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One Step Closer

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Ace lets out a contented sigh as he takes a step out of his car, pausing for a moment to take in the view. A cerulean sea lay before him, seagulls crying in the distance as well as the light sting of salt in the air. 

 

This is what he lived for; the reason why he had moved from his dad's place in the city to a "charming" beach house right up on the coast. 

 

He turns to look at his new home, which in all honesty is a huge fixer upper. A huge grin spreads across his freckled face, undeterred by the state of it. His adoptive father had bought the house and the land for him, even offering to have someone come out and fix the old shack for him. But Ace insisted he could do it himself. 

 

He taps on the top of his car with an excited laugh, giddy at the thought of finally living alone. And on the shoreline no less! It's not that he didn't love his old man or his brothers, it just felt like the right time for him to do his own thing! 

 

Besides, he was only two hours away. Close enough he could visit, but far away enough that Whitebeard didn't feel like hauling his ass down to see him.

 

Ace reaches inside his car for his bag, deciding he could unpack later. What he really wanted now was to head down to the shore to get a closer look. But first, he needed to change. 

 

Heading up into the house, he proudly unlocks the front door and steps inside. Ace feels grateful that the inside was in much better shape than the outside was. 

 

He lets the door swing shut behind him before beginning to change. Tugging his shirt over his head, he tosses it into his bag; he’s had enough of wearing one for the rest of his life. Ace then removes his shorts and boxers in favor of his best pair of swim trunks. To finish things off, he removes his prized cowboy hat and places it on the counter for safe keeping. Feeling more than ready to get on his way, he turns on his heel to slip back outside.

 

He goes back to the car, starting the process of unstrapping his surfboard from the roof. Not long ago, he had gotten it as a going away gift from his brothers. It was decorated with orange flames while the rest of it was red; a little cliché, but he adored it. Carefully, he pulls the board down and holds it in one arm before heading down to the beach. 

 

He can't stop a stupidly huge grin from forming on his face, practically tripping over himself as he ran down the sandy path. Once he reaches the water, he pauses to kick his flip flops behind him. He takes a few steps forward, stopping to relish the feeling of wet sand below his feet.

 

Ace stands there for a long while before feeling ready to head into the water. Turning, he grabs his board before running out into the surf. As the cool water hits his heated skin, Ace sighs contentedly and ducks under for a few moments to soak himself. Resurfacing, he climbs up onto his surfboard, laying out on his belly and paddling into deeper water. 

 

There aren’t any particularly good waves for him to ride today, but that was alright. He had already made up his mind that he would just relax and ride the small ones. 

 

Despite how beautiful the day is, there aren’t many people out on the beach. Other than a few boats much further out, it isn’t surprising as these are private beaches. He stretches his arms out in front of him, the sun warming his tanned skin. He closes his eyes, panicking for a moment when he realizes he’s feeling tired. Worried he would have an narcoleptic episode, he considers relocating himself to the shallows.

 

Before he has a chance to do that, a very loud splash nearby captures his attention. 

 

When he turns his head towards the noise, he barely catches a glimpse of what appears to be the fin of a large fish. Ace sits there for a long moment, the gears in his head turning. There was no way a fish that big is a safe one to be around. A smart man would go back to shore and away from whatever that was. 

 

But Ace is not a smart man.

 

He slowly paddles towards where the fish vanished, near a massive pile of rocks that resemble tidal pools. As he goes around the rocks, he hears another splash and doesn't think much of it. When he doesn’t see anything beneath the water, Ace is a bit disappointed. 

 

Turns out, he had been looking in the wrong direction. 

 

About ten feet away, something had laid out on the rocks. When Ace finally sees it, it appears  to be a person. Or at least, partially. 

 

He can’t pull his eyes away from whoever this is. They are without a doubt one of the most gorgeous people he’s ever seen in his life. 

 

But what’s odd about them is that they appear to have a tail. A real, genuine fish tail. On their back is a large fin. It starts at the base of their shoulders, sliding down their spine and all the way down the tail. The dark blue color is an amazing contrast to their pale skin. From there, the way their skin seems to slowly fade into scales - well, that’s absolutely stunning to him. 

