closer, tucking his chin in and nosing against Shanks’ collarbone, pressing a sloppy, sleepy kiss to it. Another tremor shivered up Marco’s spine at the tickle from those dancing fingers at his back, yet still he refused to wake up properly.

Ah, he didn’t want to do this. He so didn’t want to roll out of bed into the cold air and leave such a domestic scene. He had Marco how he always hoped he would wake to find him, and now he had to ruin it.

“Marco,” Shanks murmured into another soft, slow kiss, “we’ve become pretty close, wouldn’t you say? So how about it - are you ready to join my crew now or what?”

That did it.

Marco’s eyes flew open instantly, piercing blue and cold to the question that would never garner a favorable response. A lesser man would have quailed under that look; Shanks only shifted under the sheets with a swallowed groan, squeezing his thighs together.

“No?” Shanks smiled, goading. He leaned in, delivered a final kiss to hard-lined lips pressed together in irritation, and clambered out of the bed, shivering slightly as the air hit his bare body.

“At least think on my offer some more,” Shanks grinned as he pulled on his pants, not even trying to pretend that the sight of Marco sleepily attempting to retain some degree of anger in his expression didn’t fill him with something soft. It had taken so long for Marco to relax enough around him to allow himself to sleep, and even longer to stay sleepy the next morning rather than snapping awake, alert and adrenalized.

“Shut up,” Marco slurred; it was a mark of how comfortable they had become, the way the first mate didn’t feel the need to be fully lucid around the Yonko anymore.

“I miss you already,” Shanks singsonged, blowing Marco a kiss as he tugged the hotel room door open.

“Hope a Sea King gets you.”

“Love you, too.”

 

Chapter Text

His breath leaves him in a rush as his back slams against the wall, momentarily winded with the force of it. Fingers cup his jaw and hold him steady, hard enough to bruise, as the joining elbow presses sharp into his chest, reminding him of who is really in charge here.

“I must confess myself disappointed,” Shanks hisses, a cruel smile playing at his mouth as he leans in, keeping Marco pinned right where he wants him – Marco makes no move to fight it, despite how his eyes burn with challenge. “You let me dominate you so easily, pretty bird.” Hips press flush to hips, Shanks’ jaw angles, and Marco swallows the groan that threatens to give him away so completely.

“You leave me little choice,” Marco rasps, wholly intent on not appearing to give in, not fully, not like last time where he broke and he bowed and he bared his vulnerability so readily to the Yonko. “Tell me – would you actually kill me if I put up an honest fight?”

Shanks smiles into the kiss he lays to Marco’s lips, jaw still held firm between inflexible thumb and fingers, nails pinching as they dig into soft skin.

Drag me under. Wreck me. Use and defile me as you see fit.

“There’d be no sense in killing you, dear phoenix,” Shanks mouths against his rapidly heating cheek, moving against his body like the tide pulling at the shore; unrelenting, unforgiving, taking him away grain by tiny grain. “And you’re impossibly enticing when you fight back. When you bare your talons for me.”

Shanks’ eyes flash with hunger, alive and bright, when Marco moves, steps traversing the small room to shove Shanks up against his desk instead.

Lips slide together once again, Marco’s fist tangling in thick red hair at the base of Shanks’ skull as he pulls, hips canting forwards to ram up against the other man’s once more. A sigh is swallowed, delivered straight onto Shanks’ waiting tongue, as Marco’s every nerve buzzes and sings with the friction.

“Am I?” Marco smirks deviously against Shanks’ lower lip, teeth sinking into its full softness; the moan he elicits, unashamed and inescapable, “and here I was, thinking you liked to see me submit to you.”

“Oh, I do,” Marco really enjoys the way Shanks’ voice breaks just so, the barest hint of a gasp threaded through it, “there’s nothing better than having you think you’ve won, only to come apart at the seams under my hand.”

Do it. Break me. Destroy me. Slay me with your sharp tongue and pull me back from the brink again and again and again—

Shanks’ twitch is impossible to ignore, to miss, when Marco’s teeth sink into his neck, sucking to bruise, to mark, to claim while he still can. He trails them downwards towards his clavicle, fingers dipping low to stroke teasing over cloth dampened by Shanks’ excitement.

