Actions

Work Header

Fire and flames

Chapter Text

There was enough moonlight seeping through the cracks in the blinds to illuminate where Ace was sleeping, blanket pooling around his waist and his chest exposed to the cold autumn air. He always ran so hot, he barely needed a blanket until well into winter. Marco could almost feel the warmth of him from where he was standing, awkwardly propped up against the door frame. 

Diva lifted her head from where she’d been sleeping just under Ace’s feet and looked at him in the dark, her white fur shining in the dark save for that one tiny spot where Bastet was sleeping on top of her. The bed looked like the best place to be, but he wasn’t ready to go back to sleep just yet, unsure what exactly had woken him, but absolutely certain of what was keeping him awake. Birthdays were becoming more and more tiring as the years went by, the weight of them constantly growing heavier. 

He was beginning to feel old and tired, and wasn’t that something. Without Ace’s warmth by his side, the night was much colder than it had any right being. And yet Ace was right there, just out of reach, sleeping in their bed, in their apartment. In their home. 

It was stupid, he knew, feeling like this when he had everything right there, but he was becoming used to each birthday coming with a sense of melancholy.

“Wha’ are you doing?” Ace asked from the bed, words slurring adorably with sleep.

Marco was sure he wouldn’t remember this conversation come morning, like he never tended to when he’d “wake” in the middle of the night to Marco and his insomnia.

“Come back to bed, love,” he added, lifting his head just enough to look around until he spotted Marco by the door.

He couldn’t say no to an invitation like that, not when Ace was almost awake and not likely to let him think himself to death. So he moved from the door, suddenly aware of how cold his skin was, how long he must have stayed there just watching and worrying over nothing when he could have been in bed. 

The covers were warm, but not nearly as warm as Ace, who curled up around him as soon as humanly possible. Even Diva shifted on the foot of the bed to allow it.

Ace’s warmth was pouring over him instantly, amazing and perfect and so calming that he couldn’t even think about not being in bed like this. 

“What time ‘s it?” Ace asked, his breath hot against Marco’s neck.

“Four,” Marco said, turning just a little so he could press his lips against Ace’s hair, overwhelmed by the urge to be as close as possible.

“Happy birthday,” Ace said against his skin and the press of his lips followed right after. “Love you.”

Marco sighed into his hair, unable to stop the smile because of course Ace would remember even when mostly asleep. Of course he’d know. 

“Love you too,” he said softly, despite the fact Ace’s breathing had already evened out and he was snoring, Diva joining in almost immediately, and Marco couldn’t stay awake any longer even if he wanted to.

Chapter Text

He found himself standing on a dark shore next to a violent river. The scant few people standing around him were gloomy and almost faceless. There were two gold coins in his hand, he noticed, before he finally realized where he was.

A multitude of splashing was approaching him and the others standing on shore, but the others did nothing to look at the approaching boats or the creatures operating them. As each boat reached the shore, Ace observed the people get on and place their own coins into the ferryman's waiting hand. One by one, the wooden boats drifted back from where they came from; all but one. The last one was waiting for him, a pale hand reaching from the black robes, waiting for the gold.

Ace slowly made his way to the water, carefully stepping onto the small wooden boat. He reached out and slowly placed the coins into the hand in front of him, jolting at the unexpected warmth emitted from the pale hand. He couldn't help himself, a strong urge to look into the hood of the creature before him surging forth and Ace lifted his gaze.

After all the stories he had heard, he was hardly expecting a pair of blue eyes upon a human face looking down at him from under the black hood. The man, because that's obviously what he was, looked equally confused and surprised. Because of what, however, Ace didn't know.

Still, the ferryman took the coins and stared at them in amazement.

"You're not supposed to be dead, yoi," he spoke and it was such a regular human voice amidst the black death surrounding them that Ace shuddered for the first time, realizing that he really was dead. Still, the man put the coins away and pushed off, their boat glided into the river, making Ace tumble to the floor of the boat. He could swear the other chuckled at him as he tried to restore his balance.

"I don't think you're supposed to laugh at me," Ace told his chaperone, fighting an embarrassing pout from appearing on his face.

The chuckle he got in reply sent a chill through Ace, suddenly feeling the death instead of just seeing it. Their boat was the only one on the river and he realized, a bit belatedly, that they didn't follow the route the others took.

"And you're not supposed to have two coins."

 

Chapter Text

It's funny how a storm on those seas can appear in all its destructive glory, take so many lives and then disappear in the blink of an eye. Well, it would have been funny if it weren't as sad. With the abnormally clear cold water enveloping him, Marco could do nothing but float on the surface, looking at the cloudless sky. The notion that he would sink any moment now wasn't lost on him, yet he remained calm. He was a sailor, after all, and for sailors there is no better death than one at sea.

The sun was warming his face, the skin already dry and itchy from the salt. His lips burned, longed for fresh water and relief, but he tried his best to ignore that feeling. The feeling of complete and utter loneliness, however, wasn't so easy to set aside. There was no one but him in the vast ocean or at least in the radius his eyes could see. The pressure of that feeling closed in on his chest just as the water did. His eyes closed and his lips finally getting the cool relief they desired, Marco was finally dragged under the surface.

Despite the burning of the salt, he opened his eyes and watched as the sunlight faded along with the last bits of hope. The sight was still one he was content to have as his last, the stray rays of the sun breaching through the water, illuminating him in various shades of blue and green.

The pressure in his chest increased, this time from lack of oxygen, no doubt and Marco could swear he heard it. As he was weighed down and pulled into the abyss, the light was slowly replaced by a voice. A voice and a stray touch, a blur of red and a melody that made his heart ache.

His eyelids grew heavy, his eyes begging to be closed to ward off the burning of the water. But he couldn't close them. He waited, knowing he had to wait for something. There was nothing to lose, after all. Delaying the inevitable end for a moment longer, Marco gaze didn't waver.

The voice and the melody tickled his ear, teasing him like a bubble of air might have, but he remained the way he was. His lungs hurt beyond a simple burning, the end was smiling at him...

But so was a freckled face before his eyes. The smiling lips moved, words leaving them as if spoken to a lover. A warm hand touching Marco's face offered a fragment of solace, keeping him alive for a moment to long; a moment he wasn't supposed to have. His aching lips stretched into a poor excuse of a smile as the warm hands pressed on his shoulders, pushing him down into the dark oblivion of the ocean he loved with all his heart.

His eyes close and the smile still there, Marco listened to the melody that guided him into nothingness.

Chapter Text

He never knew silence could be so deafening. Yet, it wasn't complete silence; the crackling of fire filled the air as well as the smoke from the torches, the sounds of heavy breathing and an occasional soft plea. The others were behind him, waiting silently, yet he could feel their patience running thin already. The inquisition was rarely a patient bunch.

With his heart thundering in his chest, Marco remained focused on the figure before him. The other was almost entirely hidden in the shadows of their prison, as far away from him and the others as possible. Despite the shadows, Marco could see the other's frightened face clearly; either that, or the image his mind conjured would not leave him alone.

He moved closer to the curled up figure. Even if it was the last thing he wanted to do, he had to. Before him was a monster, a witch they needed to purge from the evil of the devil. Marco had to stay strong, his heartbeat betraying him as he was sure everyone could hear it. A soft whimper reached him and his gut clenched as he lowered himself to peer at the so called evil being.

The dark eyes he knew so well were filled with tears, almost at the brink of spilling over the freckled cheeks. Marco's heart felt like it had been pierced through at the sight of fear written on the other's face. Using his own body to cover the other's frail form from the others behind him, Marco reached out and caressed a freckled cheek stained with blood and dirt from the dungeon floor.

"Please forgive me," he pleaded quietly, only his eyes betraying the storm of regret trying to drown him from the inside.

The dark eyes fixed on his face, Marco helped the other up and guided him to the maiden; they had wanted it and he had to do it. Bile was rising in his throat, he felt sick of the fact it was all his fault. He caused all of it and others now suffered.

His barely clothed prisoner reached the open contraption, shaking in fear of the fate that awaited him. The blood stained spikes seemed to mock them both and Marco had to hold back his own tears as his hand still lay on the other's bare shoulder.

"Forgive me..." Marco repeated and watched with a stab through his chest as the frightened man stepped just before the spikes, his back turned to them as he still watched Marco's face. The tears were spilling now, making clean streaks through the blood and grime. Softly, barely audibly, he whispered Marco's name as he had done time and time before, a fact that led them to their current situation.

A tear rolled out of Marco's eye, it was the end for them both as they were aware, and he had no other choice but to grip the handle of the iron maiden.

"I love you," he whispered only for the man before him to hear, his heart breaking at the sob that left the freckled man's mouth. It was the end. One last glance and a painful pang of his heart, Marco closed the spiked door ignoring the resistance and the scream he would never unhear.

Chapter Text

An expanse of pale skin lay before him, stretched like silk over firm muscles. His fingers trace the smooth surface with a feather-light touch, feeling the occasional shiver run through the body beneath him as his fingers smoothed over yet another cosmos of freckles. Marco found them fascinating. They were both adorable and sexy at the same time, just like the man whose skin they adorned. Said man was lying on the bed, sprawled out on the while crumpled sheets completely bare under Marco's gaze. Ace was blushing, not completely used to such acts of adoration.

Marco lowered his head closer to the other's face, his breath ghosting over the most prominent freckles the other possessed. The kiss he planted there was almost non-existent in its gentleness and Ace's breath hitched. The blond moved lower, ignoring Ace's mouth and following a trail of lighter splashes of spots, the ones only he got close enough to see or touch. His lips brushed over a freckle-stained collar bone as his hand gentry traced the side of Ace's neck, feeling each sharp intake of air through his fingertips.

Ace's heart was pounding, Marco could feel it as his lips travelled lower across his muscled and equally freckled chest. He felt the other's groan before he heard it as fingers tangled into his hair.

"Marco," Ace called his name, clearly out of breath. "What are you doing?"

Marco kissed another trail of freckles, following a pattern only he could see as he had spent countless insomnia-ridden nights following the same path with his eyes as the other slept. They were simply mesmerizing. His hands wrapped around protruding hip bones as he pulled himself up to face the younger man, but not without kissing wherever he could.

"I'm counting stars," he said with a smile, finally kissing the other's lips. He could almost feel Ace roll his eyes at the cheesy statement, but he also felt the smile making its way on the freckled man's lips. Ace was made aware of Marco's 'freckle kink', as he liked to call it, and neither seemed to mind; except in the rare occasions Ace became impatient.

The blond moved again, his lips trailing another set of freckles across Ace's shoulders and chest, smiling at every single gasp and moan that reached his ears. It was rewarding in itself to give Ace the admiration he so deserved and seemed to like, despite the blush staining his cheeks.

"Marco," Ace whined, clearly done with the little game, but still enjoying it if the hard-on he was sporting was any indication. Marco couldn't be bothered with it, however. He enjoyed it; he enjoyed the time they had together and they had all the time in the world, as far as he was concerned. Once again, his tongue trailed patterns on the other's skin, the room slowly filling with strained moans and threats coming from the younger's mouth, but Marco continued his ministrations.

The freckles practically screamed 'Ace' and he couldn't help but love them.

Chapter Text

The beginning of a new day shone from the horizon. The first rays of the sun touched his face as he inhaled the salty air coming from the ocean. The breeze caressed his face, his eyes closed, as he enjoyed the silence of the dawn. The smooth handle of his axe in his hand was the only thing tying him to this earth and the beach under his feet. Waves, loud and violent, served only to calm his thoughts in his last moment of solitude.

It was cold, to put it simply. The breeze was more than just a breeze, lifting the heavy light fur draped over his shoulders, yet his arms and chest were wrapped in thin black fabrics; constricting clothes would do him no good in battle as he had learned ages ago. He didn't mind the cold, really. It was always there and it was part of him. Just like the ocean was. The waves were rocking their ships, he could hear it, the water hitting the sides of the wooden boats. It didn't worry him, they were built to last and to carry them all until the end of their days.

Sharp rocks of the beach crunched under several pairs of feet behind him; they were coming. There was no chatter, no laughter. Just the sound of footsteps and swords clinking in their sheaths, waiting anxiously to spill blood. The band of all too familiar men approached him, stopping just beyond his reach, he'd imagine and they waited.

His eyes remained closed as he lifted his hands, one of them still holding the axe, as he started his prayer. His voice broke through the howling and crashing of nature as he prayed to their wise god to grant them safe passage, a winning battle and above all, no casualties. It was no war, no honorable death and no admittance to Valhall. No glory.

With the last of his prayer, his hands fell to his sides as the axe remained. The men behind him, his brothers, stayed quiet. Flapping of fabric barely breached his hearing as he still stood proudly, suddenly feeling the weight of his wooden shield against his leg. The weight of protection was indeed a heavy one, one he had to bear alone.

He opened his eyes to the new day, the new journey. The sun shone without restraint and he took it as a good sign, a sign of good fortune just beyond reach. He waved his hand to the ship and the men understood; they boarded their vessel with their own shields and heavy weapons. Yet their armor was nonexistent; they attacked, they didn't cower from their enemies nor death itself.

They were warriors.

He finally made the first step, a step he made countless times before to countless plunders. They all waited with nothing but respect in their eyes as he joined them on the planks of their ship, making way for him to stand next to the dragon figurehead.

"Lead the way, Marco."

Chapter Text

The sun had yet to rise, he knew so even without opening his eyes. Leaving the warm covers was becoming more difficult with every morning he woke tangled into the heat of another body. With winter just around the corner, Marco was ashamed to admit he'd rather stay in bed. The warmth around him stirred, a sign that Ace was almost awake as well. It warmed his heart to know Ace could sleep these days, without the cold grip of dread and panic waking him before the sun was out. Ace hadn't been a slave since Izou saw him during a raid, and pretty much commanded they freed him and take him home, that they make him a part of their family.

Just taking him home did nothing to erase the time before they found him though.

Marco finally opened his eyes, noting immediately that he was right; the sun wasn't out yet and the fire was dying out as he observed it. With a quick glance to the messy head of black hair, he untangled warm limbs from his waist and removed the thick layer of blankets and a warm pelt weighing him down. The cold hit him right away, making him regret his decision more than just slightly, but he still knew he had to. It was their last raid before winter and it would have to be a good one to get them through the upcoming months.

Ace moved under the pile of blankets, his head peeking out just the slightest, but he didn't seem to wake just yet. Marco, in turn, hurried with pulling some clothes on before starting the fire once again. It didn't take long, not when he was really cold sitting there with his upper body bare and exposed to the frigid air. The room was lit with the fire's warm glow and, thankfully, the warmth as well. Marco sat in front of the fire, observing the flickering of flames. His hair was loose, the strands tickling his neck and falling into his face, but he couldn't be bothered to move them.

Once again, he heard shifting in the pile behind him, only this time it was followed by footsteps and a warm touch on his shoulders. Ace lowered himself to the ground behind him, pressing himself to Marco's back with his thighs on either side of Marco's hips. Without a word, Ace slid his hands up Marco's back, over his shoulders and neck until his fingers slipped into the mess that was Marco's hair. He gathered every strand carefully, his fingers gentle yet firm. Carding his fingers through the long hair, Ace pulled it back as Marco tilted his head to allow for better access. Swiftly and with practiced ease, Ace started braiding from the top of Marco's forehead until he reached the back of his head. Tying it together with a black string, his fingers continued through the loose hair, braiding what was left before tying it with a small golden ring Marco always wore.

Allowing himself a few moments of silence more, Ace slid his hands back down Marco's neck, rubbing between his shoulder blades. His hands fell, however, as Marco moved, turning in his spot and facing Ace.

"You know, you could have stayed under the covers a while longer" Marco said, smiling at the groggy expression on Ace's face. Ace snorted, but said nothing after all. Marco shifted then, sitting cross-legged on the floor with the fire warming his back, and pulled Ace into his lap to savor his warmth as well.

"And let you freeze out here all alone? I don't think so," Ace replied with a roll of his eyes. "Besides, you know you need my help."

He leaned to the side, pulling up a jar of dark blue paint next to them. "Now hold still," Ace said with an air of finality and a soft smile on his face, as he dipped his index and middle finger into the thick paint. He lifted his hand towards Marco's face, but froze a moment later when their eyes met. "Are you alright?" he asked, searching Marco's eyes.

"Nothing," Marco said, glancing at Ace's paint-covered fingers in a silent request to continue what he was doing. He could stay silent for a moment longer, to gather up all the warmth Ace was radiating in front of him.

Ace didn't hesitate this time, pressing his fingers to Marco's left cheekbone, dragging the paint from one side under Marco's eye, over his nose then continued until he reached the other cheekbone. The warmth of his hand was gone from Marco's skin, replaced soon after by a flutter of a kiss against his forehead.