 

The person seemed to be resting out on the rocks, unaware of Ace's presence. Using this to his advantage, Ace is as silent as he possibly can be while he swims closer. Surely, the person has detected him by now, but he can’t stop himself from trying to sneak closer. Eventually, he’s side by side with them. Only then does he notice they appear to be sleeping.

 

Now that Ace is closer, he can see dark vertical stripes that went all the way down to the tail. Along with beautiful reflective scales that faded from a deep blue to silver. 

 

Without thinking, Ace reaches out and slides a hand over their hip, loving how smooth the scales are. For a moment there's no reaction, but he can feel their muscles twitching beneath his palm. 

 

All is silent until the person opens their eyes. Twisting around to look at Ace, they shout, "What the fuck are you doing?!" 

 

Ace opens his mouth to respond, but he can hardly squeak out a word before-

 

SMACK!!

 

The person had struck him over the head with a strong swipe of their tail. Ace hits the water,  out like a light.

 


 

The last thing Sanji saw himself doing today was saving some stupid human from drowning. Especially one that had been crazy enough to float right up to him and feel up his tail. 

 

The human had been knocked unconscious the moment Sanji had struck him with his tail. He hadn't meant to do that, only wanting to scare him away. But when he slid right off the board and into the water, Sanji knew he couldn't just leave him there. 

 

So, now he finds himself in the odd situation of propping an unconscious human up against his side and gripping his strange floating board in the other hand. 

 

With a couple flicks of his tail, he rounds the rock formation and swims towards the shore that he’s certain this human had come from. 

 

The human is warm against Sanji's skin; it only serves as a reminder of how utterly touch starved he is.

 

The man's head rests on his shoulder, which causes his cheeks to turn a soft shade of pink. With this new proximity, Sanji can see the human has sun-kissed skin, matching the numerous freckles that scatter over his cheeks. Dark, shoulder length hair is slicked back by the water. Sanji thinks it suits him well; he might even say that he is quite handsome. 

 

As soon as the thought comes, Sanji loses his grip and almost lets the human slide back into the water. 

 

There is no way he could ever find a human attractive! They are vile creatures! Especially this one, who violated his personal space without a care! 

 

Once at the shore, Sanji moves to toss the board up onto the sand. He was tempted to try to give the human a toss but he stopped himself, not sure he had the strength to lift him anyway. He pulls both of them up out of the surf, now laying on his stomach and partially out of the water. The human beside him is laying on his back. 

 

Once again, he can’t help but stare.

 

If he’s being honest, the human looks very dead. Handsome, but dead. 

 

Sanji chews on his bottom lip, propping himself up on his elbows. His eyes slide down the rest of his body, unable to look away. This human would've made a very handsome merman. Sanji finds his gaze lingering on his pecs, staring for a long moment before he has to stop himself. 

 

What is wrong with him?! He hates humans and this one is no different. 

 

Sanji huffs softly, looking down at him one last time. He needs to see if he is alive or not; a dead human meant trouble. Reaching over to pull his upper half onto the human, he rests his head down on his chest to check for a heartbeat.

 

A wave of relief floods through Sanji when he hears it beating as normal. He doesn’t immediately pull away, resting his head there for a few moments. The gentle rise and fall of his chest - accompanied by how warm he is beneath him - makes him almost fall asleep right there. 

 

'This is nice' goes through his mind, causing him to mentally slap himself. 

 

He recoils from the human as if he were made of fire, disgusted with himself. Here he was feeling up the man's chest when he had knocked him out for doing something similar.

 

Sanji begins to push himself back into the water, wanting to get away from this human before he wakes up. Or well, he would've but he had gotten too far out of the water, the dry sand making it difficult for him to move. While he struggles, he fails to notice the human waking up beside him.

 

"Do you need some help?" 

 

Sanji's gaze finally snaps back to Ace. His heart almost leaps out of his chest at the horror of being caught in such a compromising position. 