His instinct is to annihilate his attacker when Shanks’ hand pincers his neck, digits locating and pressing into his carotid arteries with terrifying accuracy. Marco’s head spins as their positions are reversed so easily, a grunt leaving him when he’s slammed down onto the floor, Shanks pinning him in a straddle.

And Shanks leans over him, a snarl curling his lip, rendering him feral and dangerous.

“But that’s only after I’ve worn you down to a fine powder.” The words are whispered to Marco’s parted lips, and Shanks punctuates his sentence with a firm, loveless kiss. “After you’ve given me everything you are. Then, after that, after you’re nothing, can you surrender to me.”

“Can you back up such a fine image you paint?” Marco’s hips roll up into Shanks’, mind growing foggy as blood struggles to reach his brain, cut off by those fingers nestled at his neck. “I won’t hold back, Red-Hair.”

“Don’t you dare,” Shanks moans into his mouth, “don’t you dare make this easy for me, Marco.”

Talons slice and splinter the wooden floor as his feet transform, anchoring him; blunt nails dig and prise at Shanks’ pants, pulling, twisting.

Ravage me. Consume me. Ruin me so completely that I forget my own name.

“I won’t.”

 

Chapter Text

Deuce loves him. 

Everything about him.

He breathes life into the darkest corners of the saddest, most dismal of minds, and he draws out the flickers of hope and happiness that he knows with complete faith resides within each one of the people he meets. He fans those tiny sparks, he works them until they are confident and brilliant and nothing short of a roaring fire responding to his care and kindness. And, oh, did they respond to him. Did they ever become better versions of the people that Ace found, transforming under his energy and good heart and breaking free from their shells to be reborn in his light.

Ace is perfect, both as he was when captain, and as he is now as commander.

Ace is Deuce’s entire life, his entire being.

And when he has Ace like this, soft and sleepy in his arms, hidden away in Ace’s room onboard the Moby Dick, Deuce cannot stop the waves, the tsunamis, of affection for the other man from drowning him. He doesn’t wish to, either. 

He thinks he likes Ace best like this, when he isn’t burdened by his past, by his titles of Fire Fist or divisional commander, or by the worries he carries during waking hours - ever-present, ever terrible. Ace, when he is on the brink of sleep, is calm, and he is happy, and if nothing else, Deuce always wishes for Ace to be happy.

Yet Deuce loves his worries and anxieties in ways that Ace cannot understand, because Deuce loves all that is Ace. Every single thought. Every single flaw. Every. Single. Thing.

He draws his arms around Ace tighter, pressing a kiss into his hair as Ace groans, burrowing his face into Deuce’s neck. He’s like a cat, Deuce thinks not for the first time, an enormous cuddly kitty who just needs to be pampered and adored.

And Deuce would happily lay down his own life to provide that for Ace.

“Ace,” Deuce murmurs, earning a content sigh of questioning from his ex-captain, “is it greedy of me to say I never want you to leave my arms?”

He feels rather than hears Ace laugh against his skin, shoulders quivering with the silent response.

“No,” Ace’s breath is hot on his collarbone, yet causes Deuce to shiver, “but it’s damn cheesy.”

Deuce smiles into Ace’s hair as he feels Ace shift against him, pressing a thigh between Deuce’s own to snuggle even closer.

“Comfy,” Ace says, voice thick with the promise of a deep sleep, “stay like this.”

Deuce wishes he could remain tangled with Ace under the thin sheet for the rest of his life, never having to be parted from the one person he has ever loved with every ounce of his existence. 

“Always.”

 

Chapter Text

“Calm down,” Deuce scolded, tapping the back of Ace’s head with the hairbrush he had chosen as his weapon to tackle Ace’s wild mess of tangles, “if you keep fidgeting like that, I’m gonna pull your hair out.”

“I can’t,” Ace huffed, his leg refusing to keep still, bouncing on the ball of his foot as his nerves curled into a fist in his stomach, “I’m about to get married.” Ace huffed suddenly, a sharp exhale of a laugh as Deuce raked his hair off his face. “Me, married,” he said, disbelieving, wincing slightly as that brush returned to his scalp in its brutal attack. “If someone had told me I’d be doing this two years ago, I’d have asked if they’d been at Pops’ sake for too long.”

