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To the Victor Go the Spoils (or Do They?)

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When Ace was born, Rouge put this little bundle of screaming baby in Roger’s arms and he almost cried. It was a ridiculously happy moment, and the sheer radiance of Rouge’s smile was enough to warm his heart until it was swelling and felt too big to fit in his chest, but the look of that tiny scrunched-up face was something more than that.

His son, his very own flesh-and-blood boy. Ace. Gol D. Ace. He loved the tiny creature before he even laid eyes on it.

And as he carefully handed him back to Rouge, her delicate hands wrapping around the child, he grinned wide and bright.

Motherhood suited her, he decided, when he saw the impossibly soft and affectionate expression on her kind face.

One year later, Ace was the cutest baby, crawling and occasionally walking around and laughing at everything. He had a splatter of adorable freckles that Rouge couldn’t stop running her fingers over as if she wanted to make sure they won’t brush off.

He laughed when Rouge laughed, and she was happy enough to laugh all the time. Roger didn’t think he’d ever seen her as content as she was during that one week. Parenthood didn’t tire her out, but gave her strength and the energy-ball of a kid she was raising was proof enough of that.

When Ace turned two years old, Roger stopped by again and the kid was twice as big and babbling adorably. Roger still hadn’t exactly come to terms with the idea that he’d given life to this tiny creature, and the more it grew, the more absurd that seemed.

When Rouge kept insisting he had, he dragged her into a spontaneous dance to the music in his head and she laughed as she indulged him gladly. He could never doubt her word, so he let the assurance settle in him and grow into something beautiful.

They’d created a life, one that was bright and strong and burned so powerful in the little child running around their feet as he twirled her around the yard.

When Ace was four, he wouldn’t let go of his mother’s hand or skirt, always chasing after her like a shadow. He was so very attuned to her moods, so perfectly content with just being by her side that Roger found it adorable.

He didn’t smile as much at Roger, though.

When he returned one year later, Ace didn’t talk to him. He would jump into conversations with his mother, talk about his day, his friends, his studies, and games, but he wouldn’t talk to Roger if Rouge didn’t prompt it. He would rush to his mother with his pictures and achievements and never really care much when Roger complimented him.

When he was six, Ace wouldn’t stop glaring at Roger. He was very pointed in his displeasure of being around the man and Roger turned big eyes to Rouge and asked:

“What did I do?”

Rouge smiled at him, insisted “He’ll grow out of it, don’t let it bother you,” and kissed him gently. He agreed to give it some time.

When Ace was seven, he trapped Roger up a tree and almost tore off his mustache.

Roger had the bad feeling it would take a long time for the kid to grow out of it.

When Roger returned to Baterilla the following year, he got punched in the crotch with a haki-infused fist and spent the majority of his first day there limping and miserable. Rouge admitted to having been training their son and failed to be even a little apologetic.

Roger found his good mood in the thought of Ace growing strong and capable and didn’t take it to heart when the kid charged at him every time he saw him.

When Ace turned ten, on Roger’s next visit, he didn’t show his face the entire week. Rouge insisted it was ok, he’d been doing that lately, he would be back soon, but Roger left the island without laying eyes on his son.

He’d been coming here for over two decades now, and it was the first time he left with a sense of disappointment heavy in his chest.

Still, Roger returned the next year like clockwork, and almost jumped with happiness when Ace was right there at the docks, waiting for the ship to drop anchor before jumping aboard.

Ace had never before come to greet him on his own, and Roger all but ran to his side with excitement. Was this that ‘growing out of it’ thing Rouge had promised?

His feeble delusions were crushed a moment later, when Ace released a burst of haoshoku haki that had even some of Roger’s more experienced crewmembers wobbling on their feet, while the newbies just dropped where they stood. The grin on the brat’s face was completely demonic, and he stuck his tongue out at Roger, before dashing out of the ship and then out of the town, too.

Rayleigh had to spend the entire day making sure all the crew were well because the kid could do it, he just didn’t know how to do it right. Rouge must be trying to teach him, but considering she’d been self-thought, it was obvious he’d need a lot of practice.

This time Roger made an effort to search Ace out, but the kid was nowhere on the island. Or at least not anywhere that Roger could find. He sighed, and decided that he could make the best out of a week with only Rouge in exchange.