He jolted noticeably as Marco cupped his cheek as soon as his lips left Marco's skin, and he watched curiously as Marco lifted his other hand with paint dripping from his fingers. Ace observed quietly, first the hand reaching up towards his face, his gaze shifting towards Marco's face when the paint touched his skin. Marco traced the same pattern Ace's fingers left on his own face mere moments earlier, so careful and deliberate, a message hidden in the paint. Only the warriors Marco picked went on raids with him, only they wore his colors on their faces. Never Ace, though. He wasn't a warrior or a sailor, Marco remembered his stories of home before the other raiders captured him and he'd never held a sword in his hand until Thatch taught him how to fight. He'd never been in battle, but Marco wanted to give him that chance.

With a smile, Marco cupped his other cheek, holding his head gently and drinking in the unadulterated awe visible on Ace's face.

"You're coming with us this time," Marco said and that was all there was to it. No one questioned the leader, and Ace didn't look like he wanted to argue anyway.

Chapter Text

If this wasn't a shitty day, Ace didn't know what was. Aside the general black pit of loneliness that was his existence, save for the cat he adored more than he'd admit to anyone, he also only had one measly point left and he was being coaxed into taking his cab to the shop. The latter only served as the icing on his already horrible day and it was still morning.

With a scowl that was already a natural setting for his face, Ace took his battered cab out of the garage and into traffic that could only be described as mindnumbing. Well, maybe the day couldn't get any worse than it was, he thought with a mirthful smile, sincerely hoping that would be the case.

Of course, he hoped too soon as a loud crash sounded through the cab, the vehicle shaking violently with the force of a blow of unknown origin. He was coughing as the small space filled with dust, but considered himself lucky that nothing seemed to be broken. On him, at least, he noticed as he turned to the back seat and couldn't help but notice the huge hole in the roof of his car. Well, shit.

Something actually fell through the roof of his cab. Movement from the back seat and a slight groan of pain alerted him to the fact that something was actually a someone, making the situation more weird. He tapped on the glass, asking the mystery person whether they were hurt. There wasn't much he could do through the glass and he was so done with this shit, it wasn't even funny anymore.

His passenger shot up, startling Ace for a moment with the sheer suddenness of it before he managed to look at the face before him. He certainly wasn't expecting a pale man with a tuff of blond hair and piercing blue eyes to stare at him. He seemed equally surprised and startled, one hand pressed against the cold glass between them. The spell lasted only a fraction of a moment, seeming like an eternity to Ace nonetheless, before the blond started talking in haste about something, presumably an injury he suffered. It would all be a lot easier if he could actually understand the language the blond was using.

Ace tried to make sense of anything the other was saying or trying to show him, but the extent of their understanding was a single word, if it could even be called that. "Boom," the blond said, signaling to the hole above his head. Well, Ace didn't need the mysterious and, as he noticed a bit belatedly, almost naked man to tell him that, he'd get an earful about the roof in no time.

Whatever he was planning on saying or doing next was cut off as a bright light fixed on the side of his car, a policeman telling him to open the back door and let them take the fugitive. He was adamant about it for a brief moment, but he knew very well he couldn't afford to get into trouble again. He was sorry, really, but he couldn't help the stranger. Even if he didn't understand the language, the blond seemed to understand the bad turn his situation took as Ace opened the door at last.

He didn't look back at the blond, deeming it a good decision because he most likely wouldn't be able to stand the pleading look the stranger was no doubt shooting his way.

"P..please... he...help," he heard beyond the glass and frowned. No, he wasn't supposed to feel guilty. This was just a stranger than ruined his car and got him into trouble. "Pl...please," the blond muttered again and Ace tried to pretend he didn't hear the other's voice crack. "Help." No, the blond wasn't crying, it was his imagination, he didn't hear a sob at the end of the word.

The police was still waiting, the door was open and Ace really didn't want to make the blond get out. Another barely audible sob followed by a sniffle reached his ears and he was done. He couldn't turn the blond down, not after that. With a curse on his lips and a list of all the bad decisions he had made through his life, now with another one added to the end, passing through his head, Ace closed the door of his cab and sped into traffic, set on losing the cops and helping the now broadly smiling blond on his back seat.

And no, the smile didn't look attractive at all. Not even the tiniest bit, he tried to reason.

Chapter Text

The mountain wasn't that big, the climb only taking him half a day's hike, but it was covered in snow with the wind howling around him. Ace was pushing through it all with a clear goal in his mind. It didn't really matter to him what he'd find on top of that mountain, it was the fact his father never managed to find it. Whatever 'it' may be. He was, however, sure where he'd find it if it was indeed there; the village elder advise he moved along the stream, following it up into the snow covered rocks until he reached the spring. It was the whole foundation of their existence in the snowy climate, surely he would find his answers there.

With squinted eyes, Ace trudged through the thick snow. He could no longer feel his nose nor half of his face, thanks to the wind sending snowflakes on the tiniest bit of exposed skin, but it didn't matter much. All he could think about was the sound of water on his left. It wouldn't be long, at least he hoped so as the tiredness he ignored so far started catching up to him. Even with all his determination, he was only human.

The stream was getting narrower, less water flowing over the rocks and Ace knew he was close. The snow was falling more gently, the wind nothing but a breeze as he broke through the dark fog and found himself under the sun. They were clouds, he realized, he walked through the clouds themselves to reach the highest peak of the mountain.

No, it wasn't the highest peak. In front of him were more rocks to climb, more snowy clouds covering the mountain, but he stood at a clearing with none of the bad weather he climbed through. It was only him and an icy boulder that seemed to be the spring itself, the beginning of the peaceful stream that turned into a mighty river as it rolled down the mountain.

He saw nothing but the ice, the strangely smooth ice that looked as if it didn't belong, but then again, the perfect circle of sunshine and lack of snow was also odd on a mountain covered in anything but snow. With a hasty decision of camping there until rested before resuming his quest, Ace let his backpack fall to the ground before stepping closer to the ice. He could see it clearly, the ice melting at the front, pooling between the rocks before flowing down into the snow.

Ace fell to his knees, mesmerized by the crystal clear water for a moment before slipping his hands out of the gloves and dipping them into the liquid. It felt...different. Not at all like the water they drank from the same stream. He washed his face, his body consumed by the feeling of fatigue lifting from his shoulders and his aches mended in a matter of seconds.

Lifting his gaze towards the ice, Ace noticed something in it. He wasn't quite sure what so he stepped closer, lifting his gaze higher and froze with his mouth agape. Staring back at him was a pair of blue eyes, as blue as the water behind him. The face trapped behind the ice was pale, stoic with half lidded eyes and a mouth pressed into a straight line. Blond hair remained froze as if floating in the water, the long tresses resembling a halo of sorts around the emotionless face. While the face remained still, the body seemed to have been frozen in motion with one hand stretched out right in front of Ace, the palm seeming as it would break through the thin layer at any moment.

Ace was stunned; he had found it. He didn't understand, but it was clear that his was his goal all along. With a slow, almost unconscious movement, he lifted his hand and hesitated for a brief moment before pressing his palm against the one encased in ice.

That was all it took. The sound of ice cracking thundered through the air and Ace was sure it could be hear miles down the mountain and all the way to his village. Yet he still stood there with his hand on the ice as all the other around him crashed. It broke into the tiniest of pieces, shards flying around him, few hitting him, tearing his clothes and the skin of his face. He stood still, no matter what, because he could feel a warm hand touching his own with the dust like ice prickling his skin.

He had found it.

Chapter Text

It was finally his turn, Ace decided as he pushed Marco on the bed in the first mate's room. The blond offered no resistance, instead smiling as gravity pulled him to the perfectly arranged sheets. He immediately pulled himself up to the headboard as Ace loomed by the foot of the bed, his eyes roaming over the other's constantly uncovered chest. He leaned down just enough to pull Marco's sandals off as well as dispose of his own boots before his knees sank onto the soft mattress.

He lowered himself further, resting with his hands on either side of his surprisingly compliant lover as he tipped his head lower. Marco responded to this, lifting his chin in an attempt to kiss the younger man's lips yet failing as Ace moved just out of reach. He had to admit, the needier side of his usually stoic lover was very endearing.

As soon as Marco settled back down, Ace lowered his head again, pressing his lips to the corner of Marco's mouth before grazing down his jaw. Marco's breath hitched, but he knew better than to move, holding his hands by his sides as Ace's mouth moved down his neck. Ace leaned back for a moment, grabbing the other's shirt and pulling him up just enough to slide said shirt off his shoulders before dumping it over the side of the bed. With a firm press of his hand, Ace pushed the blond back down, following him as his mouth connected with Marco's collarbone.

The touch of his lips was soft, feather light as they slid down onto ink covered skin. The dark blue tattoo of their captain's mark stood in stark contrast with Marco's skin yet it was equally smooth to the touch. It was Whitebeard's mark yet it was something Ace considered a part of the blond and admired it just as much. It reflected everything Marco stood for, everything Marco held dear and Ace couldn't help but adore it even more.

Starting at the top of the cross, Ace kissed across the dark surface, following the line down over the other's chest and abdomen. His tongue darting out here and there, eliciting a quiet gasp from the blond as he, no doubt, knew what exactly Ace was doing. Dragging his head back up, Ace nuzzled his nose over the same line he had traced with his lips before moving to the horizontal line of the cross. His tongue strayed from the path of the tattoo to flick over the other's nipple with a smirk before continuing his worship of the blue ink. As he reached the end of the cross, his lips pressed harder into Marco's skin just above his already frantic heartbeat.

Even with a stoic face, Marco couldn't hide what he felt from Ace. With a smile on his face, Ace pressed his lips on the tip of the crescent and kissed along it, Marco's hands finally making their way onto his hips. Ace slowed in the middle, nuzzling into warm skin and the sound of the other's heartbeat before continuing the last bit of his path.

Marco was breathing harder, but his mask of indifference remained the same as ever. He smiled, pulling himself up until his breath mingled with Marco's for a moment before he finally closed the distance between them.

The blond smiled into the kiss and Ace knew the other enjoyed letting go for once.

 

Chapter Text

The tent was packed full, mostly by families with small children that couldn't resist but visit the extraordinary circus passing through town. Ace felt slightly odd, sitting in the audience that mostly consisted of families or happy couples on dates, but he had come there anyway.

As soon as he saw the posters around town, Ace had known it was the same circus he had seen all those years ago. Well, fine, only seven years ago when he was twelve, but still, it felt like an eternity to him. He was almost wiggling in his seat from excitement, wondering if that boy he had met was still part of the circus and if he had managed to achieve his goal. Even after all that time, Ace still considered that thirteen year old boy a friend. One of the few friends he actually had.

The old man running the show stood in the middle of the tent, speaking with a loud voice in order to calm the audience and announce the next act, but Ace was barely listening. His eyes were everywhere trying to locate the blond head of hair he remembered, that he, granted, didn't even know was still there. Or, if he was, what he looked like. After all, he did probably look a bit different at the age of twenty than he had when he was thirteen.

Still, the old man in the red coat continue until a name caught his ear.

"The Moby Dick circus is very proud to present our very own trapeze artist, Marco the Phoenix!"

The crowd clapped and Ace immediately perked up, sitting straight in his seat to get the best view he could. It was exciting, he finally found out about his friend! He'd made it. Ace was happy for him, a small smile gracing his features as he waited for Marco to appear. The lights dimmed and a spotlight lit up, pointed at the small platform high above the ground. Ace immediately looked up and his mouth fell open in surprise.

Sure, it had been seven years, but he had not expected Marco to change as much as he did. Instead of the lanky pale teenager Ace had so vividly in his mind, the platform held a tall blond man with defined muscles covered in blue ink. Whether it was all a tattoo or body paint, Ace couldn't tell from the distance, but it gave him an air of mystery and definitely justified the name of phoenix. His upper body was bare as were his feet, only his legs covered with deep blue pants adorned with a golden belt over a light blue sash.

Ace's eyes were glued to him as he glanced over the audience, despite it being covered in darkness to an extent, before gripping at the trapeze and pushing off the platform. Ace couldn't take his eyes off the blue form soaring through the air. He moved with grace, the light flickering around him, reflecting off his torso and Ace could have sworn he was on fire like a genuine phoenix. The entire audience was in awe, hushed by the performance as Marco flew above them without a safety net.

In a flash, it was all over and Ace snapped out of his daze as the lights turned back on. Marco disappeared from sight as a kimono wearing man with black hair appeared in the middle with an obedient lion following behind. He tried being interested, really, but he simply couldn't sit still anymore.

With some trouble, Ace wriggled out of his seat and the row, ignoring the disgruntled people he disturbed in the middle of the show and made his way outside. The field around the tent was empty; or at least the part in front of the entrance, considering the back was littered with trailers and trucks with cages for the animals. The gentle summer breeze ruffled his hair and he closed his eyes, enjoying the serene atmosphere with the faint sound of laughter reaching him from the tent. The more he thought about it, the more he felt leaving was the right thing to do. Marco probably didn't even remember him.

"You're not leaving already, are you?" a voice sounded from behind him and he snapped his eyes open before turning around. Before him stood the very same person he was almost completely intent on avoiding, with his hair ruffled and his inked skin still glistening from the sweat. "I was hoping I'd see you again," he added in the voice that, embarrassingly, derailed Ace's thoughts in a way he never thought it would.

Ace smiled at Marco, knowing he would be even more screwed up next time the circus left town.

Chapter Text

Crackling of fire made the perfect sound as night fell and enveloped the world as far as they could see. Not that either of them was really looking beyond each other as they lay in bed. The fire illuminated the room, spreading heat to ward of the chill of the night. Marco was on his back, comfortable on the soft mattress as Ace lay nestled into his side. The younger man was smiling as his arm rested over the other's middle, sharing each other's warmth through simple skin contact under the soft blankets.

Marco kissed the top of Ace's head, nuzzling the soft hair for a moment before whispering.

"I love you," he said just loud enough for Ace to hear despite them being alone in Marco's bed chamber. Only the two guards stationed in front of his door knew Ace was even in there, but the blond trusted them. They had kept his secret for long enough already and he felt a bit bad for it, but it would be over soon. Marco knew it was less than a day before they left and he could barely wait. He shifted to his side, pulling Ace as close as possible as he buried his face into the smooth black strands. Ace simply chuckled at the action, but didn't pull away.

"Only a day more and we're free," Ace whispered. Marco could hear the smile in his voice and couldn't help but smile back. Yes, they would be free.

The door flew open and startled them both, making them sit up in bed as a dozen of the king's men entered the room, followed by the king himself. Marco could feel Ace shake next to him, but neither said a word as the guards surrounded the bed. Two of them approached and grabbed Ace, pulling him out of the warm comfort of the blankets and Marco's embrace. The movement snapped Marco out of his stunned state and he leaped from the bed, disregarding his naked state as he was more concerned about Ace. Ace that was looking at him with fear in his eyes and a soft whisper of his name on the younger man's lips as the guards pulled him further from Marco's reach.

He was so close, his feet on the cold floor as he attempted to follow, only to be held back by several other guards.

"No!" he screamed, breaking the monotonous thudding of footsteps on the stone floor as the hands holding him back tightened their grip. The king moved for the first time, backhanding Marco across the face as he yelled back.

"You will be king!" he screamed with obvious rage on his face before he turned to the door. "Lock that deviant into the dungeons," he added with a calmer voice.

Ace finally screamed, the only word leaving his lips being Marco's name and it broke the blond's heart into what felt like countless sharp pieces ripping through his chest. The sound, however did nothing to help him as the guards gripped harder while taking him away through what felt like the worst cold he had encountered in his life.

Marco reached out in a futile attempt to grasp at Ace's equally outstretched arm, but they were already worlds apart. They had been so close to freedom.

Chapter Text

The sound of canon fire was heard even before the first canon ball hit the castle walls. It was followed by loud screaming and an abundance of footsteps rushing through the halls. The second hit was closer, shaking the building, but Marco didn't bother getting up from his spot on the bed. He wasn't allowed out of his room and even if he was, he didn't really care for much since he wasn't allowed to see Ace. If the freckled man was even alive and, honestly, Marco hoped that was the case instead of the younger man suffering whatever torture the king's men could think of.

It pained him to think about it either way and instead he tried focusing on the sound of destruction. At least that gave him a semblance of comfort, knowing that the man he hated was losing everything he held dear; his palace, the kingdom and his power. If not power, then at least the respect of his people as the pirates finally managed to reach the impenetrable stronghold. The panic in the halls was getting more obvious, but his door remained locked. The sound of walls crashing and glass breaking was overwhelming, but the sounds of humans soon faded from the hall in front of his room. How fitting it would be to be left there to die as the twisted person he was. At least according to the king.