Deuce hummed in agreement, bending to look over Ace’s shoulder into the mirror he was sat in front of. He seemed satisfied with his handiwork as he nodded, rose, and set the brush down, freeing his hands to work a small amount of gel into that thick black hair.

“To smarten you up a bit,” Deuce answered Ace’s enquiring look up at him, “and to stop your hair blowing all over the place the second you go out on deck.”

Ace nodded, watching himself in the mirror. Izou’s old suit fit surprisingly well, considering that he was a little taller and not quite so broad in the shoulder as Ace. The white shirt under the dark gray jacket hugged a bit tighter than Ace was accustomed to, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, really, other than keeping his cool and not breaking out into nervous giggles the second he saw Marco out on deck, dressed in a similar fashion and no doubt looking impeccable.

And then out of nowhere, Ace’s jitters spiked, tipping into something bordering onto fear.

“Hey, Deuce?” he asked quietly, watching his fingers twist in his lap, “can I ask you something?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Ace frowned at his fingers; he could feel his pulse pounding in his neck, heart frantic under Izou’s shirt. “Am I doing the right thing, marrying Marco?”

Deuce stopped at once, fingers stilling in Ace’s hair. Ace couldn’t see his expression from where he stood behind him, the mirror not big enough to see that high up from where he sat, but he guessed his best friend wore that frown he reserved only for when something confused him.

“Ace,” Deuce said calmly, crouching down next to him to look at him seriously, “that’s not my place to comment.”

“But just say it is,” Ace urged, “just say, for a moment, that you’re me and you’ve got Roger as a father, and you’re about to tie an innocent man to you for the rest of your lives. Would you go through with it? I’m condemning him to something he doesn’t deserve, aren’t I?”

Dark, soulful eyes searched troubled stormy gray, and Ace was left with the impression that Deuce was biting back something very blunt and not at all kind. But when he opened his mouth to reply, Ace was met with nothing but encouragement… in Deuce’s unusual, roundabout fashion, of course.

“He’s not an idiot,” Deuce pointed out fairly, “and he knows your past just as well as you do. Better, probably, considering he actually knew Roger. And he still wants to marry you. He asked you, remember? He asked you, knowing full well you’re Roger’s son. I’m willing to bet it didn’t even cross his mind when he popped the question. He doesn’t care. No one in this crew cares. And besides,” Deuce added, standing with a sigh, “he’s hardly what anyone would class as innocent, is he?”

Ace shot Deuce a wry smile over his shoulder. “You know what I mean.”

“Sure I do,” Deuce said, brushing fallen strands of hair off Ace’s shoulders, “and I understand where you’re coming from. You’re putting an awful lot of trust into someone after a lifetime of keeping yourself guarded. It’s natural to worry. But don’t.”

Easier said than done.

Ace stood as well with a tap to his shoulder, turning to face Deuce. His cheeks felt flushed all of a sudden, the reality of the situation hitting him full on and leaving him reeling. He was getting married. Right now. All they had to do was wait for Vista to come and get them, and he’d be heading out to meet Marco, who was preparing with Thatch as his best man, to come to stand before Whitebeard.

Fists balled so tight his knuckles turned white, Ace hung his head and muttered, “shit, I’m scared, Deuce. What if he’s changed his mind and he’s not there? What do I do then?”

Deuce shrugged. “Get really drunk, eat all the food, and dance with me all night instead.” Ace gave him a weak punch to the chest, prompting a laugh of, “okay, sorry, insensitive, I know.” Deuce clasped Ace by his shoulders, gripped him tight, and said seriously, “he’s out there. He’s just as nervous as you are. But I bet he can’t wait. Neither can you. You’re going to become the most terrifying couple in the entire world, you’ll see.”

A knock at the door made them both jump violently, heads whipping round to see Vista creaking the door open.

“Ready?” Vista asked excitedly. “Marco’s just been called by Jozu, so it’s your turn now.” He pulled an enormous purple handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his watering eyes. “I’ve never seen him look so excited. You’re going to make a wonderful husband, Ace.”

With a great, shuddering sigh and a slap of encouragement to his back, Ace followed Vista out of his bedroom to a booming chorus of the wedding march played by the crew’s musicians.

 

Chapter Text

“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.

“Don’t—”

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.