The next time Roger docked the ship there, Ace was thirteen. He didn’t stop by too much, but he wasn’t entirely missing this time, either. He crashed into the house two days after Roger appeared, tried to pick a fight, devoured most of Rouge’s carefully prepared dinner, and ran back out.

Roger considered it improvement, and decided to take what he could get.

The day they were about to set sail and he came back to the ship, he found his son sitting in the middle of the deck having charmed his entire crew into adoring him. He was laughing and telling stories and being generally so very open and friendly that Roger thought he was seeing a completely different person.

Until the moment he glanced at Roger himself and grinned in malicious triumph, as if to say: See, I can be nice and friendly, I just choose not to be.

Rayleigh wouldn’t stop laughing at his disgruntlement for months.

When Ace was fourteen, Roger didn’t get to see him, only kept finding insulting notes all around the house and got to listen to the crew gushing over what a nice young man he was growing into. He sulked all the way back to the Grand Line.

Rouge’s assurances were really starting to sound doubtful.

Ace challenged him to a fight the next time he stopped by, two years later. He didn’t want to decline, because that would just piss the boy off more. But he couldn’t really put his heart into it, either. That only ended with him getting his ass kicked ten ways to Sunday and Ace sneering and calling him pathetic.

“If that’s all it takes to be the Pirate King, anyone can do it.”

Roger was pretty sure Rouge actually scolded him for that one, but his pride was smarting too much to go to the house that night to be certain.

When Ace was seventeen, he set off to sea. At first, Roger felt his hopes rise, but very soon he got a call on the den den mushi that was basically Ace telling him:

“I ain’t doing this to follow in your footsteps, you bastard! I’m doing this to become the strongest pirate and leave you in the dust.”

And then hanging up.

His first wanted poster a couple of months later spelled 'Portgas D. Ace‘, and ok, Roger got it: he couldn’t flaunt who his father was to the world, they’d made sure to take every possible precaution not to let the Marines learn he had a child, but it still felt like a slap in the face.

Because he knew Ace hadn’t done it to go below the radar. He’d done it to renounce Roger as his father, and that stung.

When Ace was eighteen, he appeared in the newspapers shirtless and grinning, with Whitebeard’s mark covering his entire back and calling Edward Newgate, of all people, his father.

Roger made an unscheduled visit to South Blue and ended up sulking the whole time he was there. Rouge was, as always, completely unfazed by her son’s decisions and only smiled and said:

“You should hear him gush about all his new brothers, Roger, he’s having so much fun with this!”

And also, whispered softer into his ear when they were lying in bed:

“Edward’s good for him.”

I wanted to be good for him,” Roger replied and hid his face in her hair.

Being insecure was not something he knew how to do. For the last fifteen years of his life this little brat had crashed and burned everything Roger knew about himself, and he wanted a break.

So he made his mind up. Let Ace have his space. Stop stalking him. Stop reacting to everything he does. Stop letting it mess with him. Let Ace live his own life, and stay out of it if that’s what the kid wanted.

The resolution didn’t stick for long, though.

Because then Ace was twenty one and in chains, locked in the lowest level of Impel Down.

Then, Rouge was crying, calling him over the den den mushi inn tears, saying: “What are they doing to him in there, Roger? You have to get him out!”

Then, Roger had enough of staying out of his son’s life.

It didn’t matter if he’d be hated, it didn’t matter if Ace would never forgive it. As long as Ace was alive and free to hate him, that alone would be enough.

He called Shanks, who might have left the ship to form his own crew, but was still, and always would be, a Roger Pirate at heart. The redhead came running from half-way across the world, dragging all his crewmates and his impressive fleet of allies to Roger’s side.

He met up with Whitebeard, and instead of the 'Give me my son back!' fight he’d been preparing for for years now, he looked Edward Newgate in the eye, and said:

“Let’s go get our son back.”

And as all their ships were closing in on Marineford, an alliance of two Emperors with the King himself outnumbering the Marines in both count and ability ten-fold, he heard news of Dragon’s kids: his flesh and blood boy and his adopted one both, charging through Impel Down and calling Ace their brother (when had that happened?).

They might have been a little late to the prison, and later a little late for the start of the battle as well, but with some of the top leaders of the revolutionary army leading a ship-full of ex-inmates and the infamous Strawhat Pirates’ captain by their side, they were all the help he could have needed.

