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One Step Closer

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A few weeks had passed since the pair had met, seeing each other almost every day since then. In this time, they only grew closer as friends; both were hoping for more but hadn't vocalized it yet.

Today, they'd planned to meet out at the shoreline so Ace could show Sanji his surfing. 

Ace heads down the sandy slope, board tucked under one arm as he texts with his other hand. He smiles at the message. It's from his little brother, Luffy, inquiring how things are going and if he could visit sometime soon. He's glad he's checking up on him but he's not too sure that Luffy and Sanji meeting would be the greatest idea. That boy couldn't keep a secret for the life of him.

Ace responds to it quickly as he makes it down to the shore, removing his hat to tuck his phone and sandals into it. Resting the board in the sand, he looks out to the horizon in search of the merman. He seats himself down on the ground, propping his board up beside him as he waits.

A few minutes turn into almost an hour and still no Sanji.

It's not unusual for Sanji to be a little late; it's not like he has a watch on hand. But seeing as Ace is late and Sanji hasn't shown up yet, he can't help but feel concerned.

It isn’t like him to not show up. So, instead of waiting around to worry on the beach, Ace decides to head out into the water to see if he could spot Sanji. 

"It shouldn't be too hard; he's kinda huge." He mumbles to himself as he places his surfboard into the water and climbs on top.

Ace paddles out to Sanji's usual hiding spot amongst the rocks of the tidal pools. He furrows his brows when he finds no trace of him, his concern only growing. 

"Sanji!" Ace cries out as he sits back on his board, brown eyes surveying the area for anything leading him to the blonde. He bites his bottom lip when he gets nothing. "Where are you, sunshine?"

He runs a hand through his hair, giving it a tug with an anxious expression forming on his face. 

He's pulled from his thoughts by gentle bites to his feet and legs. It startles him enough that he almost falls off his board. Peeking down, he sees what looks to be a school of fish nipping at him and pressing against his legs.

"Are you guys trying to tell me something?" He says to himself, not expecting a response. 

But he gets one in the form of a much larger fish grabbing onto his ankle. He yelps as it attempts to pull him in the direction of the coral reef. 

The anxious feeling in his chest only increases from their actions, knowing they wouldn't do this unless something is wrong. Ace makes his way towards the reef, paddling as fast as he can with both hands. 

As he gets closer, he notices the discolored water. His stomach drops once he realizes what it is. 

Blood.

And there is so much of it. No wonder the fish were so frantic for him to get here. 

Then it occurs to him that there's not much out here that would be big enough to make that much blood. Except-

"Oh fuck, Sanji!" He cries out, diving into the water.

His eyes sting from the saltwater but he pushes through it. He spots a tangle of nets caught on the coral. Inside, a familiar blue and yellow form is laying a little too still.

Ace nears the mass of nets and he's able to confirm his biggest fear. 

Sanji's body is caught inside, ropes digging angry red lines into his skin. His skin is as pale as ever, contrasting harshly against the brightly-colored coral reef. And worst of all, blood is seeping from a deep wound on his stomach.

Ace feels his lungs burning from lack of air but he doesn't even process it. His only thoughts are of Sanji and getting him out of that net. He reaches out to cup Sanji’s face for a moment, looking for any signs of consciousness. 

When Sanji doesn't react, it only causes Ace to further panic. 

He reaches for the pocket knife, which he keeps in a holster strapped to his calf just below his knee. He feels  a brief sense of relief that he remembered to bring it this time. Desperately, Ace hacks away at the nets, all while ignoring his depleting oxygen. The need to free Sanji outweighs everything else in his mind.

Ace soon manages to cut open enough of the net that he can pull Sanji through it. His body was a total deadweight against him, giving Ace a hard time swimming back to the surface. When he resurfaces, he gasps for air, coughing hard as he tries to catch his breath.

His muscles are aching as he returns to his board. He drapes Sanji's form over it, which sinks under the weight, but is enough to keep him afloat. 

Ace doesn't have much time to rest, however. He knows getting him to shore is his best option. There isn't much Ace can do for him floating around out here. 

So, with a determined expression, Ace begins to push the board back towards the shoreline.

It takes what feels like over an hour to get Sanji to safety. Ace just about collapses in the sand once his feet hit solid ground, but the adrenaline is keeping him going. 

He looks down at Sanji, who is now halfway on the sand. Ace isn’t nearly strong enough to drag him all the way out of the water, let alone up to his house like he's considering. He has to decide now, since Sanji has already lost so much blood.

"Hold on, sunshine. I'll help you." Ace murmurs to him, taking a moment to run his fingers through his hair. He sighs as he takes hold of his knife again, cringing as he cuts a sleeve off of his wetsuit. 