Two thuds startled him, however, as they sounded nothing like the previous canon fire. Marco sat up in his bed and stared at the door as it was audibly being unlocked. It opened with a bang, hitting the wall as a person huddled into a heavy cloak burst into the room. The hood slid off as he ran and Marco's eyes filled with tears as he saw Ace's bruised, but smiling face. Words failed to form in his mouth as Ace jumped on him, his frame immediately shaking as the freckled man quietly sobbed in his ear.

"I'm so glad you're okay," he whispered and Marco snorted automatically before clutching at his lover's shoulders.

"I should be telling you that," Marco said, holding as tight as he could, determined he wouldn't let anyone take Ace this time.

"I hate to interrupt, but we really should go," another voice reached them and Marco glanced to the door, noticing Thatch standing there in a cloak similar to Ace's. He was actually surprised to see one of his usual guards in such a setting, getting more stunned by the situation as Izou entered the room with another cloak in his arms. "Wear this," he said, throwing the cloth at Marco with absolutely no acknowledgement that the blond was next in line to be king or anything. Stranger still, Ace moved off him and urged him to pull the garment on.

"Ace, how did you get out of the dungeon and where are we going?" Marco asked, but pulled the heavy fabric over his shoulders nonetheless.

"These two let me out and brought me clothes," Ace said with a soft smile, thought Marco could see the deep discomfort in the other's dark eyes.

"And we're going on that pirate ship," Thatch replied to the other part of his question. "They're waiting for us," he added with a smile before turning to the door, only to glance over his shoulder a moment later with a grin plastered on his face. "You're not a prince anymore."

Chapter Text

Ace lay on his back, his nails digging into the flesh of Marco's thighs as the blond knelt above him, trying to keep his thrusts in a torturously slow pace. The younger commander moaned, digging his nails deeper, drawing out soft blue flames from the crescent cuts. The licks of fire, however small, were only adding to the pleasure as Ace arched his back and Marco thrust deeper, his eyes fluttering shut.

The freckled man followed, closing his eyes as his hand gripped the back of Marco's neck, pulling the blond's face close. He pressed their lips together in a sloppy kiss, dragging his tongue over the blond's lips before diving in. Ace was losing it and Marco wasn't far behind as they kissed, the older still trying not to just pound his lover into the bed. Not that the other would mind in the slightest, but he concluded it was not the time for that.

Ace broke the kiss to gasp for air, drawing out a moan while Marco lowered his lips to the other's neck. The younger was never quiet in bed, but it seemed he was even louder this time. Still, Marco kept his eyes closed, his lips sucking at Ace's neck until he could almost feel a red mark forming. The heat around them seemed to intensify, tickling at his skin, making his own blue flames blossom across his skin. He was so close, they both were, as Marco continued his chaotic pace.

He barely heard the crash behind them over the euphoria coursing through his skin, flowing into Ace as they moved on the bed, but he felt the first bucket of water hit his back. Finally, Marco opened his eyes and realized the heat in the room was very real, coming from the actual fire consuming the room around them. Ace came to his senses too as they were doused with more water, bringing the heat and the fire to subside.

It was only then that Marco realized they, or rather Ace, set the room on fire and that there were other commanders in the room. While they were still on the bed, stark naked. With fear in his veins, Marco turned to the scowling faces of Izo, Thatch and Vista. He was fairly sure he blushed just as Ace did, though he had half a mind to hope he didn't turn that scarlet.

Thatch flung the empty bucket at Marco's head, missing it by an inch and hitting Ace instead.

"You two should stop having sex on the ship," Izo said with a grim voice as a few others peeked into the devastated room. "One of the newer members went to inform Pops, by the way."

Marco and Ace grimaced as Izo spoke, only to have their blushes drain as the old man's laughter shook the ship.

"At least he's taking it well this time," Ace said, completely ignoring the fact that, yes, Marco was still inside him and there were several other people in the room. Well, not like they haven't seen it before.

Chapter Text

It was too hot to function in Marco's humble opinion. He was never much of a fan of summer, but this particular year was horrible. At least when it came to the heat, really, other aspects of the particular summer were beyond great. For example, he was almost home where Ace was waiting for him. Sure, it wasn't great he had to work while Ace was on break, but they still got to spend a lot of time together. Even if Ace looked really out of place in the suburbs.

Marco was grinning as he pulled into the wide street, passing the houses with big front yards on his way to his own house that felt far more like home with Ace there. The grin, however, melted into confusion as he slowed down just before reaching his house.

A few of his neighbors, more specifically the several young ladies he sometimes caught staring at him, were standing on the sidewalk across from his house. He even saw old lady Charlotte that lived next door peeking over the hedges which was far more suspicious. And creepy.

It wasn't long before he found out the object of their attention as he pulled over into his driveway. Well, as far as he could considering half of the paved surface was covered by the blue carpet from the living room. That, in itself, was fairly weird, Marco could agree with that. He didn't even pay attention to the fact the driveway and said carpet were soaking wet, really. The problem, however, lay in the fact that Ace was shirtless on that same carpet on all fours, scrubbing at the sudsy surface with one of the brushes Marco knew he kept in the closet with the cleaning supplies.

Ace's position was one Marco had seen enough times before, though those were usually more intimate situations without an audience.

Marco got out of the car and Ace grinned as he stared up at him.

"Hey, you're home early!" he said as he lifted himself from his hands, revealing just how wet he himself was as well.

"Ace, what are you doing?" Marco asked with several glances at the women across the street that were clearly enjoying the view as much as he was. Ace simply shrugged.

"I was bored, the carpet was dirty," he said as if it made sense. "Why don't you help me?" he asked with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows that succeeded only in suggesting that Ace wanted Marco out of his dress shirt. The blond had nothing against such a development, but the dreamy sighs reaching his ears alerted him to the audience they had and the fact they also heard Ace's suggestion.

"Why don't you rinse the carpet out and come inside before you burn?" Marco asked, thought it was hardly meant as a question. Especially since he heard the disappointment from the women across the street and, more disturbingly, from the old lady next door.

Ace chuckled and stood up, revealing the redness of his knees. Who knew carpet burns could happen on wet carpets too? Ace noticed as well, glancing down for a moment before looking at Marco once again.

"Well, I guess you're going to spend some time on your knees tonight instead~"

Chapter Text

He woke with a wave of pain coursing through him, hands clutching at the sheets as the rest of his body shook with violent tremors. Cold sweat was soaking the bed beneath him, but that was far from Ace’s mind at the moment. Managing a gasp, he curled on his side in a feeble attempt at containing the pain and the ice seemingly tearing his body to pieces, coursing to the middle of his chest where the cold dread pinned him down in a violent burst.

The king was dead.

No. His father was dead.

Ace knew he should probably feel sadness or the dull throb of losing one’s last family member, but instead, all he felt was the frigid touch of dread at what had just happened and, even more so, at what he knew would follow. Now that the king’s bond was broken with him, Ace knew it would be only a matter of moments before the other bond his father had would be broken as well, transferring to him as the next in line for the throne. The throne he did not want.

He had a moment to lament how humans probably had a less painful way of passing the throne from father to son when, in a heartbeat, the ice was replaced by fire, scorching and all consuming, burning the new connection into him. With a flash of blue, the phoenix appeared above his bed, its dark eyes boring straight into Ace’s as the magic bound them together; the king and his phoenix.

The hideous golden collar around the bird’s neck seemed to glare at his as well, the sharp edges of gold that looked as uninviting as the crown that belonged to him now, as reluctant as Ace was about it. Even the dull dark stones of the collar were hard to look at, just the thought draining the natural power that lay inside him.

Ace wanted none of this, not the throne or the crown or the damn bird that had no place in their kingdom. The embodiment of all things good, that was what his father had called the phoenix when Ace foolishly asked as a child. He was proud as he said it, Ace recalled, proud to hold a creature of pure goodness inside the heart of darkness he ruled. It was sickening, the thought of replacing his father, being bound to a creature that did not belong in the realm, the both of them doomed to each other’s presence until Ace followed in the footsteps of kings before him, going insane before death claimed him.

The king is dead.”

The voice shook him and Ace sat up in bed, shocked that there was no one around but the bird on top of his blanket. Each word was laced with prickles of ice and Ace tried his hardest not to think of the insanity already, not before he even sat on the throne. Ice invaded his mind again and he couldn’t stop the shudder running down his spine.

Long live the king.”

                                                                               

Chapter Text

He wasn’t technically a real journalist, as most of his current co-workers would gladly point out, but it was summer and the paper needed substitute writers and Ace was the one standing in the midday sun with a dead body just out of reach, so yeah, he thought he deserved to call himself a journalist just for the pains he had to  endure. Too bad the police officers on the scene weren’t too happy with the presence of the press and therefore rendered his newfound resolve absolutely worthless. No one but the police was allowed past the perimeter set by the officers in uniforms and the body was already covered with a really depressing looking tarp. Still, he did manage to actually see the poor girl and it was a sight he’d hopefully forget, though realistically, Ace knew he never would. There was absolutely nothing for him to do at this point except bake in the sun and hope that he’ll spot the lead detective to get some info out of him while the full-time reporters got to hide from the sun as they talked to the people living in buildings around the crime scene. Ace should have packed water. Of course, he didn’t. He hated summer.

As opposed to the guy in a Hawaiian shirt walking towards the police tape that was just short of melting in the sun. Ace was about to snort at the morbid curiosity people displayed whenever there was a crime in the city, even going as far as to gawk at a crime scene when the guy was clearly on his way to the beach. Except, the uniformed officer lifted the tape and let the guy pass onto the crime scene.

Despite his choice of attire, the guy was probably someone from the police. It didn’t matter, though, none of them were inclined to share information yet anyway and he didn’t exactly look like the spokesperson for the police. Just as swiftly as he appeared, Hawaiian shirt guy was gone in the blink of an eye, moving past the tape and towards the road once again. In a second that took to make a decision, Ace took off and ran towards him, hoping to catch the guy and maybe get at least something for his trouble. The heat filled his lungs as soon as he started running, almost suffocating him as new sweat streamed down his back. It really was too hot.

And Ace wasn’t minding his step, tripping just within touching distance of the car his target just got into. Barely keeping himself from toppling over, Ace only managed to catch a glimpse of an amused smirk through the car window before the Hawaiian shirt guy turned towards the road and drove off. Figuring not all was lost as he managed to memorize a part of the license plate, Ace turned back to the crime scene and went looking for his photographer. He really did hate summer, he thought once again as sweat soaked his back.

He located Sabo just as Red came back from his task of talking to people in the neighboring buildings. It came as an immense relief when they were informed to go back to the office and Ace could almost feel the AC just thinking about it. Their work was hardly done, though, and as Red settled on his desk to write out his interviews and Sabo left to sift through his photos of the crimes scene, Ace felt incentive to do something too.

Somehow, calling the police and asking questions seemed like a good idea; he knew someone would have to do it eventually and considering there was nothing for him to do at the moment, he might as well get on with it. The spokesman didn’t want to tell him anything at first before revealing that he actually had no idea because the detective in charge had yet to talk to them.

Not one to give up, Ace started calling the precinct number, replacing the last zero with random numbers to bypass the station’s central line and just go straight to various desks. No one was answering on the first five numbers. Ace’s faith in law enforcement dropped just slightly. At least until finally someone picked up, managing to restore that faith. Not at first, of course, since the woman he talked to wasn’t even on this case and knew nothing, but his hunch to ask about the car mister Hawaiian shirt guy left in paid off.

“That sounds like a homicide department car,” she said idly and Ace could have screamed in triumph. Hawaiian shirt guy was obviously a detective.

“The guy driving it was blond and had a tacky Hawaiian shirt on, could you tell me who that is?” he asked with a lot of hope he knew would be easily heard in his voice.

The reply came in the form of laughter before the woman collected herself. “That sounds like M,” she said without elaborating further. Knowing this was all he’d get, Ace hung up before dialing the front desk of the precinct and asking to be connected to Homicide.

“Yes?” a bored yet slightly annoyed voice answered.

“Hi, I’m Ace Portgas of the Enquirer, I’d like to speak to M?” he asked, cringing at how silly it sounded. Almost as if he were in a Bond movie.

“We have nothing to say about the murder as it is an ongoing investigation.” The guy still sounded bored, though slightly apprehensive.

“You’re M, aren’t you?” Ace asked with triumph. “Just tell me if you ID-ed the victim.”

“Curiosity killed the cat, mister Portgas.”

“But satisfaction brought it back, detective.” Ace was sure they knew who the victim was, but clearly the police wasn’t keen on sharing. He did have an ace up his sleeve, so to speak, after seeing the body earlier. “Did you ask the owner of Amazon Lily if your victim had trouble with any customers?”

Ace could clearly hear shifting on the other end of the line as if the detective sat up in his chair abruptly. “How do you know she worked at Amazon Lily?” The tone of his voice turned cold and calculating, enough for Ace to realize they didn’t know she worked there or at least hadn’t made contact with Hancock yet. It was certainly information only few people should know about.

“Her earrings,” Ace elaborated, thankful just this once that Hancock managed to get Luffy into her very exclusive club with promises of meat. “All of their staff wear those earrings as part of the uniform. Kinda hard to miss them.” They were huge, gold and shaped like a skull surrounded by snake heads.

Clacking of computer keys could be heard through the phone. Well, looks like Ace just gave them a lead.

“I didn’t know about that,” M told him, sounding very surprised.

“Now that I helped with the investigation, you could give me something too. Building mutual trust and all that,” Ace said, knowing they’d be the first ones with the victim’s ID if he got it now. Of course, now he can also go to Hancock and hope she’d be willing to help him too. Even if asking which one of their employees was dead might not be a good way to secure cooperation from anyone. “What’s her name?”

“Ah, now, I never said we found out who she is,” M said and all Ace could think of to describe his tone of voice was ‘pure sass’. “Now if you’ll excuse me…” he trailed off and Ace could the detective was about to hang up.

“Then you’ll hear from me again when I find out who she is,” Ace said, ready to hang up as well when he heard the detective muttering into the phone.

“God, I hope not.”

Chapter Text

The grand hall was decked with candles and golden decorations, crystal snowflakes and glowing stars hanging from the high vaulted ceiling on strings delicate enough to remain unseen by the casual observer. From Marco’s vantage point on the throne, the view was a stunning one and Marco’s favorite part of the whole charade that is the feast held for the nobles of the court each year. Marco wasn’t a fan of most of the nobles any time of the year, but Christmas seemed to bring out the worst in them.

As soon as the first far too young daughter of a duke aiming for his throne was shoved his way as a possible wife, or even mistress, some weren’t very picky in this regard, Marco stood and excused himself. The festivities would continue deep into the night, he knew, but couldn’t force himself to participate. He had always loved winter and the holidays which is why he refused to let anyone ruin it for him.

His guards left him at the massive oak doors leading to his apartments and as soon as he entered the sitting room, Marco could breathe a little easier. He let the festive robes fall from his shoulders and pool on the floor, leaving them there as he rid himself of the crown, setting it gently on a side table by the fireplace. His boots were the last to go before he made his way towards the doors to his bedchamber.

Humming reached him as he opened the door, making him smile for the first time that night before he entered the room and found Ace stoking the fire as he sat on the thick carpet in front of the fireplace.

“I missed you at dinner,” Marco said, closing the door behind him to put up yet another barrier between his safe haven and the court beyond his chambers.

“I wanted to wait for you here,” Ace said without turning around. “I know how much you hate dealing with them.” With that he stood and turned towards Marco with a smile, only grinning when Marco approached with a quick step, arms snaking around Ace’s middle until he was being lifted off the carpet. Ace laughed, loud and happy, filling Marco with warmth at last and he found himself laughing as well.

“I don’t hate dealing with them,” Marco said, “I’d just rather deal with you.” He moved then, towards the bed with Ace still in his arms, his feet bumping into Marco’s shins as he walked. It was far from the most comfortable way to carry someone, but Ace still laughed the entire time, fingers carding through Marco’s hair.

“Wait, I have a present for you,” Ace said, interrupted by a yelp as he was thrown on the soft bed, Marco following after him immediately. He lay on his side, face hidden in the crook of Ace’s neck as he pulled Ace close, holding onto him with tightly until Ace’s hands returned into his hair.

“Later,” he said, content to simply lay there with Ace for the moment.

Chapter Text

"I've got the roster for the calendar!" one of the men shouted as he walked into the common area of the firehouse holding up a large yellow envelope. Ace hadn't bothered to remember their names yet even though he'd been there for a week already. It didn't even matter, really, since he didn't consider himself part of the team unless they were putting out a fire and had to work together. His hostility stayed in the firehouse when they were out on a job, knowing there was no place for something like that out in a fire.