 

Chapter Text

“Red-Hair, wait.”

Those words, so simple, stopped such a powerful man in his tracks instantly. Shanks looked back over his shoulder just as he was about to board the Red Force, caught between wondering what there could possibly be left to discuss with the new captain of Whitebeard’s crew and thankful that Marco had called out to him. With a nod to his crew, they continued to board without him, leaving Shanks free to speak captain to captain.

Captain. Marco’s eyes held no pride in being given that title, deriving nothing positive from the role foisted onto him under circumstances he had never wished to entertain thinking about. He looked tired, Shanks thought not for the first time, tired like he was done with the world, done with existing, and done with always being the one to survive no matter what.

Behind Marco the Whitebeard crew – or the remains of them that had made it through the war, at least – began to disperse, setting down the hill that sloped gently up to Edward Newgate and Portgas D. Ace’s final resting places, father and son together, peaceful, for the rest of time. Their ships were waiting on the other side, Shanks having chosen to keep a respectful distance from the remainders of the fleet when they docked.

“You look like you could use a drink,” Shanks said easily, turning to face the blond. “Can I interest you in a night of good booze and even better conversation? I promise I won’t give you my usual line.”

That would be heartless and disrespectful beyond measure; Shanks had taken pleasure in annoying Marco throughout the years (just for acknowledgement, to get him to look, for anything at all), sure, but there were lines that no one had any right to cross.

Yet he knew before he’d even finished his sentence that the offer would be politely turned down, and honestly, he couldn’t blame Marco. Whitebeard had been Marco’s entire focus and drive, his foundation, his single reason for being the man he was today. Ace had been his good friend, someone that Marco had taught and cared for, a brother in soul and a valued part of his life. He had lost near enough everything in a blink of an eye, and no amount of rum or chatting was ever going to fix that.

Especially not while in the company of a man whom Marco had disliked for his whole adult life.

“No, but thanks for the offer,” Marco said. He appeared more fragile, somehow, Shanks couldn’t help but notice, as if he were more human and humbler than he had been before the war. Like he could actually now shatter rather than absorb anything that life threw at him. “I just wanted to thank you for what you did at Marineford.”

Shanks eyed him carefully; there was no mistaking how defeated he sounded, even compared to those scant few minutes ago up at the graves. “Marco,” Shanks said quietly, taking a step closer to avoid being overheard – even though Marco’s crew weren’t paying them any attention, one of the commanders was bound to stop and see why their captain was lagging behind at some point, “you’ve already thanked me enough. I respected Whitebeard tremendously. I respect you and your men. You didn’t deserve any of this.”

Marco looked away, gaze dropping to the floor momentarily before blinking back up in a flash of cobalt blue.

To Shanks’ enormous surprise and intense elation, Marco ducked his head to press a kiss to Shanks’ lips. He kissed back without a second thought, reaching up to cup Marco’s face and hold him in place lest he try to break the contact too soon. After over twenty years of longing, of waiting and chasing and antagonizing for a rise, he had Marco exactly as he had wanted him yet in the least desirable circumstances he could ever imagine.

Someone yelped in pain behind Marco, the sounds of a man walking straight into his crewmate’s back as he gawped at the sight of his new captain locked with the Yonko. What a sight it must be for them, those who happened to look over at that moment – it was no secret that if Shanks was on fire, Marco wouldn’t even think of so much as spitting on him to try to put it out. The affection had always been very much a one-way, unrequited deal, and yet…

The moment was over, the spell undone, and Marco broke the kiss as another of his crew behind him tripped over his own feet at the completely out of place sight.

How strange – Shanks couldn’t seem to open his eyes. They remained closed for several long, blissful seconds, giving him a chance to fully absorb what had just happened to him. When they fluttered open at last he was honestly glad to find himself looking into Marco’s face, the man having not moved and left while given the chance to. There was no anger in his eyes, no trace of the usual contempt he would always shoot at Shanks whenever they met, distrustful and forever humiliated by the captain’s need to yell his affections in the form of offers to join him.

“Thank you, Shanks,” Marco whispered, “and I’m sorry.”

And he turned on his heel, leaving Shanks foolishly staring after him as Marco heaved his fallen crewmate to his feet again, ignoring the man’s stammered question of what the hell did I just witness?