 

"Leave me alone, human! I have this handled." Sanji says, their eyes meeting for a split second. His arms go a little weak under his gaze. The human’s eyes are a deep brown, and the way the light catches in them causes them to glow a soft amber. Sanji nearly loses his composure, his pointed ears trembling as he struggles.

 

The man lets out a hearty laugh, and goodness that made Sanji feel like he could melt. 

 

"Don't laugh at me!" The merman shouts.

 

"I'm sorry, you're just too cute." He says, a bright smile spreading across his face. Sanji watches as he gets to his feet, pausing to look him up and down. "Here, let me help you."

 

"Your 'helping' looks suspiciously a lot like staring."

 

The human laughs again, padding down into the water to see what he could do. Sanji glances over his shoulder to keep an eye on him. 

 

He should not have looked. His clothing rides low on his hips, gripping tight against his skin to reveal his toned ass; it was too much. Sanji buries his face into his hands for a moment, cheeks burning red. 

 

It’s been too long since he’s seen another mer. Was he really so isolated and touch starved that he would resort to eyeing up a human?

 

When said human returns, Sanji clears his throat and shoots a glare up at him.

 

"I'm going to dig around your tail and get the water up around you, okay?" The man says, unaware that Sanji is glaring daggers at him.

 

"Get to it then, human." 

 

"It's Ace." He muses as he kneels down beside Sanji, using his hands to dig the sand out from under him. The merman's tail shivers when his hands touch his tail; he doesn’t know if Ace noticed that. If he had, he didn't comment on it.

 

A comfortable silence falls between the pair as Ace continues. Eventually, the sand loosens up enough beneath him that he is able to start pushing himself backwards. He breathes out a sigh of relief once he fully-submerged himself.

 

Sanji doesn’t escape right away, his head just above the water line. "I suppose I should be thanking you….Ace." 

 

Ace's face lights up at that, crouching down in the water to gaze at Sanji. "It's no problem. I owed you after you saved me! Uh, what's your name?"

 

The merman hesitates for a moment before saying in a quiet voice, "It's Sanji." 

 

"It's nice to meet you! Sorry about earlier. I guess I really surprised you?" Ace says with a laugh, running a hand through his hair to smooth it down. 

 

Sanji sits and watches him for a moment, having a prime view to look at Ace's body. 

 

He really needs to get laid; they’ve only just met and he can’t keep his eyes off of him.

 

"I should get going," Sanji says, averting his gaze from Ace in favor of looking down at the water. 

 

That’s a big lie; he has nowhere to be. He just wants to get away from Ace for now. He’s feeling too nervous to stick around any longer, sea butterflies fluttering inside his stomach. It’s a bit too much for him to process.

 

Ace's smile falls but not completely. With a hopeful expression on his face, he asks, "I'll see you around, then?" 

 

"Maybe. But next time, don't grab my tail." Sanji says, their eyes meeting for a moment. He stares for a long moment before ducking under the water. With a few strong movements of his tail, he is out of the human's view. He swims into the deeper water, curling up on himself with a groan. 

 

While he misses being around his species - especially the lovely mermaids - it isn’t worth having to deal with his father.

 

Sanji allows himself to sink down to the sandy floor, certain that Ace won’t try to follow him. And so, he is left alone to sort through his feelings, unsure of how he wants to proceed.

 




Ace stays in his crouched position in the sand, his gaze locked on the spot in the water Sanji had vanished into. 

 

There haven’t been too many times in his life when he can truly say he was left speechless. But this is one of those times.

 

He flops onto his back, digging his fingers into his hair as he begins to laugh. This is one of the most absurd days he has ever had!

 

Sanji had been understandably standoffish to Ace. But something about him caused his heart to race uncontrollably. Maybe it’s his fierce blue eyes that resemble sea glass? Or the way his hair has a light wave to it? 

 

Just thinking about Sanji causes butterflies to flutter about in his stomach.

 

Ace sits up and props his elbows up on his knees, a smile spreading across his lips. He needs to see him again, undeniably curious about his new friend. For a moment, he considers following Sanji. He has so many questions for him, confident that he won’t be hard to find.