So when whichever fireman just walked in with the envelope, Ace wasn't amongst the men that ran over to see whatever it was. He may have been just a tiny bit curious, but that was for him to know and no one else to find out.

"Aw come on, I'm not in it this year?" Thatch whined. Ace had to smile at that, though he hid it quickly; Thatch was easy to remember and even easier to like so Ace didn't feel too bad about it.

"Who picks these anyway? It looks very biased to me!" Thatch whined some more and the others laughed at him a bit. "Look, even Ace's in it and he only joined, how is that fair? No offence, Ace!" Thatch shouted the last part towards where Ace was sitting, but Ace was focusing on different parts of what Thatch had said.

"Ace is in what?" Ace asked, narrowing his eyes at the group of men, all of which were now looking at him.

"In the firemen's charity calendar," Thatch said like it was obvious.

"You're February," one of the others added helpfully, as if that made things more clear.

"I'm..." he started, though had no idea how to continue. He snapped out of it, though, before glaring at the lot of them. "I'll have no part in this, Thatch can take my spot."

"Thatch can do what now?" Marco asked calmly as he entered the common area from the direction of the captain's office. He was the only other member of the squad whose name Ace remembered mostly because he was the lieutenant and maybe just a tiny bit hot.

"Ace says I can be Mister February, woohoo!" Thatch shouted happily and loud enough to drown out Ace's snort of amusement. He couldn't show Thatch was growing on him, then they might think he'd want to stay which he didn't.

"It's not Ace's decision." Marco's voice cut through the cacophony of Thatch's cheers, silencing him immediately. "This is for charity and if Ace is on the list for February, then he's going to be on the calendar for February."

Ace felt anger boiling in his gut. "I'm not posing for some stupid calendar if Thatch wants to do it instead of me," he said, eyes boring into Marco's. "You can't tell me what to do."

"I am your superior," Marco said, his eyebrow arching, "so technically I can tell you what to do. But you don't really have a choice here because the photographer picked you and no one says no to Robin."

That made Ace stop because he knew that name. His former firehouse was picked for the calendar a few years ago and, even though he wasn't in the twelve men chosen, Ace had heard stories. "Oh God," he mumbled. "Not Robin."

Marco only nodded solemnly, still looking at Ace. "I'm January," he added with a grimace.

"Welcome to the team, Portgas. You're one of us now whether you like it or not," Jozu said with a wide grin and Ace wasn't sure whether he liked the sound of that or not.

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, Ace almost missed it. He'd overslept and was running late for class, making him rush through his morning routine before literally running out the door and towards the school. It wasn't until he lifted his hand to write on the whiteboard that he'd seen the small heart scribbled on the back of his left hand. The kids noticed it too, immediately asking if he had a girlfriend that drew him hearts, not knowing that it wasn't Ace's hand the heart had been drawn on.

The second time it happened, Ace almost missed it again. He was out with Sabo on a Saturday night, having a beer and lamenting how he was getting too old for going out to bars, when he saw a number being written on the palm of his hand with a woman's name underneath. The reason he almost missed it was that not even ten minutes later, it was gone. There was no keeping it from Sabo at that point, though, and Ace figured there were worse people who could find out that he apparently had a soulmate now.

The third time, though, it wasn't Ace who noticed.

"Mr. Ace, my dad writes reminders on his hand like that too!" Haruta said excitedly, hand waving in the air even though he didn't wait for Ace to call his name before speaking, considering he was turned to the board, writing out what the kids had to make for art homework.

It made him pause enough to look at the back of his hand to notice that he did, in fact, have a short list of things written there in a small tidy handwriting.

"Sometimes he lets me draw hearts and stars there in the morning, for good luck!" Haruta added with a wide grin and Ace could only smile back, trying not to panic at the prospect that the father of one of his students might be his soulmate. Especially this particular father, but he'd cross that bridge when he got to it.

"That's very nice of you, Haruta," Ace said, "I'm sure he appreciates it." And that was it on the subject before he let the kids go for the day.

He hadn't given this soulmates thing a thought until then, when it became obvious to him that this was a real person behind the marks he'd been seeing. Until then, it was easy to forget that there was actually someone on the other side of this connection.

Ace sat at his desk at the front of the classroom, debating what he should do about this. One the one hand, he was in his thirties, single and not opposed to a relationship. On the other hand, though, this was possibly (probably) the parent of one of his students. He gave it some thought before grabbing a marker and uncapping it before he settled on what to write. With a steady hand, Ace pressed the tip of the marker to his skin before he could change his mind.

Barely a moment later, he set the marker down and stared nervously at the back of his hand, two neatly written words staring back: 'Hello, soulmate'.

Chapter Text

The writing on his hand appeared suddenly and seemingly unprovoked, and Marco hadn't even noticed that he suddenly had a soulmate. There was no way to tell when that had happened precisely, because the person on the other side must have known for at least a short while before writing such a specific message. Or it was something they did on a regular basis, on the off chance that it would take once and reach their soulmate.

Either way, Marco had no idea when it happened. His hands have been covered with the usual array of scribbles, reminders and doodles from Haruta lately and he honestly couldn't say which one went through. For all he knew, it could have been the number that woman wrote on his hand when Thatch had dragged him out for a drink while Haruta spent the weekend with their old man.

Instead of worrying too much about it, though, Marco found the nearest pen before washing off whatever it was he'd written on his hand. He knew whoever the other person was, they could see the ink disappearing. Without a second thought, Marco wrote down his phone number and his name underneath, knowing it would be a better way of communication.

Everything after that was surprisingly easy, the texting and the phone calls, even with knowing that it was Haruta's teacher on the other side. It should have been awkward on all accounts, yet it wasn't in the slightest, not even when they ran into each other for the first time since the connection happened and Haruta all but tackled Ace.

"Mister Ace!" he yelled as he ran through the grocery store aisle, only stopping when he was in danger of knocking Ace over.

"Haruta," Ace said, seemingly trying to look serious, but Marco could see the hint of a smile as he approached them at a more normal pace. "What's the hurry?"

"I just wanted to say hi!" Haruta said excitedly before turning to Marco. "Dad, look it's Mister Ace!"

Ace looked up at him then, looking almost surprised at seeing him, but then he smiled softly and Marco couldn't help but think that whatever force decided which people would be soulmates made the right choice with them.

"Hello, Mister Ace," Marco said, probably doing a poor job of keeping the amusement off his face.

Ace just shook his head, a smile obvious on his lips. "I think just Ace is fine," he said, stepping a bit closer as he extended his hand. "It's a pleasure to see you again."

Marco took his hand, shaking it for a moment. "You too," he said, smiling like a complete besotted idiot. Ace looked just like Marco felt; giddy, but containing it because they'd only found out they were soulmates and there was no need to get ahead of themselves. Marco had Haruta to think about and Ace understood that perfectly and it only made Marco fall just a bit harder.

"Aren't you going to kiss?" Haruta asked, making them both startle.

"Why would you say that?" Marco asked, noting the wide eyed, doe caught in the headlights look on Ace's face. He should have been too old to pull that off, and yet he looked completely adorable.

"Uncle Thatch says that soulmates kiss," Haruta replied as if it explained everything. "Mister Ace had the heart I drew you on his hand last week so that means you're soulmates, right? You should kiss then."

Marco was momentarily astound at the perceptiveness of his kid.

"Why don't we have dinner first?" Marco asked, smiling at Haruta before he lifted his gaze towards Ace. "If you're free tonight. I'll cook," he added and enjoyed the bright smile that appeared on Ace's face.

"I'd love to."

Chapter Text

Raising Luffy came with a fair amount of difficulties, just as Ace had predicted, but they were mostly unlike anything he was counting on. If bribed with the proper treat, he would do his homework and put his toys away without much of a fuss, but he insisted on watching every single boxing match and documentary available on TV.

Ace was told that should have worried him, and perhaps it would have if Luffy became more prone to getting into fights in school, but that wasn't what happened. Instead, Ace found himself in front of the doors of a ballet studio, barely keeping Luffy from barreling inside in his excitement.

"You're completely sure you want to do this?" Ace asked, glancing down at Luffy who was almost hanging off his arm with a huge grin on his face. "I'm not against enrolling you in a dancing class, but you need to know you'll have a responsibility to go."

"Ace," Luffy whined, doing his best to pull Ace forward, but making no progress, "all the best boxers took dancing lessons! If I wanna be a boxer when I grow up, I need to do it too, come on!"

Ace chuckled, still holding onto Luffy's hand tightly. "Alright, let's go then."

Luffy's excitement was contagious to the point where Ace couldn't stop himself from grinning as he opened the door and ushered Luffy inside. The grin, however, slipped from his face the moment he laid eyes on the only adult in the room and he could already feel his jaw dropping. He'd love to claim it was because of the tights the guy was wearing, but really, it was the way he settled on the tips of his toes, standing tall and proud with his arms held above his head, forming almost a perfect circle.

There were at least a dozen kids scattered around him, looking starstruck and awed, an expression that was probably finding its way on Ace's face as well. A moment later, the manlowered himself from his toes, arms going down at the same pace until he stood there, feet flat on the ground and arms against his sides.

Ace was sure he was zoning out, looking at the back of the guy's head, because he heard nothing until the kids' cheered and snapped him out of it. They all hurried towards a door at the back of the room and only then did the guy turn around, and Ace knew he was gawking, but he really couldn't help it. The guy was absolutely gorgeous, though slightly confused looking as he approached Ace and Luffy.

"Hi!" Luffy shouted, and Ace could have kissed him for snapping him out of staring and making him close his mouth, because that was just embarrassing. "I'm Luffy and this is my big brother Ace."

Ace waved a bit awkwardly, sure at this point that the man had spoken and he'd completely missed it.

"I'm Marco," he said, grinning down at Luffy before his gaze flicked up to Ace through his eyelashes and honestly, Ace was embarrassed how his brain function stuttered to a halt. "How can I help you?" he asked, still grinning while Ace was sure his face might catch fire from how hot it felt.

"I wanna be a boxer!" Luffy exclaimed and yet again saved Ace. He was already thinking where he could take Luffy for ice cream after because he sure as hell deserved it. The slightly confused look on Marco's face, though, made Ace gather his wits finally and speak.

"What he means is, he wants to join your ballet class so he can improve his footwork like all the great boxers do," Ace said before looking down at Luffy. "Right, Luffy?"

"Yes!" he shouted, jumping up a bit and Ace looked up just in time to see Marco grin again.

"Well, you're in the right place then," he said, laughing as his words made Luffy jump up and down.

"I have a beginner's class starting in three weeks, if you're willing to wait," Marco said, turning to Ace this time. Luffy already let out a disappointed whine, but Ace ignored it for the moment.

"That's not a problem," he said, wanting to wait a bit and see if Luffy's interest would dwindle or if he'd go through with the class.

"Are you hoping he'll change his mind?" Marco asked, still smiling, but Ace could tell it wasn't friendly anymore. "As you may have noticed, we don't have many boys in the class."

It didn't take a genius to figure out where the question was coming from. Or that there were only two boys in the group Marco was teaching when they walked in.

"No, I just want to make sure he's still interested in ballet by the time class starts," Ace replied. "And I don't mind waiting here because you seem like you could handle Luffy's," Ace paused to mull over his choice of words before settling on the most diplomatic one, "enthusiasm."

Marco narrowed his eyes at him before eyeing Luffy, who was suspiciously still.

"If you have time, you can bring him here to my other classes in the next few weeks and he can see what he'd be learning," Marco offered before gesturing to the desk near the door. "Let me take your e-mail and we'll be in touch."

"Sounds great," Ace said, sure he'd passed some kind of test and grinning at the prospect of getting to see Marco dance for real.

Chapter Text

"We need to stop meeting like this."

Ace's eyes fell shut, his hand clutching at the bleeding wound on his stomach, shaking and slippery from the blood, the old wooden wall rough and cold against his back. And yet hearing that voice made relief flood through him. He could finally breathe easier.

"Where's Luffy?" he croaked, feeling blood well in his throat and fill his mouth. "Is he alright?"

Nothing but the soft, almost calming, sound of rustling feathers reached him for a moment before fingers, warm and smooth, slid along his cheek and into his hair.

"Luffy is fine," Marco said softly, his other hand settling over Ace's, just where his wound was. "You were careless, though," he added, the calm of his voice cracked, revealing the anger underneath, but nevertheless, the all too familiar warmth radiated from Marco's hand.

Slowly, the pain was lessening until it was all but gone, replaced by a dull ache that always stayed for a while after Marco healed him, the gentle hand caressing Ace's hair doing just a little to ease the sensation. Ace's breathing slowed, now that the pain and panic were gone, and he opened his eyes to look at Marco at last.

"What were you thinking?" Marco asked and more of the anger spilled out. It was obvious in his eyes and the way they shone a brighter blue when he was particularly mad. It almost hurt to look at him, but Ace couldn't look away. "Taking on a coven this big is a job for more than just you and your brother!"

Despite the words and the harsh way they were spoken, Marco's hands were still gentle where they were touching Ace. He was always gentle, even when Ace knew he didn't deserve it.

"Does it matter now?" Ace asked, resigned and tired of arguing over the same thing every time Marco found him half dead after a hunt gone wrong. It didn't happen nearly as often as it seemed sometimes, but still too often for comfort. Ace was just glad it was always him and not Luffy, though Marco was less than happy about it happening at all.

Marco sighed before he leaned closer, pressing his lips to Ace's forehead. He moved away a moment later, removing his hands and taking the warmth with him as he stood from where he'd been crouching in front of Ace. He looked so out of place, standing tall and put together in a pristine suit, surrounded by blood and carnage from their fight with the coven.

Ace really hated witches.

"No, I suppose it doesn't," Marco replied and Ace snapped out of staring at how good Marco looked in a suit.

"Luffy is looking for you," Marco continued as he offered Ace a hand to help him up, which Ace took without hesitation. "Be more careful, Ace. Please."

The anger was all but gone, replaced by the worry Ace still hadn't gotten used to. It hurt even more to look at Marco when there was that much worry in his eyes and Ace looked away, down at his bloody hand.

"Why do I need to be careful when I have a guardian angel watching over me?" he asked jokingly, but didn't look up, not even when Marco's fingers touched his cheek again.

"All it takes is not finding you on time once," Marco whispered before pressing his lips against Ace's hair and then he was gone, with a flutter of wings Ace couldn't even see.

A moment later, there was nothing but a few pristine white feathers left where Marco stood and Luffy's voice calling for him.

 

Chapter Text

The date was probably one of the worst Marco had been on in years. Maybe also the first he’d been on in years, but that was neither here nor there, though technically that was the reason Thatch set him up on a blind date. Despite being fine with being single, Marco could understand that Thatch, as a good brother, just wanted him to be happy.

Which was exactly why Marco couldn’t fathom why Thatch would set him up with a boy that looked like he was barely out of high school. Marco wasn’t exactly old, but he was still way too old to date someone that young so it really wasn’t unusual that he’d ended the date pretty early on and they’d parted ways at the restaurant.

Marco was on his way home, walking through the still fairly crowded streets. It gave him time to think and the only conclusion he’d come to was that Thatch was messing with him. Without a second thought, Marco pulled out his phone and dialed the last number he called, knowing he hadn’t used it since calling Thatch earlier in the day.

“‘ello,” he said as he picked up, sounding like his mouth was full which wasn’t that unusual given that it was still kind of dinner time.  

“On a scale from one to ten, how creepy would I be if I went home with someone 12 years younger than me?” he asked without bothering with a hello, doing his best to sound as casual as possible to make Thatch think he was being serious about this. “Usually I wouldn’t consider it, but he’s just short enough to look great if I put him over my knee.”

There was a distinct sound of choking from the other end of the line and Marco couldn’t help but feel smug.

“Well, I guess that would depend on how old you are,” the person who most definitely wasn’t Thatch said a moment later, voice kind of rough from the sputtering and coughing. “If you’re 40, I don’t see why not. If you’re under 30, you should probably  go home alone and think about spanking someone more age appropriate.”

Marco stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, mouth hanging open and his face feeling like it was on fire. He only took a moment to check his phone and notice that he hadn’t actually dialed Thatch’s number, like that wasn’t actually painfully obvious already. The phone was back against his ear in a flash, while Marco thought of something smart to say to rectify the fact he’d made a complete ass of himself.

The stranger was having other plans, though.

“I think now’s a good time to realize you dialed the wrong number,” he said, sounding far too amused to Marco. “Are you Thatch’s cat lady brother?”

Hearing Thatch’s name snapped him out of his embarrassment enough to respond.

“I only have two cats,” Marco said indignantly. “How do you know he’s my brother?”

“He called me earlier from your phone while you were getting ready for your date,” he said. “How tall are you if Coby is that short in comparison?”