And as Roger faced off against Admirals and Warlords and Garp, there was always someone to take the fight, to let him get one step closer to his boy, kneeling on that platform. And as he finally stepped behind him, crushing the seastone chains with a single blow, there was anger on Ace’s face as he said: “I didn’t want to be saved by you!”

Yet the inferno he sparked the very next moment didn’t as much as singe Roger’s coat.

That, right there, was progress if he’d ever seen any.

------

“How’s the captain doing?” Shanks asked him when he caught him between jobs on the deck. There were pirates and revolutionaries bustling around the port and the three ships docked there. Baltigo had proven to be a safe enough location for recovery and Rayleigh was happy the kid had managed to find family in such high places.

“He’s still out cold,” he offered, but took care not to sound worried. Roger had pulled through much worse than this after disasters like Raftel. He just needed his rest and he’d be back on his feet in no time.

And Rayleigh also knew that the redhead would take his hints from his attitude as much as his words, and it wouldn’t do to worry him. He might be a captain of his own right, now - an Emperor to boot - but Rayleigh would always feel responsible for him just like he did for every pirate who ever sailed under Roger’s flag.

“The kid too, I take it?” Shanks asked, falling into step beside him. “I haven’t heard him throwing a fit over waking up in the same infirmary as his dad, so he must still be out, right?”

Ace had actually woken up a little bit ago, but given he hadn’t left bed Rayleigh supposed he needed a moment to come to terms with everything that had happened.

He hummed noncommittally, leaving Shanks to take what he wanted from that, and asked instead: “How are things on shore? There’s enough to do here to keep even me busy.”

“Ah, you know how it is, Master Rayleigh,” Shanks laughed. “Luffy’s still out for the count - that fight took a lot from everyone. But well, the Revolutionaries have some decent medical facilities, so I’m not too worried. The other brother – seriously, how did these kids find each other? – he’s pretty much running things around here, but he still somehow finds the time to constantly be by Luffy’s bed,” he added with a content look on his face. “I’m considering maybe getting the hell out of dodge before Dragon comes back and decides to take my head off for tempting his son into becoming a pirate,” he laughed loudly, making it obvious he wasn’t really that worried about it.

Rayleigh had heard a lot about Dragon and didn’t really think Shanks had much to be cautious about on that front. The one who might be in trouble after all of this was the very same brother who’d dragged the entire Army into war with the Marines. But given how helpful they’d been, Rayleigh couldn’t find it in himself to wish he hadn’t.

“Could you pass my thanks to Sabo-kun?” He would have done it himself, but there was another more urgent matter to take care of first. “That stunt he pulled with the ravens was the only reason we managed to get out of there with no casualties, after all.”

Even despite their overwhelming power, there had been a few very close calls. Roger, for one, and the kid – Strawhat Luffy. Ace himself wasn’t in very good shape, and there had been a few very touch-and-go moments for old man Whitebeard, too.

“And tell him he’s always welcome onboard if Dragon kicks him out,” he added with a small grin. He didn’t think Dragon would, really, but there was nothing wrong in extending the invitation.

“Hmmm, Ace might even warm up to you guys if you drag one of his brothers into the crew,” Shanks grinned teasingly.

“He doesn’t have any issues with the crew,” Rayleigh sighed, his biggest problem rearing its head in the wake of Shanks’ words. He needed to do something about that kid.

“I never really got what his issue was, honestly,” the Emperor sobered up a bit and looked sidelong at Rayleigh, questioning.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what it is,” he offered, stopping before the door leading below deck and turning to him. “Rouge has an idea, but she refused to share it when I tried talking to her about it. She said it was Ace’s issue and it wasn’t her place to tell anyone.” He sighed a little, thinking back to that conversation.

He’d finally decided to try doing something about it that time Roger had come back looking worse for wear than after the Raftel incident and refused everyone’s fussing to lock himself in his cabin. Rouge had always been patient with Ace, but even she’d seen he’d gone too far that time and given him a firm talking to. Later, when Rayleigh had confronted her, she’d been quite tight-lipped about it, though.

He thought a part of it was that as much of an idea as she might have, it was only that – an idea. Ace had never really shared the core of the problem with her, probably not with anybody, and she hadn’t wanted to tell him her suspicions in case they were wrong.

Regardless, Rayleigh thought there would be no better time than now to actually talk to the kid about this entire issue.

“Oh, you’ve got your business face on,” Shanks pointed out with delight.

“I think it’s about time the kid put an end to this mindless animosity,” Rayleigh said firmly.