 

But Ace decides against that idea, sure that his plan might only frighten him. Fortunately, he’s a patient man, and waiting until morning to seek out Sanji feels like a better plan to him. 

 

Ace's gaze returns to the sea, the sun still high overhead. "We'll meet again, I'm sure of it."

 

Tomorrow can’t come fast enough.

Chapter Text

Ace wakes up that morning feeling giddy, despite having been up all night with his mind full of Sanji. He sits up in his makeshift bed, which is a couple of pillows and blankets on top of a foam mat.

His back pops as he stretches his arms overhead, making a mental note to get his mattress inside as soon as possible. He didn't have the motivation to do it last night; his thoughts had been occupied for obvious reasons. It also didn't help that his head is pounding from the hit he had taken to the head.

Ace runs his fingers through the messy mass of black that is his hair, grunting as his fingers get caught in the knots. "Can't go see blondie without lookin' nice.." He says to no one in particular as he gets to his feet.

While Ace prepares himself to go out to the beach, his mind drifts back to Sanji. It only serves to remind him how easily he turns into a lovesick fool the moment he sees a pair of pretty eyes. 

Though this time, how quickly this crush had formed surprises him. After all, they had only known each other for a total of at most twenty minutes. And for a chunk of that Ace had been out of it.

It makes him curious to see where this is heading, especially with how prickly Sanji was towards him. Ace honestly finds his attitude refreshing. It isn’t often he encounters someone so spunky. 

Ace goes to take a shower. He knows it's a little redundant as he is about to go into the ocean again. But he doesn’t want Sanji to believe he's a slob.

Once he's out, Ace changes into a different pair of swim trunks and then runs a brush through his hair in front of the mirror. He takes care with how it lays for once in his life, hoping Sanji might like it.

After snagging a couple of snacks from his bag as his breakfast, Ace slips out the front door. He takes in a deep breath, gazing out at the horizon. The sun had only begun to rise a few hours ago, blanketing the landscape in a soft haze of red. A feeling of contentment swells in his chest at the view, and he allows himself a moment to admire it. He soon refocuses himself however, continuing his trek down to the shoreline. 

Ace takes the well worn path right down to the water, which is just as calm as the day before. He's glad he didn't take his board this time around; there would be no point other than to float around on it. 

"Now...if I were a fish man, where would I be hiding?" He questions aloud, both hands resting on his hips.

As if to answer his question, he spots a flash of blond hair further out. If he didn't know any better, he would say that Sanji had been waiting for him to come back this morning. 

Ace's lips turn up in a wide smile, wading out into the water until it comes up to the middle of his torso. 

"Sanji!" He calls out, not sure if Sanji could actually hear him from underwater; but it’s worth a try.

"Sanj- Woah, there!" Ace gasps as he feels something very much like a hand on his ankle. He hardly gets a change to look down or even prepare himself before something pulls him below the surface. 

Ace doesn't linger there for too long, popping back to the surface with a gasp for air. 

"You look like a drowned rat." A familiar voice says.

Ace pulls his hair out of his face to see Sanji not too far off, only his head breaching the surface. "We only just met yesterday and you're already getting playful I see?"

He watches as Sanji's eyes narrow, his expression not forthcoming with any particular emotion. "How do you know I wasn't trying to drown you?"

"If you were, you wouldn't have let me come up." Ace tells him, a swarm of butterflies filling his stomach as Sanji circles around him. 

"I can't tell if you're brave or just stupid." Sanji tells Ace, pausing in front of him. They hold each other's eyes for a few seconds before Sanji resumes circling him. Ace swears he spots a hint of pink on his ears.

Ace would be lying if he said he doesn’t find all this stupidly hot.

"I've been told it's a bit of both." Ace jokes, only prompting Sanji to stop in front of him again.

Ace takes this as an opportunity to get a better look at his new acquaintance. From here, Ace can see that Sanji's brows curl up into little swirls. He has never seen something quite like it and finds them adorable.