“I wasn’t serious about that,” Marco said with a groan. “We already went our separate ways.”

“My question still stands,” the guy said. “I’m intrigued now. How often do you put someone over your knee, though? Or is that just for when you find someone short enough?”

“Oh god,” Marco mumbled, not knowing exactly how to start explaining that he wasn’t a creep that liked spanking young boys.

“Coby’s 20, though, does that mean you’re around 32?” the guy continued. “That’s not old, I’d probably let you spank me.”

Marco slapped a hand against his face, unsure what the hell was going on.

“What?” His voice sounded pretty weak and croaky, but at this point, he was sure no one would blame him.

“Unless you think I’m too old,” he continued, “since I’m closer to 30 than 20.”

He sounded like he was genuinely wondering and not just teasing which made Marco snort.

“How about coffee first and you can tell me how you know my brother and Coby,” Marco said, “and we can get to the spanking later.”

There was laughter from a moment before the stranger replied.

“Sure,” he said. “My name’s Ace, by the way.”

Chapter Text

At first, Ace thought it was the sound of the storm that woke him. The thunder was unmistakeable, mixed with the sound of waves crashing against the hull of the ship, making everything rock along the ocean. It was far from the first storm they’d been caught in and it would hardly be the last, but Ace could tell it was nothing serious just yet considering the alarm hadn’t sounded.

Merely a moment later, though, Marco’s arms wound tighter around Ace’s middle and Marco exhaled sharply against the back of his neck, choking off a sob with his nose buried in Ace’s hair. Even with the almost iron grip Marco had on him, Ace could feel the trembling of his arms and the irregular rise and fall of Marco’s chest against his back.

Just like he could recognize the seriousness of the storm outside, Ace could recognize the aftermath of a nightmare and he was immediately fully awake, ready to turn around and comfort Marco until they could both fall back asleep.

“You mean the world to me,” Marco said softly, lips almost grazing against the back of Ace’s neck, trembling with the harshness of his breath.

Ace froze for a moment, his heart breaking from the pain he could hear in Marco’s whispers, but he couldn’t turn around.

“I don’t know how to breathe without you anymore,” he said and Ace knew then that Marco thought he was still asleep. Their relationship was still a frail thing, a secret still kept between them and Whitebeard, and there had been no grand gestures or confessions of love. Marco was the one still holding back with his words, and Ace had no idea why.

“And I hate that I’ll have to,” he whispered, a muffled sob interrupting him. He shook, clinging onto Ace and Ace couldn’t bring himself to turn around, his chest aching like there was something piercing through him. “I never wanted to live forever.”

Ace could feel tears well up in his eyes at the confession, fighting with himself not to turn around and show Marco that he was awake. He was obviously not meant to hear this just yet.

He could feel Marco calm down, though, the shaking subsiding and his breathing evening out, the panic of the nightmare draining away.

“I wish I could tell you,” he whispered at last, exhaling softly before pressing his lips against the back of Ace’s neck, before he relaxed and drifted off, his grip finally loosening.

Ace turned, keeping the tears at bay as he wound his arms around Marco, pressing his face into the crook of Marco’s neck, wishing he didn’t know what plagued Marco’s nightmares.

Chapter Text

“Izou!” Ace shouted into his phone as soon as his call went through. “Izou, I’m drunk!” he said, rather redundantly, because he was sure Izou could tell. “And I’m calling you because I promised I would whenever I get drunk and get the urge to call Marco. I don’t know why you don’t want me to tell him I want his cock, but fine, I’ll tell you instead.” He took a deep breath, almost choking on air in his excitement.

“Izou, I want Marco’s cock,” he said pretty reverently, and probably too loudly, but that didn’t matter. Everyone was still inside and the music was really loud in there so no one probably heard, other than Izou. “Even if it’s tiny, but I’m sure it isn’t. He seems like the kind of guy that has a big dick. Do you think he does? Izou?”

“Uh,” came the reply, reluctant and somewhat stilted, “hey, Ace, it’s Marco.”

Ace could feel himself sober up all of a sudden, even though he was still far too drunk to salvage the situation and he really really needed Izou right now. The plan was foolproof, dammit, he just needed to call Izou whenever he felt the need to call Marco and say something stupid. Accidentally calling Marco’s number somehow didn’t seem like a possible weak spot to their plan.

“Uhm,” Ace mumbled, too drunk to think properly, but sober enough to know he fucked up big time, “wrong number?”

“I kind of gathered that,” Marco replied with a huff. “How drunk are you?”

“Not enough to have this conversation,” he replied, the defeat obvious in his voice. He already knew this would lead to a really long conversation at some point, but the drunkenness was turning into a chronically tired feeling and Ace just wanted to lie down and sleep and forget he made an ass of himself in front of his best friend because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

“Where are you?” Marco asked, sounding more concerned than anything else. “Do you need me to come pick you up?

“No, I think I need another drink,” Ace said mournfully, because he fucked up this time.

“Ace,” Marco said, sounding awfully exasperated.

“Alright,” Ace whined, knowing that he’d be embarrassed about that if he was sober, but then again, he’d be embarrassed about what he’d said earlier too so it was all the same at this point.

“I’ll go home with you if you tell me how big your dick is,” he added triumphantly, because his brain to mouth filter was still offline.

“Why don’t I pick you up first and then if you’re still curious tomorrow when you’re sober, I’ll show you,” Marco said. Ace was too busy cheering excitedly to bother with trying to figure out what Marco’s voice sounded like.

“Now tell me where you are,” Marco said and Ace was more than happy to tell him.

Chapter Text

Ace considered himself lucky, at least in regards to not being hungover ever, no matter how much he’d had to drink. His head was fine, his stomach was achingly empty, but that was bearable and his mouth tasted like crap, which wasn’t really a symptom of being hungover. Overall, physically he was fine.

Not being hungover, however, meant that he had a really vivid recollection of every excruciating moment he’d spent on the phone with Marco the night before. He could have taken a moment to hope it had all been a dream, but the couch he was lying on was definitely Marco’s, down to the soft pillow that constantly smelled like vanilla to the godawful orange blanket Ace himself bought ages ago.

He could already see the conversation that was going to happen and there was no way to avoid it, unless he wanted to stop being friends with Marco altogether, which may have been a bit of a drastic measure even for him. Getting up and making a run for it would be a pretty desperate move and a coward’s way out too, which Ace definitely wasn’t.

That sentiment changed the moment Marco walked out of his bedroom and stopped in his tracks as soon as he noticed Ace was awake. All Ace could do, other than avoid eye contact, was thank whatever force out there that Marco put on pants before walking into the living room.

“Good morning,” Marco said and the amusement in his voice was undeniable, just like the relief that coursed through Ace at hearing it. Marco was, so far, acting like things were normal. Maybe there was still hope for Ace.

“Morning.”

He sat up, rubbing at his face and groaning just a bit when he was harshly reminded that he got the bright idea of stripping all his clothes during the night because of… well, reasons. Marco only snorted from where he stood, before Ace could hear him walk back into his room. A moment later, a pair of sweatpants he was already intimately familiar with fell over Ace’s head.

“You look like you need those,” Marco pointed out before strolling towards the kitchen. “I’ll make some coffee. You look like you need some of that too.”

Ace put on the pants quickly, suddenly more shy about being naked around Marco than he’d ever been before. They have been friends for a really long time, after all, and Marco has seen him at his worst which somehow always included nudity. But that was a problem to ponder over at a different time. At the moment, he chose to get up and follow Marco to the kitchen.

Looking at Marco in the kitchen, though, as he went about making coffee and probably breakfast, judging by the eggs and bacon he already had on the counter, while humming something that sounded suspiciously like Adele, Ace couldn’t help but want this. He’d wanted a lot ever since he realized his feelings for Marco changed somewhere along the way, but he couldn’t deal with it. Wanting to walk up to him, hug him from behind, pester him while he cooks… They were all things he could see himself doing after waking up with Marco in his bed.

And yet all he could talk about on the phone last night was his dick.

“Are we going to talk about it?” he asked, the helpless wanting making him impatient. The cat was out of the bag now, he might as well try to make something of the situation.

Ace could see Marco stop, hand hovering over the tacky red mug he usually saved for Ace.

“Does that mean you’re still curious?” Marco asked after a beat. There was something in his voice that Ace couldn’t place, something soft and, dare he say, hopeful, as if the question was about more than just what he promised on the phone. It made Ace throw away all the options that included running for it and avoiding the issue.

“Yes,” he said carefully, “but I’m also curious about what you’d look like if I got to kiss you good morning. And good night. And just any time of the day, if you let me.”

Marco lowered his arm slowly, without grabbing the mug after all, before he turned to Ace with a calculating look on his face. Ace felt oddly self conscious under his gaze, something he never felt in front of Marco before.

He was being looked over for what felt like an eternity, before Marco finally smiled a bit as he leaned back against the counter.

“Well, it is still morning,” he said, the smile growing wider, “so you can still find out.”

Ace couldn’t help but grin back, taking a moment to mentally thank his stupid drunk ass for calling Marco the night before, before he crossed those few steps between them.

Chapter Text

Ace was so ready to kiss Marco. His hands were holding onto the kitchen counter on either side of Marco’s hips, their noses almost touching and Ace couldn’t believe his luck. Marco did nothing to move, though, only looking into Ace’s eyes and waiting for him to make a move.

It was the perfect moment for a first kiss and the absolute worst for Ace to remember that his mouth tasted like an unholy mix of all things disgusting in the world. He grimaced before he could press his lips against Marco’s and Marco’s face fell immediately. It was a small, barely noticeable change, but Ace had known him for far too long to miss it.

“I need to brush my teeth,” he said in a panic because the last thing he wanted was to make Marco think he was backing out of this. “You know, before I kiss you. Trust me.”

Marco grimaced as well. “Oh, I trust you. You know where the spare toothbrush is.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” Ace said then pressed a quick kiss to Marco’s forehead before he ran off towards the bathroom. The sound of Marco laughing behind him, though, made him grin. Somehow, this just fit perfectly with the whole situation.

Ace still hurried through brushing his teeth, though, ignoring his reflection in the mirror that showed just how much of a mess he looked like at the moment. Marco had seen worse so far, especially from him.

As soon as humanly possible, Ace was running out of the bathroom again, not even a bit embarrassed when he tripped and almost faceplanted into the wall in his hurry. No one saw so it was like it never happened at all.

Marco’s back was turned to him when he finally made it back to the kitchen. Ace could see the muscles in his back shift under the old threadbare shirt he was wearing as he stirred their coffees, once again humming something ridiculous. His hair was a mess too, as much as his hair could be a mess that is, and his sweatpants had a weird paint splatter just underneath his ass that Ace knew he could never wash out after they painted the living room a few months earlier.

Somehow, Ace couldn’t remember him ever looking better.

Without a second thought, Ace moved forward until he could wrap his arms around Marco’s waist and rest his chin on Marco’s shoulder. Marco was smiling, not surprised in the slightest at the contact and Ace figured he could try his luck, pressing his lips against Marco’s cheek. All he got was a hum in reply and he smiled, moving a bit so he could press his lips against Marco’s neck next.

This time there was a laugh, warm and happy and better than anything Ace had been expecting after the disaster from the night before.

Marco changed his mind not even a moment later, when he glanced at Ace over his shoulder before turning just enough to make pressing his lips against Ace’s easier.

Chapter Text

“I swear, this is not what it looks like,” Marco said, eyes kind of wild and panicked, his face flushed and almost glowing red in the dim light of the room. Whether it was because Ace barged into his room at the absolutely wrong moment or because of what he was in the middle of doing, Ace couldn’t know for sure. He was pretty curious, though.

“This is your room,” Ace said, barely registering that he was even speaking at all considering his focus was still on Marco; naked, flushed, hand still around his cock. “You can do what you like.”

At this point, Ace was having slight trouble recalling why he’d even barged into Marco’s room like that, in the middle of the night no less. Hearing Marco take a shaky breath, though, followed by Ace’s name, said in a way that was meant to sound exasperated, made him remember.

“You said my name,” he said dumbly. “That’s why I came in.”

Marco groaned and threw his head back into the pillow, sounding awfully embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I shouldn’t have done that.” His hand hadn’t moved, though, almost as if he’d forgotten about it.

Eyes glued to Marco, Ace closed the door, the soft click resounding through the room and disturbing the silence. Marco’s head snapped back up, looking at Ace in a panic for a moment before he sighed in relief. Ace was sure Marco panicked for a moment, thinking he’d left without a word. That panic was replaced with confusion a moment later, because Ace had stayed in the room.

“Do you want me to help you with that?”

The question seemed to startle them both, even though Ace was the one to ask it. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was thinking, but he had a feeling Marco wouldn’t mind this, whatever it may be.

“Yes,” Marco admitted softly, almost too quiet to be heard, but Ace did hear him and it was enough to make him move towards the bed until he could climb on it, holding himself on all fours above Marco.

All reluctance vanished when he looked down and saw Marco staring at him, wide eyed and awed, but still hesitant, as if he couldn’t believe this was real.

“Can I kiss you?” he asked before he could think about it at all.

Instead of an answer, Marco let out a wounded sort of sound before he reached up to tangle his fingers into Ace’s hair and pull him down until their lips pressed together, too forcefully, too clumsily, but perfect enough to ignite the pure want in Ace that was nothing but a dull throb so far. Marco’s other hand slid along Ace’s side, reaching for his hip before Marco flipped them over until he could straddle Ace’s hips.

“We’re going to have to talk about this,” Marco said, though he didn’t sound too enthusiastic about it. Even more so when Ace slid his hands up Marco’s thighs, making them both shiver.

“Tomorrow?” Ace asked, hopeful and more than a little aroused.

“Tomorrow,” Marco said before leaning down again.

Chapter Text

Marco supposed he should have known long ago that death wouldn’t be the end. Not for him, at least. A phoenix was a creature of rebirth, not eternal life, after all.

He never expected to come back with his memories intact, though, that first time it happened, and he’d come to dread the cycle of dying and being reborn only to remember all the lives he’d lived . Not once, though, did he find a family like the one he’d had that first time.

Not until he walked into a small flower shop near his apartment building, countless lifetimes after he was Marco the Phoenix, and found Ace looking at him with astonishment and something like recognition that almost broke Marco. He froze in his tracks, the silence around them broken only by the cheerful jingle of the bell as the door closed behind Marco.

“I,” he started, though he really didn’t know where he was going with that. “Ace?” he asked instead, voice low and oh so painfully hopeful.

“I know you,” Ace said just as quietly.

The words were said with so much wonder that Marco couldn’t stop himself from walking closer to the counter where Ace stood. He seemed to shake himself then, looking confused for a moment and Marco’s heart dropped.

“I don’t know why I said that,” Ace said, shaking his head, and Marco could feel his hope die a slow painful death. “I’m sure you’ve changed.”

Marco dared to look back up again, feeling the hope in him give a final kick.

“I would like to get to know you again, though.”

Ace’s grin was something Marco had never forgotten, wouldn’t know how to even if he tried. It was a smile that could bring him to his knees and at the same time make him feel like he was flying far above the clouds.

“I’d like that too.”

Chapter Text

“You were right,” Marco said and Ace could practically hear his teeth grind together as he said it.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Ace asked even though he knew what Marco said. He had the right to be a shit at the moment, considering their situation.

“I said you were right and I should have listened to you in the first place,” Marco said, more clear this time, but he hardly sounded happy about it.

Ace wasn’t too happy about being right either, but it was nice to get some recognition for his obviously superior instincts.

“Thank you,” he said, trying not to sound too smug, but failing at it a bit. “We need to figure out how to get out of here, though.”

Here being one of the supply rooms in the hull of the ship. Marco was the one that had been feeling adventurous and Ace pointed out that people still came down there on occasion. Of course, he hadn’t been expecting those people to be Thatch and Izou, who were seemingly there for the same reason as him and Marco, which they probably will be talking about once they got out of there.

“I can’t believe they’re together,” Marco whispered. “Thatch didn’t say anything.”

“To be fair, we didn’t tell them either,” Ace replied, looking around for the best way out, but found nothing considering Izou was pinning Thatch to the only door available.

“Should we interrupt them before this goes any further?” Marco asked, eyes glued to the two by the door. It looked to Ace like he wanted to look away, but couldn’t, which is exactly why he himself did everything in his power not to look at them.

“I don’t wanna interrupt them!” Ace whisper shouted. “Then they’ll know we came here to have sex too.”

“Are you planning on just sitting back here and waiting them out?” Marco asked incredulously, finally looking away to stare at Ace. “I don’t wanna be here for that!”

A sharp inhale drew both their attention to the door and looking was really the wrong thing to do as they were met with Izou’s naked ass. Ace cracked first, cursing far too loudly before he tried to look away and managed to hit his head on one of the crates next to him. Marco panicked immediately, calling Ace’s name and giving them away completely.