“Didn’t you decide to stay out of it?” he looked a little worried now, knowing in his bones when Rayleigh had made up his mind to do something.

“That was before he started really hurting my captain.” The words erased all traces of humor off of Shanks’ face and he looked over towards the med bay’s door.

“It’s gotten that bad, has it?”

And no, he wouldn’t know, really. He hadn’t been there when Roger had first held Ace’s wanted poster and his face had completely crumpled. He hadn’t been there to talk the captain out of opening fire on Whitebeard for stealing his son. He hadn’t been there to see his resigned expression after he’d visited Rouge.

Rayleigh understood that Ace had his reasons and he’d respected them for close to twenty years now. He’d stayed out of his captain’s personal business. But now, things had gone far enough.

“It will get better,” he said with certainty and was rewarded a small, but honest smile from the red-haired captain.

“I’ll go keep an eye on the rest, then,” Shanks agreed and with a nod of farewell, headed towards the gangplank. “I won't leave before the captain wakes up, so if there’s something you need don’t hesitate to ask,” he added over one shoulder and Rayleigh felt gratitude swell in his chest.

Loyal and dependable to the end. Roger sure knew how to pick them.

Now fairly certain imminent death wouldn’t befall the rest of his charges, Rayleigh turned back to the issue at hand. As soon as his attention turned towards the two in the med bay he could tell Ace noticed him and shuffled a bit, before falling almost completely still.

So the kid was going to make this hard.

Of course he was. But this time Rayleigh was walking into this with the right kind of motivation. Watching Roger almost die was the right motivation for everything.

With the very opening of the door, he first assessed his friend’s condition. He was asleep and sprawled all over the bed, limbs and covers thrown in any possible direction. How he managed to get into such a position and not reopen all his wounds was beyond Rayleigh.

Aside from that, he seemed unchanged. He was on his way to recovery and that alone was enough to put Rayleigh’s mind at ease.

Now, Ace.

Ace was very obviously not sleeping, even if he was trying to seem like it. He’d never been a good enough liar to begin with, and even without Rayleigh’s haki warning him of all his earlier twisting around, he would have noticed. He was too still, breathing too fast and irregular. Back too frigid under the flimsy cover of bandages and fingers gripped too tightly into the sheets.

Rayleigh stepped forward and easily found his way to the chair he’d occupied on his short breaks earlier. He was sat between the two beds, with Roger beside him stretched out and Ace having turned his back to the two of them. How very promising.

“You should know better than to try and fool me by now,” he said to Ace even as his eyes were steady on Roger’s slowly rising chest.

“’m tired,” the kid said and pulled the covers higher over his visible shoulder.

“Would you rather have this conversation after Roger wakes up, then?” Rayleigh offered and finally turned towards the obstinate boy.

“There’s no conversation to be had.” Ace decided and didn’t move a single muscle. That wouldn’t do, he had to make him break out of the stage where he thought he could just ignore Rayleigh into leaving. Anger was always a good weapon against Ace, as Akainu had so helpfully demonstrated.

“There would be no conversation to be had, if you would simply thank your father for saving you and-“

“The only father I have to thank is Pops and that’s none of your business!” He burst out and shot up in bed, half-turning towards Rayleigh. Well, at least he wasn’t locking him out completely, now.

“Whitebeard might be a good man and a kind of a father to you, but-“

“I might like you, old man, but if you start talking shit about Pops in front of me-“

“What will you do? Pull another stunt like the one with Akainu?” Rayleigh challenged. “There will be no one to take the hit for you this time, boy, your father is out for the count.”

“He is not-“

“Do you even realize what that magma fist would have done to you?” Rayleigh spoke over him, cutting out the almost-shouted words. His tone was steady and words firm, eyes locked onto Ace’s face. He could see every little expression, every flicker of emotion Ace might be trying to smother under his anger.

So he saw the barest flash of guilt – there and gone again in an instant. But it was something to work with.

“He almost didn’t make it, while you barely got a scratch on your back.”

“That’s his own fault,” Ace spat, but he seemed to curl into himself as if in hiding. “I never asked him to come. I never wanted him to.”

“People don’t always get what they want,” Rayleigh paused in his attack just barely, seeing Ace actually open up a bit. But he had to push, he had to get to the bottom of this. “I know for a fact that one of the very few things Roger has wanted for the last couple of decades, was to be allowed to be a father to his son.”