Marco had called him by his name. Marco had kissed him.

Shanks grinned as he turned back to his ship, touching his lips as his men called for him to hurry up.

He sure hoped there was more of that to come in the future.

 

Chapter Text

“If you pass out, I’m not going to catch you.”

The words catch Ace off guard completely. He’s trying so hard to suppress the tremors, bite back and swallow down the moans of pain that catch and climb up his throat, the injury deep and far more severe than he has led his first mate to believe. In disbelief of his own ability to lie so coolly he has somehow managed to convince Deuce that it is the sight of blood on his hands that has him ashen-faced and weak, and not the seastone that is buried deep in his tricep.

“Like I’d pass out from the sight of a little blood.” Even his voice is shaky – thin and fragile, like his own mortality in that moment, “give me some credit, dude.”

Stupid, that’s what he is. Stupid and cocky and possibly just a touch too proud. Too arrogant to admit he had made a mistake, that he had gone against Deuce’s hastily snapped suggestion that he stayed put and run after the marine on his own.

“It’s not like you to be this careless,” Deuce states as he cleans Ace’s hands, washing away the evidence of a job gone wrong. “I hope whatever nonsense you were thinking is out of your system and you’re prepared to calm the fuck down now.” His arm is gently raised to mop at his elbow, and all at once Ace knows he should have snatched his hands away when he had the chance. Deuce’s eyes narrow in that tell-tale way that speaks of knowing, that Ace has seen a thousand times by now with each instance his carefully crafted yet well-intended deceit has been picked apart by a man who knows him. A strange concept outside of Luffy; an even stranger concept to find himself comfortable with.

“He only grazed my arm.” He has to look away when Deuce raises his gaze from elbow to eyes; it’s too much, he knows he’ll give himself away in an instant. “It’s just a graze, I can slap a band-aid on it no problem,” he repeats uselessly, because who could ever fool a doctor? Failed med student or not, Deuce knows the basics. And the intermediate. And the advanced. And Ace. “Stop looking at me like that,” he finishes with a definite edge of a pout, “I’m fine.”

Steady fingers reach to slip under his shirt at his collarbone, ridding him of the bloodied pale yellow that he will probably have to replace now. Deuce is going to find the injury, discover the bullet that has ripped through soft tissue and lodged in muscle, rendering his captain perfectly wretched and quite as mortal as he.

Air is sucked through clenched teeth; not from him, but from Deuce. Ace is too far gone with trying to maintain lucidity to pay much attention to the flash of pain wrung from the wound as Deuce guides his arm to turn, examining. The loss of his fire is cutting so deep he feels sick, sick in ways that stretch beyond the nausea of being shot, and he fights to hold onto reality because of it.

“You call this fine?” is Deuce’s downright furious response, shoving a hand through his sodden pale hair at the sight of the injury, composure cast aside at once. “This isn’t a graze; this is serious. That bullet’s seastone, right? The marine was yelling that it was.”

But they don’t have the tools to perform an extraction; not here, on the floor of a half-collapsed building in the rain, sheltering from the marines who will surely spot his droplets of blood leading to their hiding place before the rain can wash them away.

“Does it have to be now?” Ace tries, because if he thinks he’s in pain now, he’ll have a whole new world of agony opened up to him the moment Deuce attempts to dig the bullet out without the aid of local anesthetic and delicate surgical tools. “Do you have to take it out right now? Won’t it get infected?”

It is then that Ace registers that Deuce is shaking as well. The decision isn’t verbalised, the words not coming as Deuce opens his mouth only to close it again. He can’t say what he thinks, eyes flicking between the bloody wound and Ace’s poorly masked expression of pain that throbs through his arm.

“It hasn’t hit the artery,” even Deuce’s voice shakes when he finally finds it, quiet and steeped in a torment of the likes Ace doesn’t have the capacity to fully fathom right now, “or if it has, then it’s stopping the blood flow enough to stop you from—” he swallows thick, and Ace suddenly understands his snap from cool and annoyed to frightened and unsure in his own abilities. Deuce’s care is ill-placed, Ace thinks dimly not for the first time – whether Ace lives and survives or dies in his arms right this second shouldn’t matter, and yet Deuce looks like he’s on the verge of vomiting with how scared he suddenly is.