Thatch shrieked first while Izou scrambled to pull his robe back up, but neither Marco nor Ace were looking anymore.

“What the hell?” Izou shouted, clutching the robe around himself while Thatch just stared on.

“Move from the door before I see more than I need to!” Ace shouted back, pulling Marco along while Izou and Thatch moved, letting them out. They made their escape quickly, without looking back even once until they made it all the way to the deck.

“That went well,” Marco said, staring off into the distance.

“We’re avoiding them for a day or two, right?” Ace asked. “I don’t think I can look either of them in the eye just yet.”

“Agreed.”

Chapter Text

“If I don’t win your heart in a month, we can call off the wedding.”

The words were said in a whisper, so low that Ace almost didn’t hear them over the sound of his heartbeat and the blood rushing in his ears. They got his attention, though, and made him look up only to notice for the first time that the room was empty, save for the person that spoke.

Prince Marco, Crown Prince of Birka Kingdom and the Moby Isles.

It took a moment for Ace to notice that the Prince was sitting as far from him as possible, but once he did see it, it offered some degree of comfort. He had no idea if he could stomach them being within touching distance at the moment and the thought alone made him tense, his fists curling tightly at his sides where they rested on the sofa.

The tickle of something soft against his knuckles made him twitch for a moment until he realized it was only Spade, his whiskers brushing against Ace's had as he sniffed intently. It only went to show just how unsettled Ace was, for him to forget that he came to this meeting straight from the gardens, with his pet rabbit in his arms. He didn't tend to forget about Spade, ever, but his presence as he hopped into Ace's lap had the calming effect he needed at the moment.

"Is that even an option?" he asked, his mouth dry and his gaze firmly set on Spade's black fur.

"If you want it to be."

The Prince sounded as if he really meant it too, but the tone of his voice and the hushed way he spoke as if he might scare Ace if he talked too loudly made it obvious he knew something. Perhaps not everything, but enough for him to pity Ace and he was having none of that.

"I'm not made of glass," Ace said, his voice betraying none of the anger that came whenever he was treated so delicately, "and I am not likely to break if you speak up."

It was that anger that made him face the Prince and look him in the eyes. He didn't miss the surprise on the Prince's face, subdued so fast it seemed almost as if it was never there in the first place.

"I know," the Prince said, his tone almost bored sounding, but at least the pity wasn't there anymore. "That does not change the fact I'd rather not marry you if you're opposed to it."

Ace remained silent, looking at the Prince patiently as he waited for the other shoe to drop. Because how could it not? Their engagement was a contract between more than just two people, they were representatives of whole nations, and breaking that contract wasn't as simple as Ace saying 'no'.

"I would still like a chance to win you over," the Prince added, his smile brief, but unmistakably there and it was that alone that made Ace reach a decision before he could even think about it at length.

"A month, then," Ace said, offering a smile of his own, a brief weak thing that felt at odds with the shakiness he was still trying to suppress from the thought of once again being a prisoner in someone else's kingdom. Thinking of a marriage as a prison was probably the worst way of starting a courtship, but there was no helping that now.

"A month," the Prince repeated, sounding pleased, almost like he'd won something and Ace couldn't stop the anticipation creeping up on him.

Chapter Text

"I think I'm in love," Ace whispered, promptly ignoring the indignant snort from Sabo because he was too busy staring at the altar. "He's gorgeous."

"Lucky that you're about to marry him, then," Sabo whispered back as they continued walking between rows and rows of nobles and dignitaries, towards the altar where the eldest son of King Edward was waiting. He was more gorgeous than Ace expected and for a moment, there was no removing the awe from his face.

Ace could see him, staring at the two of them walking slowly down the aisle. All eyes were on them, actually, but Ace ignored everyone else because honestly, he was nervous enough about the whole marriage thing as is. Paying attention to the frankly alarming number of people in attendance would only make it worse, despite the fact he was used to being under scrutiny each day of his life.

His mother sat on the ornate throne to the left of the altar, Ace knew without even looking, and King Edward sat to the right. Ace didn't spare them a glance either, but he took a moment to be thankful that he didn't have to walk down the aisle alone, and even more thankful that his mother chose Sabo to walk with him.

"It'll be alright," Sabo said as they got closer to the altar, close enough for Ace to see the Prince's face properly and the bright color of his eyes and the was his lips were pressed together tightly, like he was fighting off some emotion trying to reveal itself.

"He looks smitten already," Sabo added just before they had to stop in front of the Prince and Ace was momentarily confused before he got the urge to ask Sabo what he meant, but it was too late. The Prince was in front of him, within touching distance and they were meant to stand side by side while his mother looked utterly pleased with herself for that brief moment Ace dared look at her.

The nerves were back and Ace could have sworn the entire ceremony passed by in the blink of an eye because suddenly there was the weight of a crown on his head and the warmth of a hand around his. The Prince was leading him back down the aisle and Ace knew he ought to get used to calling him 'Your Highness', but it was all too new because they hadn't met before that day and even though that was a normal practice for royalty, Ace wasn't sure he liked it.

He was so absorbed in his thoughts that it took a moment too long to notice the cacophony of voices was gone, replaced by a peaceful silence Ace had missed all day.

"That went well," the Prince said, drawing Ace's attention and it became more obvious how attractive he truly was. "I don't suppose you'd like to stay here for a while before we go back out there. Don't know about you, but I haven't had a moment of peace in the past week."

Some of the nervousness melted away as Ace watched this Prince, the heir to a very big throne and the beloved general of the King's army, pick up a pillow from the nearest sofa to hug as he sat down.

"Don't tell me you participated in planning the wedding," Ace remarked, smiling a little as he leaned against the door where he had a good view of the Prince. "Perhaps you picked out the flowers?" he asked with a small grin before remembering who he was speaking to. "Your Highness," Ace added, trying not to offend.

They were married now, but it was first and foremost a political marriage. He got a laugh in reply, the sound rich and oh so beautiful to listen to, distracting Ace for a moment, long enough that he almost missed what the Prince was saying.

"I'm afraid not," he said, still smiling. "Roses wouldn't have been my first choice."

He stood then, so suddenly and swiftly, and Ace could see the years of training in his movements, but he walked slowly, carefully even, looking anything but threatening as he took Ace's hand, running his fingers along the ornate gold band he'd placed there not even half an hour earlier.

"And please," he started, looking into Ace's eyes and still smiling that mysterious smile, warm and inviting and so alluring, Ace could feel his breath catch from the sight of it, "call me Marco."

Chapter Text

The local cops were already there, treating the motel room like a crime scene and attracting unwanted attention from other people staying in the motel. There were more people gathering at the entrance to the parking lot and all Ace could do was sigh, because that's what the local cops always did. Trying to impress the federal agents and going about it the wrong way.

He wasn't worried though. The Phoenix never left anything behind. Not accidentally, at least, and the bits of evidence he did leave behind on purpose was usually completely clean. No matter how much Ace wanted him to slip up, he never did. One would think they were dealing with a serial killer and not an art forger.

"Sir!" the deputy Ace spoke to earlier came running from the room. "We found something!"

He sounded so excited, Ace didn't have the heart to tell him the Phoenix always left 'something'.

"Show me," he said instead, continuing towards the room. Really, he was going there anyway, there was no need for dramatics.

The room was like the countless others he'd been in too recently - looking barely clean enough with outdated furniture and horrible art on the walls. It looked like no one was in it for a while, which was how Phoenix always left them.

"There, sir," the deputy said, pointing towards the bed.

The small package was there like usual, neatly wrapped in plain brown packing paper with a single string tied around it. The deputies looked ready for a bomb to go off, but Ace knew it was nothing that nefarious.

"This has been photographed?" he asked as he took a pair of gloves out of his jacket pocket, eyes never leaving the package on the bed.

"Yes, sir," someone said, but Ace didn't really care enough to wonder who.

He simply nodded before reaching out for the package. The gasps around him were very audible, but he ignored them while he carefully untied the string then handed it over to his partner. Hopefully. He didn't bother checking, but someone took the string with a gloved hand so it was good enough for him.

Gently, he unwrapped the paper to reveal the back of a tiny painting canvass still mounted of the wooden frame. He handed the paper off too, eyes on the back of the canvas, examining it for clues. Of course he wasn't expecting any, but that didn't stop him from making absolutely sure the Phoenix didn't leave him a surprise this time.

No such luck. Ace was already used to the disappointment though.

Carefully, he turned the canvas in his hands and barely stifled the gasp. People were looking at him, and well, it wouldn't really do to let on something actually was different this time.

"Where are we going next?" Sabo asked, assuming the miniature in Ace's hands would, as always, lead them to the next motel room with the next clue that may or may not lead them to the Phoenix one day.

"Shit," Sabo said a moment later, when he took a closer look at the canvas.

Shit was absolutely right, thought Sabo may not have understood why exactly. The clues they usually found were postcards, easy to trace, but not easy enough that they'd find the location before the Phoenix moved on.

They were usually not miniature paintings, beautiful in their detail and still smelling of wet oil paint.

"What is that?" one of the deputies asked.

"Monet," Ace replied, never taking his eyes off the painting. "Woman with parasol."

"Think he's gonna steal that?" Sabo asked, no doubt already searching where the painting was located and what the earliest time they could leave was.

"Wouldn't be surprised," Ace replied, doing his best to sound sincere, and trying his hardest not to think about the Woman with parasol hanging on his bedroom wall.

Chapter Text

The door was locked when Ace returned, just like he left it. The lights were off and everything was quiet. There was no reason for him to be suspicious, and yet he was.

Scared? Not really. Nervous? Definitely.

He did his best to unlock the door as quietly as possible, just in case. He sneaked through his own home like a burglar, gun in hand, feeling incredibly stupid about the whole thing, while still hoping he was right about this.

There was enough light coming in from the windows to make his way through the hallway and living room, sweeping it for intruders. The apartment wasn't that big so it didn't take too long to get to the bedroom, even if he was moving carefully and probably too slowly.

The bedroom door was closed as well, and Ace couldn't remember if he left it like that or not. It wasn't a weird thing to wonder about considering, but he knew he should stay focused.

Unsurprisingly, the door opened without a problem. His bedroom was less dark, with light from the outside flooding in through the windows. He definitely didn't leave the blinds up.

"Are you going to shoot me?" the Phoenix asked from the bed, voice low and serious.

It took a moment for Ace to lower the gun, to recognize the sleepiness and confusion in Marco's voice. He'd probably woken up while Ace was sneaking through the apartment.

"Maybe next time you make me chase you halfway through the States while you're breaking into my apartment," Ace said, putting the gun back into the holster, then depositing it in the closet.

Marco chuckled from the bed, but said nothing while Ace took his jacket and shoes off. He didn't bother folding his suit, not this time, simply dropping the pants and shirt on the floor next to the jacket. Wasting no more time, Ace climbed into bed until he was on top of Marco.

"I missed you," he sighed against Marco's lips. "I can't believe you've been making us go from one crappy motel to another for months."

"They really are crappy, aren't they," Marco replied, sounding awfully like he wanted to burst into laughter.

"You're an asshole," Ace told him.

"You're trying to arrest me," Marco replied and Ace could almost hear his eyebrow lifting. Ace really wished the light was on so he could actually see Marco.

"If I really wanted to, I'd arrest you now," Ace said, lowering his head so it rested in the crook of Marco's neck.

"You probably should," Marco said, and Ace couldn't tell if he was serious or not.

"Probably," Ace said simply, refusing to think about it seriously for the moment. About that or the fact he was a bad agent.

"You're going to sleep instead?" Marco asked with a laugh.

"Yup."

"Gonna get off of me?" Marco asked.

"Nope."

Marco laughed and the motion shook Ace, making him smile as well.

"I'm glad you kept my painting," Marco added a moment later, before pressing a kiss into Ace's hair.

"'s my painting now," Ace replied, and once again refused to entertain the age old question whether that the painting hanging on his wall was Marco's forgery or a real Monet. For now, he preferred not knowing for sure.

Chapter Text

The full moon made him do weird things. Ace knew it for a fact. Sabo most definitely knew. Hell, even Luffy noticed at this point. And yet, Ace still insisted on going alone for his full moon run like some kind of idiot that thought he would get into less trouble without his pack.

In his defense, the full moon could be blamed for lack of common sense, because he wasn't normally that big of an idiot. The kind of idiot that lost his clothes somewhere past the two mile mark into the forest and woke up at dawn stark naked on someone's doorstep.

There was a steaming cup of coffee in front of his face, the smell strong enough to actually make him wake up, and a soft looking folded blanket just behind it.

Ace was awake enough to realize whoever the owner of this house (cabin?) was, they knew he was out there freezing his naked ass off.

He stood, groaning at the ache in his...well, everything. Running on all fours all night was fine, but passing out on someone's porch really did him in. It probably didn't help that it was so cold, the autumn air freezing and wet with the fog.

Ace grabbed the blanket to cover himself with before he looked around to try and figure out where exactly he was. His memories were still in the fuzzy stage where he could remember the run, the dead leaves and cold dirt under his paws, but not the details of where he went and if he ever actually made it out of the forest.

The lake behind him, and the horizon obscured by endless trees suggested he was far from civilization though. So much for staying out of trouble on his own.

He reached for the coffee next, momentarily unsure what t0 do about his predicament. There was fuck all around him, save for the trees. And of course the cabin he found himself in front of.

His options were severely limited, with his mind still trying to settle on his human side while the wolf still refused to let go. A fight that left him more confused than capable of finding his way home from this far into the forest. Ace was pretty sure at this point it could have already been considered the mountains, really, because there was no lake in walking distance from where he started.

With the cup in hand, and an awful chill going down his spine, Ace walked over to the wooden door that opened just as he was about to knock.

"Uh," Ace said, his hand still awkwardly in the air, "hi?"

The man in front of him looked awfully amused, but also really really warm and Ace wanted in on that as soon as possible.

As if hearing his thoughts, the man stepped aside. "Please, come in," he said in a smooth mesmerizing voice, motioning for Ace to go inside.

"Thank you," Ace said, because he wasn't raised by wolves. Figuratively speaking.

The warmth was almost too much, but he went straight for the fireplace anyway, ignoring the numerous questions he wanted to ask, most of them focused on why the hell would someone live this far in the forest with far more luxuries than Ace had imagined in cabins like these.

"Do you have a name, Mr Wolf?" the man asked, his breath tickling the shell of Ace's ear and making him startle, completely unaware that there had been any movement behind him.

He moved away to put some distance between them, his heart racing, because it had been so long since someone managed to sneak up on him.

"Ace," he said though, acutely aware that he was alone in this stranger's house in a painfully remote part of the forest.

"I'm Marco," he said in reply, smiling like he hadn't just given Ace the fright of a lifetime. "I apologize if I startled you."

Ace only nodded at that, unable to shake all the suspicion. He could definitely smell something odd in the air, something sweet and alluring and somehow familiar.

"Would you like to borrow some clothes?" Marco asked a moment later, looking amused, but Ace didn't trust anything at the moment. "I can get some while you sniff around my living room."

Ace simply narrowed his eyes, far less amused, but sure he wouldn't be getting into a fight just yet.

"Clothes would be great, thank you," he said politely and smiled, hoping for a nap, but knowing it wouldn't he happening any time soon.

Chapter Text

The call came while he was driving to the precinct, running late for once because Marco wasn’t eager to let him go. It was easy to take a detour and just meet Thatch at the crime scene, and for once they’d made it before everyone except the two unis that secured the scene.

Thatch had already been waiting at the parking lot, leaning against his car with a cup of coffee in each hand and the opposite of his usual sunny disposition. That alone should have been telling enough about how the day would play out.

“You’re not going to like this,” Thatch said as he handed over the cup. As if the scowl on his face wasn’t enough, Thatch had to say the six words Ace hated the most.

He was just hoping it wasn’t another of those kidnapping gone wrong situations because those were always rough for everyone involved.

“How bad?” he asked instead, gratefully taking the cup so he could sip the coffee before Thatch explained.

“It’s best if you see it,” Thatch told him with a wave of his head, and that was probably the worst sign of all that this was as shit of a situation as possible.

Thatch led the way from the parking lot and onto the wet grass, walking towards the tree line a short distance away. Ace already hated it; it had rained all night and if the scene was outdoors, the chances of any trace evidence were slim to none.

They walked in silence and that in itself was enough to set him on edge because Thatch always had a story to share, some anecdote that was definitely not appropriate for a crime scene, but it never stopped him anyway. He was almost afraid to ask for an explanation again, instead following in silence, sipping his coffee and almost wishing for something stronger.