Ace flinched minutely, then glared up again, anger darkening his features.

“Then he shouldn’t have been such a careless asshole to begin with.”

Oh? This was new.

“I don’t ever remember Roger showing you anything less than care,” Rayleigh offered, baiting instead of harsh this time. He was getting to the core of the issue, yes, but he still had a ways to go. This didn’t seem like a case of anger over being left behind on the island with his mother. If that had beenit he would have probably jumped at the attention he’d been given whenever Roger was there.

“I’m not as self-centered as you think I am, old man,” Ace answered sullenly and glared ahead, not facing Rayleigh. “I don’t give a shit that he was never around for me, I never needed him.”

And yet, he had a problem with it.

“But someone else did.”

“Every time he came around mom would smile like he was the fucking sun that had finally decided to shine into her world. She’d only ever show him the brightest, happiest parts of her. And every time that bastard would leave her behind, would leave her crying for him and never blink an eye about it, returning again the next year like he always thought she’d be there for him, like she’d never get tired of his shit and just kick him out and be done with him, like it was her job to just stay there and wait for him! Every time he’d leave her sad and I’d be the one who saw her tears!”

This… this actually explained a lot. It explained everything. And Rayleigh was surprised he hadn’t seen it earlier.

He remembered Ace, tiny and barely speaking, but so completely inseparable from his mother. He remembered Roger gushing over how adorable he’d been, how he’d seemed to feel everything Rouge did. It had been also the time he’d started pushing Roger away.

It made sense. If there was anything the Roger Pirates had figured out about Ace even before he came to introduce himself to them to spite his father, it was that he loved his mother. Rouge had always wanted a child, and when she’d had one he’d become her entire world. It was hard not to love such devotion.

So Ace considered his attacks on Roger justified, because he felt them as retribution to what he saw as a slight against his mother. It must be coming from a sense of self-righteousness and wrong understanding of their relationship.

With this in mind, Rayleigh knew what he had to do.

“Do you know how Rouge sounded when she learned about your execution?” Rayleigh asked rhetorically, drawing a pair of wide dark eyes to himself. “She was in tears,” he could see the horror and pain bright on Ace’s face. “She was sobbing so much you couldn’t understand her words,” Ace turned away and clenched his eyes shut, probably fighting back tears. “And yet, when you meet her again she’ll probably only show you her smile.”

A jerk went through his entire body, like Rayleigh’s words had physically hurt him and a strangled sob escaped his lips. Rayleigh held strong, though, because there was a point to telling him this.

“I’m not saying this to hurt you, Ace. I’m trying to make you understand. We all hurt the people who love us, because loving someone means dumping your heart in their hands, and there’s no person on this earth strong and careful enough to protect something that fragile from everything.” His gaze drifted to the sleeping captain by his side, his thoughts traveling all the way back to when Roger and Rouge had first met.

“Roger has hurt Rouge, certainly. He hurts her every time he can’t stay with her and you’ve seen that. But Rouge hurts him just as bad every time she declines his offers to travel with him, and I’ve been there to see how miserable he gets after,” a sharp pain stabbed through his chest at the memory of Roger’s downcast expression every time. Yet he would never stop asking, just like she wouldn’t. “It’s the sad truth of their relationship. They knew they would hurt each other from the day they first fell in love. Rouge always wanted a stable and secure environment to raise a child in. Roger would never willingly remain on the same island for more than a month.

“You’d think it’s a relationship that’s bound to fall apart, but it doesn’t. Their dreams are just as important to them as each other, and they both understand that,” he leaned back in his chair and didn’t turn to Ace, letting the kid have his moment to come to terms with what he was being told. He’d wrapped himself into a ball anyway, arms tight around his knees and head bowed between them, so there was little from his expression Rayleigh could tell.

“They’ve hurt each other, yes,” he continued after a short pause. “But they both know how to love each other despite it. They know the other isn’t doing it with the intention to hurt.

You, on the other hand,” he let his voice grow harsh once more and noticed Ace flinching away from him. Good, he needed to know Rayleigh was serious about this. “I have rarely seen a person stomp on the heart of someone who loves them with quite the relish and malice you’ve put into it. Roger loves you, Ace. And it doesn’t matter what you do to him, he’ll always keep loving you. Because you’re his son, and you made Rouge happy when he couldn’t. He’ll love you until the end of the world.”