He kneels down beside Sanji, pressing the fabric into the wound before tying it around his waist. He would only be able to help the merman if he could get him up to his house. But he feels wrong leaving him here without putting something on the wound.

Ace waits a few moments before deciding that he needs his truck to get him up the hill. He leaves Sanji there, placing a kiss on his forehead before running back up the sandy incline.

He returns not long after, maneuvering his truck down the hill. He stops as close as he can to the water, stepping out and returning to Sanji. The merman looks so pale and lifeless; even the color in his tail has begun to fade. 

Ace takes in a deep breath, his whole body feeling weak but he pushes the feeling aside. 

"He needs me." He murmurs to himself. He knows what to do, but this is the first time that he has ever had to use his first aid training.

Ace begins by kneeling next to Sanji's head, carefully sliding both arms under his armpits. He lifts his torso so his back is pressing firmly against his chest. Once Ace is sure he has a good grip on him, he moves to a standing position. 

Now that Ace is confident Sanji is secure, he begins the short trek towards the bed of his truck. The adrenaline running through his veins helps; he hardly registers how heavy he truly is.

Ace feels strong despite his exhaustion as he places Sanji down on the sand to reposition him. He grunts as he lifts his limp body in a bridal carry. He places Sanji onto the truck, careful of his wound as he places him just so. Even going so far as to put a blanket under his head to protect him.

Ace doesn't know how long Sanji can be out of the water, so he's quick to get back into his truck. Carefully, he drives back up the slope; and prays that the wheels won’t get stuck in the sand. 

His hands are white from gripping the steering wheel, focusing only on getting Sanji back to his home. The next few minutes drag on forever until he finally makes it. Ace backs the truck up as close as he can to the front door, already thinking of ways he could get Sanji inside.

Taking a few breaths to calm himself, Ace tells himself that he needs a clear mind if he wants to help. Making his way around the truck, he sees that Sanji has already bled through the makeshift bandage. The bed of the truck is covered in a pool of red. 

He doesn't have a moment to stand and stare, looping his arms under Sanji's armpits and pulling him out with care. His tail thumps on the sand, and Ace cringes a little. Causing him more harm isn't something he wants to do, but getting him to water and a first aid kit was more important.

With their chests pressed close, Ace was able to half-carry, half- drag Sanji up onto his porch and into the cabin. Thinking fast, Ace brings him into the bathroom and gingerly places him inside. 

During this whole ordeal, Sanji had not reacted once. To make it worse, his face is only getting paler. 

Ace takes a deep breath as he goes to the vanity to retrieve his first aid kit. Only now does he realizes how much his hands are trembling.

God this is intense , he thinks to himself. He fumbles with the latch on the box a few times before he manages to pry it open. He just needs to stop the bleeding, then maybe call someone he trusts to help.

Ace kneels beside the bath, pressing two fingers to Sanji's neck to check his pulse. It's sluggish and only causes Ace to feel even more worried. 

"Okay, Sunshine...I'm gonna take care of you." He murmurs, not sure if it was more for himself than Sanji.

He presses gauze to the jagged wound marring Sanji's smooth stomach, a bandage ready in his other hand. Slowly, Ace wraps it around Sanji's waist. The action is tedious but necessary. 

Once Ace is sure the bandages would hold, he goes to find the landline phone as his cell phone was forgotten on the beach. "Thank god for this old fuckin' house."

Ace turns the dial, moving slow as to not mess it up with his unsteady hands. He presses the receiver to his ear, taking a deep breath as it rings. 

It takes all his restraint to not babble the moment someone picks up. Luckily for him, it was just the blonde he wanted to speak to. 

"Whitebeard's Animal Hospital and Shelter, this is Dr.Marco-"

Ace cuts off his introduction, "Marco, I need your help!"

"It's nice to hear from you, too," Marco says dryly, a sigh audible over the line. "What do you need me to do, Ace?"

"I have a friend here who was stabbed and you're the only one I know who can help."

"I'm glad you thought of me but I'm a veterinarian. I shouldn't be working on people." He explains calmly.

"Don't you think I know that, Marc? Just please come to the beach! He's unconscious and I don't know what to do."

"Fine, but you're going to have to explain this to dad later."

"Deal. Now get your ass over here please!"

The line goes dead after that. Ace moves back to the bathroom to check on Sanji while he waits for Marco to arrive. Exhaustion really sets in the moment he plops down on the bathroom floor.

Ace leans against the bathtub with a sigh, reaching over to turn the knob for cold water. He can't neglect the fact that Sanji is part fish and needs to keep hydrated. He allows the tub to partially fill, not letting it get up to the bandages. 

He rests his chin on the edge of the tub. "Sunshine.." He murmurs, disliking the feeling of helplessness this situation stirs up inside of him.

"I promise, you'll be okay. I won't let anything happen to you."