He could see two officers just beyond the tree line, standing in front of police tape that was circling the scene. The body came into view soon after, lying on top of deal leaves that still had a vague redness of blood to them that wasn’t washed away by the rain.

Thatch moved then and Ace got a clear view of the face just as they reached the tape.

“Fuck,” Ace said, his blood running cold.

“Yup,” Thatch said, though he didn’t sound sad. Ace wasn’t either, truth be told, but that wasn’t the issue.

“You called it in?” Ace asked, taking his eyes off of Teach’s face to look at Thatch again.

“Of course,” Thatch replied, glancing over at the two officers subtly before looking back at Ace. “The captain needed to hear it was one of our own as soon as possible.”

They both knew a real conversation wouldn’t be possible at the scene, where someone could hear. But knowing there were possibly a lot of their brothers in blue on the way on account of a detective being murdered, Ace approached the scene while he still had the time to look it over without too many prying eyes.

The memory of Marco coming home late the night before, cold and wet from the rain, was vivid in his mind for a moment. His lips almost like ice when he’d kissed Ace before he disappeared into the shower, and Ace hadn’t asked where he’d been.

He chose to ignore it for a moment as he approached the body, looking it over without touching anything. One shot between his eyes and two in his chest. It was hard to confirm like this, with the red of his blood soaking through the shirt and obscuring anything important, but somehow Ace knew there were two shots.

“I already looked around,” Thatch said while Ace crouched next to Teach’s body. “No footprints, nothing out of place from what I could tell. The rain probably fucked us over.”

Ace could hear the words he wasn’t saying too. ‘Our investigation was ruined, without Teach we have no link between the precinct and whichever gang was paying off so many officers.’ They lost their best bet at figuring out who was running things, back to square one with the investigation they’ve been conducting in secret for months.

“I’ll be right back,” Ace said as he stood and Thatch already reached out, offering a cigarette.

Ace took it before walking back through the trees. The cigarette was lit and resting between his lips as he pulled out his phone. The line rang only twice.

“Miss me already?” Marco asked and Ace could almost see him sprawled out in bed, hair mused and a soft sleepy smile on his face.

“Always,” Ace said, mirroring the smile he imagined Marco wore. “Not why I’m calling though.”

He took another drag from his cigarette.

“What did we say about making crime scenes for me, love?”

Chapter Text

The day had been too long for Ace's liking, filled with speeches about Teach and everyone butting into the investigation because the murderer needs to be brought to justice. But as he was unlocking the front door of the apartment, he knew this day was far from over.

"Welcome home, honey," Marco yelled from the kitchen, all sweet like nothing was the matter and Ace wanted to punch him just a tiny bit.

He took his coat and shoes off first though because he was wet and muddy and he really didn't feel like cleaning all that after the day he'd had.

"Go change, dinner's almost done," Marco sounded off again and Ace said nothing on his way to the bedroom in search for clothes that didn't have murder all over them.

Only when he was wearing something comfy and clean did Ace go through to the kitchen. He almost laughed out loud at the sight; a blue table cloth he didn't even know they owned was thrown over the small table, fancy plates set up with some candles and even flowers in the middle.

"Laying out the romance tonight?" he asked and Marco turned around from the stove, a grin plastered on his face.

"Don't I always?" he asked in reply, setting down the wooden spoon before he walked over to Ace for a kiss that Ace eagerly gave.

"I think I owe you some romance after the day you had," Marco said as soon as their lips parted, his hand smoothing down Ace's side.

"Thank you for that, by the way," Ace said, sounding only mildly accusatory.

He did press his lips against Marco's again for a moment before he moved over to sit down. Dinner smelled great and he was really hungry.

"I probably should have warned you," Marco said while he plated the food, "but you know I prefer plausible deniability in situations like these."

"Without knowing who was gonna find the body, it was better if you were as shocked as everyone else when it happened," he said in that voice of his he pulled when he tried to sound like what he was saying made the most sense ever.

Usually, it did. But Ace didn't have to like it.

"You still took a job to take out one of our detectives, sweetheart," Ace said with narrow eyes, the pet name coming unbidden as it usually did when he was on the verge of incredibly pissed.

"I didn't really have much of a choice," Marco said and Ace immediately wanted to argue that because he knew the kind of situations Marco used to get himself out of.

"I know, I know, I can usually take care of myself," Marco said, cutting Ace off and rolling his eyes only a little. "But if I didn't take this one, would have been someone else."

"But then I wouldn't have to investigate my own husband though," Ace said then decided to just try the food Marco laid out in front of him.

"But then your investigation into Teach would be just as dead as he is," Marco said kind of triumphantly and Ace's hand holding the fork froze halfway to his mouth.

"Meaning what?" he asked, mouth hanging open a bit because he was pretty sure he knew where this was going.

"Meaning, I'm pretty good at planting evidence and you shouldn't have a problem finding Teach's stash," Marco said with another grin, so proud of himself for pulling one over Ace.

"I don't need to know what other criminal activity you're good at," Ace said out of habit. "Tell me what evidence?"

"Storage locker key," Marco said, "in the glove compartment in his car."

"Where's the car?" Ace asked, the fork now resting on the plate.

"Should be found sometime tomorrow, don't worry," Marco replied and Ace was, yet again, in awe with how brilliant he was. "I won't tell you where just let it play out. The key will lead you to a storage locker where you should found stuff relevant to your investigation."

Ace continued to stare over the candlelight and the flowers, at a loss for words because the endless awful day was ending on a surprisingly good note.

There were only two steps between Ace and where Marco was sitting, and Ace crossed them in a second, bending down to plant another kiss to Marco's lips. Savoring it this time, the taste and warmth of him for a moment longer.

"You could have just told me about the storage locker," he said once he let go.

"I only found it after tailing him for a week," Marco replied with a shake of his head, hand absently caressing along Ace's thigh. "No way for you to connect it to him, he was careful."

"And besides, this is my job," he added with a grin. "Lucky I was able to help you out this time too."

Ace laughed a bit then, because yes, it really was lucky.

"The deal was no jobs in my jurisdiction, love," Ace said sweetly, "so you owe me."

"Anything," Marco said with that smile of his that showed he just knew he'd get away with it.

"We'll think of something," Ace said, pressing his lips against Marco's forehead before returning to his dinner.

Chapter Text

"You can fuck off, I'm not in the mood," Marco said as soon as he heard the click of the door behind him, not bothering to look up from the pants he was trying to fold well enough to fit into his bag. His teammates were coming by ever since he announced he was leaving and most of them were dicks about it.

Not shocking for a bunch of guys, half of which were barely eighteen, but it was still annoying. All the more reason for Marco to feel so old compared to them, even though the difference wasn’t that big.

"Wow, that bad?" Ace asked from behind him, sounding actually concerned.

Marco turned quickly, both surprised and relieved to see it was Ace. He wasn't sure if he wanted to ask who let him into the team house or how that interaction went after the whole thing.

"Sorry, wasn't expecting you," Marco said with a relieved sigh, going in for a hug as quickly as possible. 

Ace hugged him back without hesitation, and Marco finally relaxed for the first time since they came back from the Arena all disappointed and keyed up from their loss.

"They're that pissed, huh?" Ace asked into his neck, doing nothing to move away, but Marco could hear how sad he sounded. "Maybe you shouldn't have-"

"No, I stand by what I did," Marco said, pushing Ace back a bit so he could show just how serious he was. "You won the finals and I'm proud of you."

Ace was looking at him like he was a bit crazy but still managed to look proud as well. It was such an Ace expression.

"I mean, still," Ace said with a small incredulous laugh, "you kissed me on stage in front of the whole Arena after losing the finals to us. When no one knew about us in the first place."

"Still regret nothing," Marco said, planting another kiss to Ace's forehead then one to the tip of his nose, making Ace laugh a bit more genuinely.

"Are they actually that pissed about it?" Ace asked, sounding uncertain again, the laughter gone in an instant.

"Well," Marco started with a sigh, still not letting go of Ace, "more because I never told them about us.” 

They’d agreed not to tell anyone just yet, not when they were on opposing teams and management insisted on pitting them against each other just because they had the same home city. It was a whole deal and saying anything would have been a pain in the ass.

“And because I announced I'm leaving the team," Marco added before Ace could say anything. This, in all honesty, was the biggest reason the team was sulking at him. 

He was sure he should work on how to tell shit like this to people because he'd forgotten to tell Ace about the coaching offer he’d gotten a while ago, let alone about the fact he was accepting it.

“You’re what?” Ace asked, stuck somewhere between shocked and maybe a little bit mad, which Marco should have seen coming.

Still, Ace didn’t step away from Marco’s embrace and that in itself was a good sign.

“Fusion offered me a coach spot for their academy team,” Marco said with a sigh, “and I accepted.”

“When?” Ace asked then and Marco really wanted to hit himself or something because it’s been a while and he completely forgot to say anything with all the pressure they’ve been under during the final stage and playoffs.

He must have grimaced hard enough that Ace changed his mind.

“Shit, I don’t think I wanna know after all,” he said, still very obviously not stepping away from Marco’s arms. “And you’re going?”

“Yeah,” Marco told him as he looked away, fingers fiddling with the hem of Ace’s shirt. “You know the stage was just a temporary thing for me, but I don’t want to leave the League completely just yet.”

“Okay,” Ace said, completely reasonably. “Wish you said something, but I get it. Come on.”

He pulled away and took Marco’s hand, making his way towards the bed in the corner. Marco followed, of course, because he wasn’t a complete fool. He let Ace shove him down on the unmade bed too because he was still not a fool, and he let Ace pull his jeans off a moment later. Marco was never a fool when it came to Ace and clearly Ace knew best at the moment.

“We’re going to sleep cause it was a long ass day,” Ace said, pulling his own jeans off as he spoke. “And I’ll help you pack tomorrow. We can talk to the guys too so you don’t leave with all of them pissed about everything.”

“Okay,” Marco said, because honestly what else could he say. Ace was a reasonable person and Marco trusted his judgement completely. 

“Now sleep,” Ace said as he walked over to the door and turned the light off.

“I’m not actually sleepy,” Marco said, feeling the bed dip next to him when Ace climbed in with him. Marco’s arms were around him in an instant, pulling him close, a suggestion for some fun already on his tongue when Ace kissed him for a moment. 

“I know how little you’ve slept this last month, pretty bird,” Ace said, and like the fool he wasn’t, Marco yawned just then, proving Ace’s point for him.

“Sleep now, tired bird,” Ace said and there was no mistaking the smile in his words. “We have time for everything else tomorrow.”

Marco knew he was right, they had more time now, so he let go and closed his eyes, arms still around Ace. He still wasn’t a fool, after all.

Chapter Text

He knew he’d fucked up immediately. Like a fucking rookie or something, making eye contact with the target across the coffee shop. 

They weren’t supposed to make contact, just observe and gather intel and stay fucking inconspicuous because they were professionals on the easiest possible mission and Marco managed to fuck it up. The continued fucking it up by holding eye contact, watching the target grow more nervous by the second, but he couldn’t look away.

He was aware of how poorly all of it was going and yet couldn’t help it.

Ace’s fingers, warm and harsh, gripped at his chin and turned his head so Marco was facing Ace again across their table. He’d never been so grateful for Ace’s composure and quick thinking like in that moment. They needed to get the hell out of there without being suspicious, and Marco was feeling exceptionally useless at thinking of a way how to do that just then.

“You are mine now,” Ace said, loud enough that people at the tables around them could hear. “Don’t look at anyone else.”

Marco spluttered for a moment, but finally gathering his fucking wits to do his job.

He shoved Ace’s hand from his face. “What the fuck?” he asked with as much indignation he could muster while he stood and grabbed Ace’s own glass of water from the table between them.

People around them, including their target, were looking at them with barely hidden interest. The interest only grew when Marco threw the water at Ace’s face, a collective gasp going through the crowd while Ace moved back, dripping wet and completely indignant.

“You can fuck off,” Marco said loudly before grabbing his jacket and storming towards the door, making sure to check out the target again just to make the argument believable.

It took about five minutes for Ace to reach their rendezvous point three blocks away; a full five minutes for Marco to analyze what the fuck was up with him to mess up something so simple.

“The water was a bit much, don’t you think?” Ace asked as he made it through the door. “I had to walk back like this.”

“Going with a couple’s argument scene was a bit much,” Marco said without looking at Ace. “You know I hate those.”

“I threw up in my mouth a little while saying that,” Ace told him and Marco could hear the wet thwap of his shirt hitting the floor of the safehouse bedroom. “I’m pretty sure at least four people were ready to punch me for being a possessive creep.”

“That one’s completely on you,” Marco said and finally looked up to see Ace walking back towards the couch. 

Of course, he hadn’t bothered with a new shirt.

“I blame it on Deuce, actually,” Ace said then sat down next to Marco. “It was from one of his romance novels.”

Marco snorted at that, having been subjected to Deuce reading those out loud at the worst times and getting dumb shit stuck in his head. He said nothing though, letting Ace settle in, waiting for the inevitable questions. 

“So,” Ace started and Marco was surprised he lasted a full three minutes before broaching the subject. “What happened?”

With a sigh, Marco closed his eyes, leaning forward so he could prop his elbows on his knees and hide his face in the palms of his hands so he wouldn’t be tempted to look up.

“I think I need to retire,” he said, not missing the snort coming from Ace, “or get a new partner.”

He wouldn’t say it out loud, but Marco fully expected Ace to punch him for that.

“Why,” he said, not even posing it as a question, and that was much worse than a punch to the face. Much fucking worse, and he was not ready for that.

The couch dipped a little as Ace got up, and Marco still couldn’t look at him.

“Why the fuck, Marco,” Ace said, rightfully angry, and Marco really wished he could skip the explanation.

“I blew the easiest recon mission because you said something I can’t even remember anymore and I barely talked myself out of kissing you right there and ended up so distracted I didn’t even notice I was staring at the target until it was too late.”

He still couldn’t look up, because looking up meant facing Ace, after all, that word vomit. Ace, as usual, didn’t give a shit about Marco’s crisis and was much faster on the uptake.

Ace pushed at his shoulders until he leaned back into the couch, still avoiding eye contact, until Ace moved to straddle him, sliding his hands along Marco’s jaw.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Ace said so fondly, Marco’s heart ached for a moment until Ace pressed their lips together and made him forget that he actually was an idiot.

 

Chapter Text

Somehow Tuesdays were always the longest days, the ones with the worst cases and the most paperwork. It was always a Tuesday, and Marco already knew it as well, making sure to be home on Tuesdays specifically after Ace’s shift. He was considerate on any day, but on these specific days he went all out.

As usual, there were sounds coming from the kitchen as soon as Ace tumbled through the door, tired and ready to take a shower and relax at least a bit. Still, he took care to drop his shoes by the door and hang the coat properly no matter how badly he wanted to just dump everything on the floor and melt into the carpet.

Instead he went through his routine then stopped at the kitchen door.

“I am a monster who doesn’t deserve your love,” Marco said just as he leaned against the doorframe. He didn’t even turn to look at Ace, as per usual, he always just somehow knew when Ace was right behind him..

“You’re being dramatic,” Ace said with a healthy does of suspicion. “You’re only dramatic when you eat my food, what did you do.”

Marco turned then, looking incredibly guilty like Ace rarely saw, and he couldn’t help but sigh because he was a detective, dammit, and he could deduce shit about his own husband easily.

“Not the pistachios,” he said, unable to keep the whine out of his voice. “Anything but the pistachios.”

“I’m sorry,” Marco said and he sounded it too. “I completely forgot we didn’t have any more.”

He was closing into Ace’s space, looking all kinds of shamed and sad, but still slightly amused if Ace knew him at all. It was funny, Ace thought, how he never felt this guilt over the work he did.

“My pistachios,” Ace said and there was definitely a pout there because they were his favorites and Marco always kept several containers around the apartment at all times, but they hadn’t had the time to go shopping lately.

Marco’s hands were settling on Ace’s hips, pulling him closer until Ace could lean his forehead against Marco’s.

“I made pancakes for dinner,” Marco said, nuzzling against Ace’s nose, the contact warming Ace to the core after the snow he’d trudged through to get home. “A lot of blueberries, just like you like them.”

“You hate blueberries,” Ace said, bringing his arms up to wind them around Marco’s shoulders, relaxing into his hold. The shitty day he’d had was slowly melting away, just like the snow clinging to his hair.

“I kinda deserve them today,” Marco told him, too charming and sweet as he pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Ace’s mouth.

“I think I deserve maple syrup without a side of judgement today,” Ace added, poking out his tongue just to swipe it across Marco’s lower lip. 

He tasted like syrup and a bit of chocolate and like home . Everything about him was home, just what Ace needed at the end of a day like that.