Sanji splashing water into his face pulls him from his thoughts. "There are a lot better things to do than stare at me." He tells him with an indignant expression. "You're such a strange human."  

Ace shrugs, only able to laugh in response to that. His brothers often tell him that, so hearing it from a stranger isn’t much of a surprise.

"I have to ask what your intentions are with me." Sanji says with a serious tone in his voice, gliding through the water to be nose-to-nose. "If you intend on capturing me, I'll have to kill you, you know?" 

Ace swallows hard, his brain sputtering for a few moments at the proximity of their faces. "I...just wanted to be friends." He manages to say while he tries to recover his confidence. 

Sanji narrows those beautiful eyes, glaring daggers into Ace's. It causes a warm feeling to spread in Ace’s stomach and he tries his best to ignore it.

"Well...you did help me yesterday. I suppose I can trust you not to hurt me." The merman says, backing off. Ace can see that the dusting of pink on Sanji's ears had spread down to his face.

God how can one person be so cute without trying? Ace wonders to himself, clearing his throat and offering Sanji a bright smile. "Then we're friends!"

He puts his hand out for him to shake it, momentarily considering that Sanji might not know what he meant. Regardless, the merman reaches out and places his hand in Ace's larger one.

Ace pauses for a moment to admire his delicate, long fingers. All of them are connected by a thin blue webbing. Even his hands are gorgeous. They're slender but still strong, his skin soft and seemingly flawless.

Sanji quirks an eyebrow at Ace. But before he could say anything, Ace brings Sanji's hand up to his lips and places a kiss on his knuckles. This is definitely not something someone who wants to be 'just friends' does, but Sanji didn't care as much as he thought he would.

To say the least, Sanji seems surprised. His face is turning a dark shade of red that spreads all the way up to the tips of his ears. 

Sanji snatches his hand away to Ace's relief, he doesn't slap him again. 

"You're so weird.." Sanji says, his long ears trembling slightly. 

Ace's heart clenches in his chest at just how cute the merman is. 

 


 

Sanji's face feels like it’s on fire; he isn’t at all used to getting any sort of attention. Neither man nor woman has ever seemed particularly interested in him. Not that he has much experience in either area.

He locks eyes with Ace once again, swallowing thickly before he speaks. "I've never been friends with a human before." 

"I've never been friends with a merman, and a handsome one at that." 

That would be flattering if he was flirting, but there's no way a human would like me. Sanji thinks to himself, unable to keep his ears from twitching. The action only makes his face feel hotter. 

"What do human friends usually do?" Sanji swims around him again, tail brushing against Ace's legs. He smiles when he sees how the man jumps, getting rather red-faced himself. 

"Well uh...Hm, a lot of it is stuff we can't do in the water," Ace says, running a hand through his hair in thought. "But hey! I'm sure we can still have fun!"

"Come swim with me then; it's about all I can do," Sanji offers Ace his hand this time when he comes to a stop in front of him.

Ace eagerly accepts his offer, sliding his warm hand into his. Sanji pauses to look down at their intertwined hands. It was odd, but he finds himself enjoying it. 

He can tell Ace is enjoying it, too. The shade of red occupying his freckled cheeks is a total giveaway. Sanji gives him a smile while pulling him further from the shore.

"How long can you hold your breath?" Sanji asks, his own breath hitching when Ace brushes against his side. 

"At most? About a minute." Ace turns his head, much too close to Sanji for the merman’s heart to handle. 

"Better start holding it then." Sanji warns with a playful glint in his eyes. "Tap me on the shoulder when you need to breathe."

Ace only has a moment to suck in a huge breath before Sanji ducks under the surface, bringing him along with him. 

A gorgeous coral reef is laid out before them, various species of multi-colored fish swimming all around. Sanji spends a lot of his time here, taking solace in the company of the creatures living there. 

Sanji looks to Ace to gage his reaction, eyes softening at the look of awe on his human's face. With a flick of his tail, he pushes the two of them further over the reef. Fish scramble to get out of their way, weary of Ace's presence. 