Ace was quiet, but his shoulders were shaking and his fingers were white where he gripped his forearms. Rayleigh’s words were ruthless, but Ace was hardheaded enough to need something like this if he was to ever see his mistakes.

“I’m not saying you should forgive him for hurting Rouge – that’s something only you can decide if you want to do. I am not saying you should love him back just because he loves you, I understand love doesn’t work that way. But what I am saying, is that if knowing that doesn’t change the way you act – if you continue looking for new ways to stab daggers into my friend’s heart even after hearing this, then maybe you should assess your own opinion of yourself.

“I have never known a man who wasn’t evil to his core, who would dedicate so much effort into hurting somebody who loved them.”

With those last words, and a quick glance to his still-resting captain, Rayleigh took his leave. He ignored the strangled sobs coming from the other occupied bed.

Less than a day later Ace left the infirmary and scaled the Moby Dick’s side, throwing himself over the railing. Just before he did, though, he turned to the Roger Pirates gathered on deck, and said:

“Tell me when the ba- when my father…” the word seemed to stick in his throat before bursting out uncertainly. “When he wakes up.”

The combined jawdrop of most everyone on deck was almost sudden and simultaneous enough to shake the ship. Ace himself looked too uncomfortable to even notice it.

And when the kid was off to his other family, being pulled up on the Third Division’s shoulders to loud cheers, Shanks turned to Rayleigh with wide eyes, and said:

“You really are a miracle worker, Master Rayleigh.”

Rayleigh just smiled at him. He hadn’t done much. He’d just opened Ace’s eyes to what he was doing. This was all Ace’s own choice, Ace’s decision. He was just happy he’d made the right one.

Two days later Roger finally woke up.

That, naturally, was cause for a party, and considering most of Shanks’ men were aboard the Oro Jackson, it was a big one. They brought out a few tables around the deck and their chefs outdid themselves with the feast they made. The Moby Dick turned it into a competition of which ship could be louder, and considering Strawhat and the Revolutionary’s Second in command were there, it was a fair one.

Roger was wolfing down everything in sight, not really bothered by the partying people around him, and Shanks by his side filling him in on everything he’d missed while recuperating. Rayleigh sat a little further away, Ben’s quiet company beside him, and cast a glance to the larger ship.

Ace was sprawled out on the railing facing them, one leg kicked over the side and a den den mushi sat before him. From the wide gesticulations and the soft look on his face, Rayleigh was fairly sure it was Rouge on the other side. Roger hadn’t noticed him properly yet, but he did seem to perk up every time Ace’s laughter or voice rang loud enough to be heard over the partying bunch.

Hey, old man,” the kid called at one point, and Rayleigh turned his attention to him, only to be surprised when he realized Ace was looking at Roger instead. When his call remained unanswered, though, he pulled the gun from his belt and shot at his father in irritation: “ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, YOU BASTARD!?”

Huh. His warning shot only hit Roger’s mug. Rayleigh was pretty sure Roger had gotten warning shots in his arms before.

“Ah, Ace!” He exclaimed with a grin on his face. “How are you doing?”

Ignoring the question altogether, the kid put the weapon away and raised his voice again:

“Mom wants to know if we’re gonna be stopping by South soon,” he said, confirming Rayleigh’s earlier suspicion.

“I was planning the course earlier,” the Pirate King smiled and added: “Send her my love!”

“Call her yourself, you useless old man!” Ace shot back, but before he returned to his conversation, he added: “And make sure you have space for me on that ship of yours, I’m coming with you!”

The way Roger’s face lit up, you’d think he was seeing the sun after years of nothing but darkness.

“You always have a place on the Jackson, my son!” He answered happily, and for a moment Rayleigh thought he’d gone too far. For a moment Ace’s face flushed with anger and his mouth opened in preparation to cast that name aside.

But then his teeth clicked together as he closed it, he took a breath and scratched the back of his head, looking away.

“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled, barely audible from where he stood, and turned back to his quieter conversation with his mother.

His anger, Rayleigh realized, had been reflexive. He’d made himself hate Roger for so long, that not hating him now took effort. But he was trying, and that was more than Rayleigh had expected this soon after their conversation.

It was enough to make Roger burst out laughing in sheer glee, while raising a new mug at Rayleigh.

“For victories, partner!” He called, bright and larger than life as he always was. “Be them big or small!”

Rayleigh clicked his drink to his captain’s, and thought this might be the biggest victory he’d ever seen.