And yet despite what he thinks of himself, Deuce’s comfort is paramount. He matters in ways that Ace never will, his knowledge and abilities ones that will be sought after in later years once his confidence is nurtured, his skills honed. But thanks to Roger, Ace knows that his survival, at least, will never be something that is seen as imperative to the wider world.

But when he is with Deuce like this, brain frantically rifling through his vocabulary in his search for reassurance for his first mate, his best and only friend, Ace can almost convince himself that if he were to perish, then perhaps there would be one person other than Luffy whose world would turn instantly dark.

“Which artery?” Ace asks, the beginnings of a headache setting in now, ears ringing all of a sudden. Deuce doesn’t answer, eyes wide and distressed, so very obviously losing his grip on himself and moments away from doing the unthinkable for a field doctor and panicking. “C’mon Deuce, get it together. Which artery?” This is the best way to soothe him, to stop the downward spiral, knowing him by now as if they were two halves of the same mind and soul.

Deuce swallows again, trembling fingers lifting the sodden rag he used to clean Ace’s hands and arm to dab around the wound. “T-The brachial artery,” he manages; Ace nods to encourage him, head swimming, and Deuce continues, “if I try to remove it now you’ll get your power back and f-feel better in that sense, but it’ll leave you open to infection and a lot of pain.” No kidding. “I’d rather get you back to the ship and do it there.”

A sound plan, Ace thinks, despite how much he wants it out right now. He can’t explain it, this dragging, gnawing sense of absolute loss that comes with having his fire shut out, like a limb yanked free while the brain still believes it to be there and functional.

His arm is bandaged as best as Deuce can manage with what little they have on them, his bag pulled open and supplies littering their immediate surroundings in his haste to find anything dry and clean to use. The long coat is shrugged off and slipped around Ace’s shoulders, uninjured arm coaxed into a sleeve, and he is immeasurably grateful for it – he feels colder than he can ever remember being without his fruit, realising this with a suddenness that startles.

“I’m sorry,” Deuce blurts out of nowhere as he wraps an arm around Ace’s waist and pulls his good arm around his shoulders, “I’m so sorry for not noticing straight away. Feel free to pass out any time you need to.”

Ah, it hurts to laugh – his breath seizes in his chest as he’s hauled to his feet, weak-kneed and shaking all over. He’s still not used to this, this sense of being able to rely on someone so completely, being the one to be taken care of and looked after for a change. It doesn’t come natural to Ace to not be the caregiver; it leaves him feeling inadequate, like he isn’t doing enough when he should be the one to protect and defend.

But if it is with Deuce, perhaps he can learn to allow vulnerability here and there.

“You’re doing great,” Ace consoles, barely more than a whisper of a breath leaving him, “I trust you, Deuce.”

And he is certain that he spots more than just rain trickling down Deuce’s cheeks.

 

Chapter Text

Thatch liked to think that he was a good chef. Better than good, actually, if he may say so himself. One of the best in the world, certainly. The best in the crew, definitely.

Clumsy? No. Not him. Never. He was careful, precise, and learned in the fine art of culinary prowess. He could skin and slice a carrot in 5 seconds flat. Blanch as easily as breathing. Sculpt and mould all manner of cakes and pastries into inventive works of mastery… only for them to be munched through immediately by the crew.

So no, Thatch was not careless, inept, or a blundering fool, as Marco called him. He never injured himself during cooking or preparation. Never. This time was just an outlier. Yes, that was it. Everything had outliers, as Marco so happily informed him whenever something unexpected happened in the infirmaries, and Thatch and his mishaps were no exception.

So really, if he stopped to think about it – which was precisely what he was doing – Marco was wrong, and Thatch was right.

He hadn’t meant to drop the knife, nor try and snatch it mid-fall by the blade to prevent it from impaling and severing his toes from his foot. It had been instinctual; Marco had to understand that much, at least.

No, what was really getting to Thatch more than Marco bitching at him far more than he had any right to was the way he refused to heal the deep cut running across Thatch’s palm. While Marco insisted it was so that he could use this opportunity to teach his new student – that first mate of Ace’s who, once just as feral as his captain, now looked up to Marco like an adoring puppy – Thatch knew full well that this was just spite on Marco’s end.