They stay like that for what feels like forever, until Ace needs to breathe. The moment Sanji feels a hand on his shoulder, he brings him up to the surface as quickly as he can.

 Ace takes a moment to catch his breath before he exclaims, "That was beautiful!" 

Sanji's face lit up. "I'm glad you think so! It's one of my favorite places here." He tells him, realizing that their hands are still together. 

He doesn't make a move to let go, loving how their hands fit almost perfectly in one another. It makes his heart race. If only Ace would ever be interested in someone like him.

"None of it compares to how beautiful you are, though." 

Those words pull Sanji out of his thoughts, looking at Ace with a deadpan expression. The only thing giving away how he truly feels are his ears trembling. "I'm really not."

"But you are!" Ace insists, squeezing Sanji's hand with a warm smile on his face. He hesitates for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip. "I know I'm being a bit forward. Sorry if I'm makin' you uncomfortable at all."

The merman's expression softens. "Make it up to me by spending the day with me then." He murmurs, not realizing how much that sounds like a date to his new companion. 

Ace suddenly pulls Sanji in for a hug. "Let's make the most of it then!" He says, arms wrapping snug around his waist. 

Sanji clings to his shoulders, taken completely off guard by the sudden embrace. His pale skin becomes almost as red as the beads Ace wears around his neck. His voice catches in his throat, and Sanji shoves down the urge to push him away.

It has been ages since anyone has hugged him; not even his own family did it. 

Sanji has to take a deep breath to calm himself, knowing that Ace doesn't mean any harm. 

"You're something else," Sanji says after Ace pulls back, hands still resting on his waist. 

"Oh? That's almost a compliment." Ace replies, a lopsided grin on his face. 

Sanji internally groans. Being around Ace is bad for his blood pressure. It feels like his heart might beat right out of his chest each time the man even so much as looked his way.

"Don't let it make your head any bigger." Sanji warns, splashing water up into Ace's face.

"Oh, we're playing that game now, sunshine?" 

Sanji's eyebrows flew upwards, his face burning red once again. " Sunshine ? Who said you could call me that?" 

Ace slaps the surface of the water, sending water flying up into Sanji's face. "Did I need permission?" He asks, narrowly avoiding Sanji's tail. 

The merman pauses for a moment, considering the question. "As long as I can give you one, too." He reaches to slip his fingers into Ace's, squeezing tight. "I'll think of something."

"It's a deal, sunshine."

 


 

The pair spends the rest of the day together, using their time to explore more of the reef. Despite his initial discomfort, Sanji is beginning to believe they could be friends. 

With the sun lowering behind them, Sanji leads Ace back to the tide pools where they had first met. It’s a nice place for them to rest without Sanji drying out.

Sanji stretches himself out in the shallow water, arms resting on the rocky edge. He gazes at his new companion, watching him try to pull himself out of the deeper water and into the tide pool.

"I think I could get used to days like this." Ace comments to the merman, settling into the water beside him. He lifts his arms above his head with a yawn, back arching. Sanji was given a gorgeous view of his chest before averting his eyes.

"I think I could, too. I've been alone for a long time now." Sanji says, rolling over so he’s on his side and facing Ace.

Ace blinks down at him, bottom lip caught between his teeth. "Why are you all alone out here anyway?" He asks, concern evident in his voice.

Sanji's expression falters, a familiar swell of anxiety rising in his chest. "I wouldn't want to ruin the evening with that." As much as he likes Ace, he isn’t sure if he’s ready to tell him about his family. 

Ace reaches to take hold of his hand, causing Sanji’s heart to clench at the sincerity of the gesture. "I'm here for you whenever you're ready to talk about it." He tells him in a soft voice, bringing his knuckles up to brush his soft lips against his skin.

Sanji impulsively pulls Ace's hand close, pressing a lingering kiss to his fingers. His skin is by no means soft; it’s obvious Ace uses his hands often for physical labor. But the rough texture feels good against his lips.

"Thank you." Sanji says, ears quivering despite how much he would've liked to appear confident in this moment. Hardly anyone in his life has been so kind, and especially not after only a day of knowing him.