“Promise I won’t judge you for eating pancakes like a five year old with a sweet tooth,” Marco told him, judging just a tiny bit, but kissing it better not a moment later.

“Come on,” he said and pulled away, adorably reluctant as if their time was limited and he couldn’t just steal another kiss any time. “I found that movie you wanted to watch too, it’s all set up on the TV.”

“That’s not out yet,” Ace said, but followed towards the plates set up on the counter. “Are you pirating movies now?”

He couldn’t stop the laugh when Marco looked at him with big innocent eyes, completely fake and barely believable. 

“Of course not,” he said, indignant in that way only he could be. “That’s illegal.”

 

Chapter Text

There was something special about the experience of waking up with a mouthful of carpet, and Thatch’s obscenely cold fingers wrapped around his ankle. It was always the ankle; it didn’t matter what position they all passed out in after a night of drinking, Ace always woke up the same way. At some point, he supposed, he should have gotten used to it.

Just like he’d gotten used to the taste of carpet, Vista’s snoring, Izou’s insane sleep talking and the fact that Marco unleashed Cinnamon into the living room when he decided they all got more than enough sleep.

“Fuck,” someone groaned loudly and with a lot of feeling, signaling that she has been unleashed. 

It was enough to wake everyone considering they were all intimately familiar with Cinnamon’s cold snout. She always went for the neck and Ace considered himself lucky that she always went for Haruta first.

“Baby, please,” Haruta said barely a moment later, and Ace felt the whine in his bones. “That’s fucking cold.”

Ace finally opened his eyes, squinting in the sunlight because Marco didn’t believe in lowering the blinds. 

“Coffee,” he croaked when he finally spotted Marco on his way back to the kitchen. “Give,” he added helpfully, because he could definitely smell coffee somewhere next to himself and just knew Thatch already got his mug.

Marco always played favorites and Thatch always got the first coffee. Again, something he should have been used to.

“You spilled three separate drinks on the carpet and the place smells like a frat house now,” Marco said, sounding like he wasn’t suffering like the rest of them, but Ace knew better. “You don’t deserve coffee.”

Everyone was waking up properly, Ace could hear it, he could hear the smug way Thatch drank his coffee too, but the indignation alone was enough to sober him up a little.

“Go fuck yourself,” he said, looking for something to throw in Marco’s general direction.

“Oh fuck me yourself, you coward,” Marco replied and Ace could pretty much feel the eye roll as he walked back into the kitchen.

Ace was sure he his brain was shutting down, only the sound of Thatch choking on his damn coffee bringing him back to the present. The living room was so silent, he could hear everyone staring. 

“Did he?” Ace asked, unable to close his mouth or look away from the doorway where Marco disappeared.

“Yup,” someone said helpfully, but he didn’t bother turning around to check who it was.

“I should maybe?” he asked, unable to actually form a full question.

“Yup,” someone else supplied, and Cinnamon boofed somewhere too.

Thatch was still hacking and coughing, and it felt like karma only a little bit.

“I’m just gonna,” he said mostly to himself as he got up from the floor, jeans all crooked and one of his socks missing, probably looking all kinds of bad, but Marco just said things and he had to. Do something?

He wasn’t sure what to do exactly, but it seemed like the kind of situation where he could just cross that bridge when he got to it.

“Can’t they do this shit after coffee?” Vista, maybe, asked from behind Ace, but it was easy to ignore him like usual. 

Marco was sipping at his tea right next to the coffee maker like he hadn’t just said something mildly unusual. He was just standing there, looking like a hot mess, completely unconcerned about anything.

“Was that an invite?” Ace asked, only slightly uncertain. He as blaming that on the vodka. “Is this flirting?”

Marco turned to look at him, one very critical eyebrow raised at him. He had an insanely expressive eyebrow and Ace was nowhere near the right state of mind to translate all that.

“I’ve been flirting since that time we all went camping and you had to wear my clothes cause Cinn rolled your bag into the lake,” Marco said pointedly, his expression mellowed somewhat by the fact he was squinting at Ace without his glasses. “Thank you for noticing though,” he added in that sassy way he only got when suffering from a really bad headache.

Ace squinted back at him, silent for a second before he walked over to where Marco stood. Their chests were almost but not quite touching when Ace lifted his hands to cup Marco’s cheeks, enjoying the suspicious little quint he got.

“You’re fucking terrible at flirting,” Ace said. “Holy shit, I thought you were joking this whole time, it’s been months.”

“May be so,” Marco replied reluctantly, still suspicious. “But you’re dense when anyone flirts with you and I should have seen this coming.”

“Name one time I didn’t notice,” Ace challenged.

“You didn’t realize that chef guy was flirting for a solid year,” Marco countered, “the poor persistent bastard.”

“Fine,” Ace groaned, because Marco was not wrong, “I’ll give you that one, but you’re still bad at it.”

“You can help me get better,” Marco told him with a dorky waggle of his eyebrows, until Ace snorted and moved his hands from Marco’s face.

“I can’t believe that just worked for me,” he said with another roll of his eyes, but he was smiling still, forgetting he was hungover and miserable for a short while.

Chapter Text

The clatter of roof tiles shattering against the railing of the balcony before falling to the street below was the only warning. 

He could hear the sound echo through the open window with the streets almost empty at this time of day. It wasn’t a new sound either, not with the increased number of archers patrolling the roofs of Firenze since the rumors of an assassin started, but it made Marco look up from his work every time. Every time without fail, the sound came just before he could hear footsteps across the roof above him, and then life continued.

The thud of a body against his floorboards was new, the pained groan that followed even more so. The figure in white that fell through his window most of all, with blood on his hands and a hood hiding his face. 

“Did anyone see you drop in here?” he asked once he found his voice, putting his brush down with slow measured movements. 

Assassins didn’t kill just anyone, he knew that much, but caution seemed to be the best approach. 

The figure on the floor stilled in a heartbeat, his face still hidden from Marco, but he could feel he was being weighed and measured, by which standards he didn’t know.

“No,” came the reply, in a voice so low Marco could have missed it if he hadn’t been listening with all the focus he could muster.

“You’re bleeding,” Marco said then, still rooted in place, choosing not to move until he knew it would be safe to do so. “I can help.”

An array of throwing knives was strapped to a very wide belt, dispelling any illusion that distance meant safety anyway. 

There was movement then, a tilt of the hood and two dark eyes focused on him with an intensity Marco couldn’t really say he liked. The observant artist side of him noted the scar cutting through a pair of dry lips, and the spatter of freckles hiding under a light layer of facial hair. And the eyes of course, shining from the darkness of the hood. 

He was unmistakable, and Marco was impressed how someone this noteworthy managed to evade the countless guards across the city. 

“Let me help,” Marco said into the silence, sure his voice was too loud for the precarious position he was in.

“Please do,” the assassin said, and Marco could see the quirk of his lips as the words came out, more charming than anything else. 

A fine act, but an act nonetheless, because the rigid line of his body remained the same as he clutched at his shoulder, the blood already spilling over his finger. The white of his assassin robes was covered in blood, but Marco knew better than to ask if all of it was his. 

He knew better than to ask anything.

Even though his offer was accepted, neither moved for a moment longer, the uncertainty filling the room until finally something broke and the assassin moved to stand. There was no mistaking the pain in his movements, despite the deathly silence around him. Not a single sound accompanied what had to be a painful move. 

Footsteps on the roof tiles brought Marco back to the moment, where an assassin was focused on him, and bleeding on his floor, waiting for help. He didn’t want to get involved even a little, but the sounds of guards on the roof above were making his guest nervous enough to make it worth while. 

Chapter Text

"Are you sure about this?" Sabo asked, hopefully for the last time because Ace was starting to doubt their decision from all his questioning.

"Yes, come on, just do the thing," Luffy said, sounding far too excited considering they were standing at a crossroad in the middle of the night, under a very ominous full moon. “Do the thing, Sabo!”

Letting Sabo, the most indecisive of them the reins in this whole endeavor, had probably been a bad idea. Not that Ace was that far behind.

"Yeah,” Ace said, probably sounding just as skeptical as Sabo had, looking at the box they’d prepared with a strong urge to grab it and  throw it into the bushes instead, , “just do it already." 

He wasn’t nearly as confident as he was trying to sound, but that didn’t matter. Confident or not, he was still curious too, of course, because who wouldn't be But that didn't mean he was taking all of it as lightly as Luffy seemed to.

Ace did know half of what Luffy did was only deceptively silly though.

Sabo crouched down and dug up a small hole, right there in the middle of the dirt road, only big enough for the box that he placed there before covering it with dirt again. They’d heard the stories about how this was done, and where they had to go and when, but there was really no knowing what would happen.

Ace wasn’t completely sure he wanted it to work, but at this point they had spent far too long looking for a crossroad that wasn't paved over for it to not work at all. He would have taken at least a little spark of demonic activity because they were in the middle of nowhere and it took them forever to get there.Going home without accomplishing anything would have been a major waste of time, making a deal or not.

"Good evening, gentlemen."

Ace took some comfort from the fact that Sabo startled at the voice just as much as he had, before slowly turning to where it came from. Luffy looked completely unfazed, with his nerves of steel, which Ace was very jealous of. Of course Luffy would be the one completely unfazed by the appearance of an actual demon.

None of them said anything in greeting, presumably out of shock, and Ace took too long to figure that might have been impolite.

"What can I do for you?" the demon asked while they pretty much ogled him without any subtlety to speak of Ace, at least, felt his jaw drop open just a little.

For one, there were no horns. That felt like getting cheated just a little, at least to him. 

He looked just like a regular, albeit pretty handsome, guy that possibly just got off work at a law firm, not crawled out of Hell to make a deal with them under a full moon at an intersection that probably hasn’t seen traffic since the roaring 20s.. The suit he was wearing looked like it was custom made, opening up the question of whether they had tailors for that kind of thing in Hell.. Looking up at his face was possibly a mistake, but likely not the biggest one he’d made that evening alone, if the self satisfied smirk, was anything to go byThe demon was looking right at Ace, giving off a very distinct impression that he could read every damn thought that passed through Ace's head.

There were many thoughts he wasn’t ready to let this guy hear though.

His eyes were a deep red,, once Ace finally managed to make eye contact, and it was almost enough to make him want to immediately look away. Not that he could find it in himself to actually look away.

Magic on the demon’s end, or just plain stupid curiosity on his, Ace wasn’t intending to bother figuring it out.

"We want to be famous!" Luffy said with a lot of excitement, and Ace could kiss his stupid face for it, because it broke the entire mood. It was enough to make the demon look away from Ace, his eyes shifting from red to a normal looking blue in a flash 

It brought more than a little relief to Ace.

"What's your name?" Luffy asked before anyone could say anything else, very successfully cutting off what looked like a reply from the demon.

He only smiled, though, like Luffy was the source of great amusement.

"I'm Marco," the demon said in a voice that Ace could have sworn had something heavenly in it, with the way it wrapped around him like a comforting blanket.He looked far less demonic with eyes the color of the sky, something that Ace didn’t think he liked. It was a very regular look, making him wonder how many demons he’d passed by before without even realizing.  

"So, you want to be famous?" he asked, again with that voice, this time glancing at Sabo first then back at Ace and Ace could have sworn his smile turned to a smirk when their eyes met, but it disappeared so quickly, there was no way to know for sure. He was looking at Luffy again before Ace could even question it.

Luffy nodded excitedly in reply, and Sabo followed with less enthusiasm, but clearly enough for the demon to be satisfied. Then his gaze was back on Ace, and he felt himself nod as well, more out of curiosity than a genuine wish to become famous.

“We can arrange that,” Marco told them and his eyes flashed red again, just for a moment, but a moment long enough. 

 

Chapter Text

“You’re losing your touch, Hunter.”

That voice was like something out of his worst nightmare, and his sweetest dream, smooth and low, and capable of sending a shiver down his spine with barely a spoken word. Marco made a valiant effort not to let it show, but he knew he failed like he always had. The armchair he was sitting in probably did a little to hide it, but not enough for who he was up against.

“It’s been,” the voice continued from the dark, alluring, thoughtful, “five months since you’ve found me?”

It had been seven months, ten days, and around five hours since the last time they’d seen each other. Not that Marco was keeping track.

“Thereabouts,” was the only thing he said in reply, tilting his head to look over his shoulder. He was unwilling to admit anything to a predator. 

Pretending things were any different before and he wasn’t completely transparent.

“It used to take days,” he continued and Marco shivered again at the presence behind him. 

There was no breath on his neck, but there didn’t have to be one for him to know Ace was just shy of speaking into his skin. 

“Don’t sound too disappointed,” Marco said, his hands clutching at the plush arm rests in an attempt to stop himself from making any sudden movements before he did something he’d regret.

“I am disappointed though,” Ace said, and he actually sounded like it too, somewhere across the room this time.

Marco still couldn’t see him, not in the dark of his room, but he knew well enough Ace had a very good view of him. 

“Wouldn’t mind seeing you in this getup more often,” he added. Marco could feel the eyes taking all of him in there in the dark, something heavy between them, and it had nothing to do with the weight of his silver dagger on the coffee table in front of him this time.

His suit was already rumpled, the tie long gone and the shirt unbuttoned around the collar, but there was no mistaking the appreciation so obvious in Ace’s voice. 

The reality was this: Marco hadn’t actually found him.

The reality was this: Marco had failed this one fucking time and struggled to find Ace for over half a year when it usually did used to take days.

The reality was that he had lost his touch, and through luck alone stumbled onto Ace in the middle of another hunt for someone less careful, less subtle, less competent. Far less interesting too.

“You could try asking nicely,” Marco said and huffed out a laugh. “Maybe stop running too, see what kind of arrangement we could work out.”

Ace laughed from a different part of the room, somewhere around the bed this time, and Marco’s head turned on instinct without a conscious decision on his end. He couldn’t see anything but the darkness, but with Ace there was no need to. There was no mistaking the smug look on his face, the one that toed a line towards endearingly amused, but as always tinted with danger.

“And do your job for you, Hunter?” he asked, and Marco could almost glimpse the flash of his fangs in the darkness. 

Just a flash and his voice was much closer, more intimate, a ghost of it flickering along the side of Marco’s neck in a way he shouldn’t have allowed from a vampire.

“Where’s the fun in that?” just a whisper of a sound and a heavy presence leaning over him, just a thought of a touch before he was gone in the dark, the danger gone with him.

Chapter Text

“Is breaking into the community pool on a Tuesday night something you’re doing for fun now?” 

Ace smiled as soon as he heard Marco’s voice, but didn’t look away from the stars above. The low thrum of the vending machine was the only sound nearby, not even Marco’s footsteps breaking the peace of the night, and Ace appreciated the whisper in which he spoke as if understanding Ace was there for the silence. 

The pool water lapping at him as he floated only made the peace that much better. 

“A little B and E never hurt anyone,” Ace said in lieu of an actual answer, without looking away from the stars.

The water in his ears made it difficult to hear, but not impossible, and he could hear the rustle of Marco’s clothes somewhere just out of sight. 

“Funny you should say that, Special Agent Portgas,” Marco told him with a snort, and the water shifted then, the only indication he was no longer alone in the pool. 

“I don’t exactly see your badge right now either, Detective Newgate,” Ace replied with that same kind of snort, taking great pleasure in drawing out Marco’s rank in a way far more intimate than either of them were used to during the day.

It was only then that he looked away from the night sky, the stars far less numerous than he’d remembered from his childhood, but beautiful all the same. Marco was smiling when their eyes met.

“We could have met back at my place,” Marco said as his fingers grazed the skin on Ace’s hip, dipping into the water where the touch was dulled, but present all the same. “Unless you have a kink for public pools I didn’t know about.”

Ace laughed, feeling lighter than he had all day.

“I have many kinks you don’t know about yet,” he said, not mentioning one of them may have included the easy way Marco’s fingers trailed along his skin at any given moment. 

“Yet,” Marco said and the smile grew more teasing, but his hand never strayed from where it was tracing his side. Ace knew already Marco was tracing the particularly stubborn line of freckles on his hip, the one that always drew him in.

“So what’s with the crime?” Marco asked, as softly as his touch.

“It’s quiet here,” Ace said, holding Marco’s gaze for a moment longer before turning back to the stars. “Couldn’t think downtown anymore.”

The touch never relented, trailing up and down, grazing along the entire length of his arm until their fingers finally tangled together. 

“You need a break,” Marco said, fingers tightening around Ace’s own. 

“Not in the middle of a big case,” Ace told him. The stars were almost as calming as the warmth of Marco’s presence. “Not in the middle of this case.” 

Still, as he said it, the pressure placed on him to bring it to an end only grew, and no one understood quite like Marco did.

“A swim then,” Marco said, pulling on his hand ever so gently until Ace floated closer. “And a legally entered pool after the case is closed.”