Well, he’d get him back one day. Somehow. Like, maybe he’d lace his dinner with enough chili powder to make him breathe fire like Ace did for party tricks. Yeah, that was a good one.

So Thatch had suffered the irritation and almighty hindrance to his job as head chef by having to sit through Deuce’s neatly tied stitches with the procedure, as Marco called it, taking for-fucking-ever and filled with constant reassurance that no, Thatch wasn’t sighing because he was in pain, Thatch was sighing because he was an impatient asshole.

Nine of them. Right there in his palm, preventing him from doing anything useful.

So, fuck it, Thatch had thought. Fuck Marco and his love of teaching Thatch a lesson. Fuck Deuce and his bright blue stitches. And fuck Ace just because fuck Ace; he was bound to do something eventually that required a sound fuckening to be issued.

… Or so had been his set resolve, his confident train of thought, right up until the Moby had been boarded by today’s crew of pirates who were laughably in over their heads. With an almost bored wave of his hand and a sigh that had spoken leagues of his fatigue, Whitebeard had commanded that whoever got them gone the quickest would be tonight’s center of celebrations.

And Thatch liked attention. A lot.

So Thatch had pulled his sword from his hip and charged.

And popped four of his lovingly tied stitches in the process of wildly swinging his weapon.

It had been impressive, his quick change of tactics, if he did say so himself. Blinding a pirate with his own blood wasn’t something that Thatch had done before, and yet with a stroke of genius he had dropped his sword upon feeling that gut churning pop in his palm, lunged forward, and planted his bloodied palm into the eyes of his screaming target.

The payoff had been dear, though, with Marco dragging him away the moment the last of that invading crew had been booted over the railing. He had shut themselves away in the office that he shared with the other doctors off the side of the infirmaries, gesturing to the couch that often doubled up as a bed for whoever was on the night-shift.

And Thatch had received an earful of exasperation.

“I told you that any form of gripping or excessive use of your hand would lead to popping your stitches,” Marco snapped, cleaning up the dried blood in Thatch’s palm none too gently. “But did you listen? No! No, because why bother listening to the doctor? Not like he knows what he’s talking about.”

Thatch grunted in response, more from the sting than anything else. “You didn’t tell me that,” he corrected, being deliberately obtuse, “your favorite prodigy did. Oh,” his expression cleared as realisation dawned, “did you teach him that line he spouted at me? I thought it sounded recited. Have you been filling his head with your best doctory phrases? You gotta let the newbies learn on their own, beloved brother, let them find their own ways of scolding their annoying patients.”

You’re the annoying patient in this scenario, don’t forget,” Marco grumbled.

Thatch flashed him a grin that quickly dissolved into a grimace; Marco was bending his palm open, examining the extent of damage properly. “You ready to just heal this like a good birdy and let me get back to being useful in the kitchen? I’m bored of being left to just stirring the pots, y’know. I wanna get some chopping action in.”

Marco shot him a despairing look. “You won’t learn to be more careful if I don’t teach you the hard way.”

“Hang on.” Comprehension bloomed across Thatch’s face. “Is this all just your way of showing you care? It’s not spite? You’re worried about me?”

If they had been any younger, Thatch was sure that Marco would have spluttered indignantly. Instead he only raised his hand to Thatch’s lined forehead and gave it a sound flick, earning a yelp of pain.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Thatch said cheerfully, massaging the pink spot in the middle of his forehead, “you’re worried about my perceived carelessness, aren’t you?”

“Knowing when to stop is a great skill to have, Thatch.”

“Okay. But I am right.” Thatch snickered at Marco’s annoyed look. “So now that we’ve established that you love me so very dearly and that I can be a bit careless… maybe… perhaps… can we say we’ve learned from this experience and just get on with the blue magic healing? I really don’t want to sit through another hour of having stitches tied. I don’t think I have that kind of patience left in me, dude.”

And to his delight, Marco conceded. After locating a pair of surgical scissors with the help of one of the nurses he snipped through the remaining stitches and healed the cut in seconds, blue flames dancing and curling over Thatch’s palm as it mended.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Thatch grinned. “I promise I’ll be good from now on,” he added when Marco looked murderous, “please don’t fantasize about throwing me overboard, there’s a good bird.”