The merman looks up, blue eyes meeting brown in a tender way. Ace looks lovely in the setting sun, eyes lit up like amber and his sun-kissed skin practically glowing. 

Sanji swallows hard. He shouldn't be thinking this way about his new friend. They barely know each other, and he shouldn't get so attached just because Ace is nice to him.

But...something about this felt right. Maybe he just needed some time to figure out how he truly feels? 

Still, Sanji can’t bring himself to release Ace's hand. He pulls his eyes away from his human companion, looking out to the horizon. "It'll be getting dark soon." He comments, hoping to change the subject.

"Mhm, we'll be fine though. I'm sure you know better than anyone that nighttime swimming is nice." Ace says as he leans back against the rocks, rubbing the back of Sanji's hand with his thumb. 

Sanji let out a quiet laugh. "Are you planning on staying with me all night?" He asks, doing his best to ignore the feelings each touch was eliciting. 

"Do you want me to, sunshine?" 

Still adjusting to the nickname, Sanji’s cheeks light up a pretty shade of pink. "Some company would be nice, but you can't sleep out here." He murmurs, squeezing Ace's larger hand and gazing down at it. 

"Hmm, if only I could grow some gills? I'd love to live in the ocean." Ace muses, his own face red, causing his freckles to stand out even more. 

Sanji smiles at the sentiment, his tail lazily swaying in the swallow pool. The thought of Ace as a merman is enough to make his ears burn; silently stashing that away to imagine more later.

"If only. I imagine you'd be handsome as a merman." Sanji says without thinking, biting his lip a moment later. 

Ace snorts, breaking out into a fit of giggles. "I guess that means I'm ugly as a human?" He asks as he scoots closer to his side, his knee brushing up against Sanji's tail. 

A shiver shoots up Sanji's spine at the unexpected touch, looking up at Ace almost timidly. "You aren't ugly." He manages to stammer out, hand darting up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. 

He can't help but smile when Ace's face lights up; the brunette's smile is almost infectious. "Why thank you, sunshine."

For a moment Sanji thinks the nickname would be a better fit for Ace, feeling warm in his presence. But he decides not to say anything, already attached to it.

"Anyway, you should go home now. The water will be too cold for you, and I don't want to have to save your ass again." Sanji says, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed again.

Being in Ace's presence is something he has already grown to enjoy, but the feelings he’s causing are too much for him to think about now.

Ace's expression softens, pressing another lingering kiss to the palm of his hand. "I'll go then. I already owe you one." He whispers before getting to his feet. 

Sanji already misses his warmth but doesn't stop him. After all, he’s the one who told him to go. "Will you come again tomorrow?" He asks before Ace can step out of the water.

Ace simply smiles at Sanji. "Of course! I had a real fun time with you, sunshine." He tells him as he reaches for his sandals.

"Meet me at the shore when the sun is the highest then." Sanji instructs him, silently grateful that Ace will come back. Despite his current worries about his feelings for the human, he finds his presence comforting.

"I will!" Ace promises him with a wink, stepping up onto the rocky outcrop before continuing to speak. "Well, goodnight, sunshine. I'll see you tomorrow." 

"Yes, goodnight." Sanji's response appears to please Ace, sending another smile his way before Ace turns to head back to the sandy portion of the beach.

He watches Ace for as long as he can, feeling breathless.

Sanji slides himself into the shallow water, hoping the coolness would help the way his cheeks are burning. Ace is so wonderful and sweet, but too much for him all at once. He feels like they were moving along too quickly, despite liking all of the affectionate touches. 

He isn’t sure what to do about it.

For the most part, Sanji dislikes humans; aside from a select few who have been kind to him in the past. But he hasn't ever had any sort of romantic feelings like this towards a human.

Sanji runs both hands through his hair, tugging at it hard. He wishes he could figure out why now feelings for a human would appear. Rolling onto his stomach, he gazes up at the vibrant purples and pinks of the setting sky. 

He feels hopeful that the more time he spends with Ace, an answer to his worries will arise.

Chapter Text

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."