Habits were easily formed on a ship the size of the Moby Dick. When one had nothing but the ocean surrounding them and tens of nakama, the jobs were shared easily and there would always be a low-time for everyone.
Marco was no exception. He’d flitted through various habits over the years (and thankfully the nail-biting hadn’t lasted long), but there was one tradition that stuck firm, and had since the first time it had been an option.
To keep the Moby Dick running smoothly, breakfast was a lavish affair. Eggs were a staple and, more often than not, the amount of eggs left over dictated what the rest of the meals were for that day. Buying eggs each time they docked would provide for a week – at very best – and so Whitebeard had made a curious suggestion.
Chickens. The Moby Dick had three rooms dedicated to the birds, the highest rooms inside, windows catching as much sun as they could. The first room looked after fertilised eggs and the hatchlings they’d incubated, feeding them up. It also contained the bird’s feed, bags upon bags of staple feed that would be supplemented with leftovers. The last two rooms were dedicated to hens and cocks separately, the males used as breeding stock before being carted off to the kitchen.
It had been a joke at first. Whitebeard had put Marco in charge of supervising the hens (they’d only kept ten or so at the start, to see how the birds would adapt to the ocean) and the crew had laughed with Marco, birds of a feather and all that. But Marco had taken to the job, taking it upon himself to do ‘chicken duty’ at least once a week.
Naturally, as his nakama had joked about, the birds loved him. The roosters would crow as he entered and the hens would run over. The chicks would always surround him, but the chicks surrounded everyone, demanding attention and more food.
Today was a chicken day. Marco started with the cocks, checking them over with a critical eye. A few they wouldn’t be breeding were ready for the pot and Marco made a note to ask when the kitchen would want them. Until then, they could carry on with their peaceful lives.
The chicks were next and Marco checked their water and feed, scattering more. They peeped excitedly, the older ones flapping their wings and jumping up in excitement. He turned away, checking the incubators were still rotating and marking the calendars for when they’d hatch, not long left for the next batch.
The hens were last and Marco shut the door behind him, dropping to his knees. The hens ran to greet him, soft clucks surrounding him, and Marco smiled down. His visits to the hens were his favourite. They were calmer than the roosters and chicks, willing to let Marco doze in the corner in a hammock he’d brought in. Occasionally a hen or two would join him, and he’d sleep his free time away, lulled by gentle keens and curious shuffles.
“Hello ladies,” Marco said, hefting a bucket of feed he’d brought with him up, scattering seeds and left over vegetables from the kitchens. Some maggots had been eating away at some food too and the cooks had scooped it all in for the chickens. The hens clucked excitedly, snapping the maggots up in earnest.
Marco pulled a small book from under his sash, a pen following. There were a few things he needed to go over on their next supply run and there was no better place to think it over than amidst the chickens.
They kept him company as the sun lowered, the stars blinking slowly above them. Marco finished and stood, stretching and tucking the book into the bucket he’d brought in, stroking the hen by his side on her neck.
He’d never admit it, but being around other birds soothed Marco. He didn’t understand them, but he felt as though he knew them, as if they were part of him that he’d never really acknowledged. He supposed it was due to his Zoan powers, but the birds settled a tiny part of him that was forever restless.
Marco’s habit was to hunker down in the hen house and sleep curled against the chickens, cheek buried in soft warmth. Everyone commented on it, but Marco brushed it off, laughing with them and at the fact that they would never understand.
He was happy and his pillows were full of the finest, shed feathers, more comfortable than any other pillows on board. There was nothing that could make Marco change this particular habit
“Just leave me alone!” a shrill voice said, tension clear. Marco rounded the corner of the corridor he was walking down, watching as one of the former Spade pirates tried to console their former captain.
“You haven’t been sleeping and we’re worried-“ the man was saying, but Ace was having none of it.
“You’ve sold yourself to Whitebeard, worry about his sleep instead of mine.” Ace crossed his arms over his chest and Marco had to admit he looked exhausted. Come to think of it, whenever he’d seen Ace, he’d either been plotting murder or pacing the deck as if he was trying to wear it down.
The man gave up, sighing heavily and leaving Ace to it.
“He’s still your nakama,” Marco said and Ace’s head whipped round to face him, scowl forming when he realised who it was. “You shouldn’t be so harsh on him.”
Ace remained silent and Marco decided to show a little pity. Ace needed sleep and, perhaps, if he was well rested, he’d finally give up on killing Whitebeard.
“What if I could show you somewhere where you wouldn’t be interrupted?” he began and Ace looked at him in curiosity, arms dropping to his side.
“Not by a single person?” Ace said and Marco shook his head. If he put his name on the board in the chick’s room, no one would bother to enter the hen house.
“Not a single one,” he confirmed and Ace’s mouth formed a thin line. Marco wondered if he’d push past his intense hatred and accept the help.
“Okay,” he agreed finally. “But this doesn’t mean I trust you.”
Marco didn’t want to point out the obvious and instead nodded for Ace to follow. There was no way Ace would have accepted his suggestion if he didn’t trust Marco to some degree and a happiness spread through him at the thought.
As they climbed stairs, Ace made a surprised noise.
“It smells like animal,” he said, voice full of confusion. Marco chuckled, turning to him.
“Only chickens. It’s a chore to clean them out so the ground they’re on is a natural decomposer. It cleans itself and is completely natural. It smells a little odd, but better than chicken shit.” Marco smiled, slipping into the chick room and writing his name on the chalk board they had in there.
“Follow me,” he said and Ace followed him perfectly in step. Marco opened the door that contained the hens and Ace made a noise of surprise as he took in the plentiful space and large roost boxes.
A few chickens ran over to greet Marco, and they stared up warily at Ace.
“He’s a friend,” Marco said, hoping that the birds would understand. They didn’t, of course, so Ace crouched low, a soft smile on his face as he let a chicken peck his fingers.
“You should smile more often,” Marco said, moving to set his hammock up. “We’re not terrible people.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Ace retorted, more through instinct than bite. He was so tired, his shoulders had dropped and Marco could tell he wouldn’t last much longer.
“You can use my hammock,” he offered and Ace perked up.
“Don’t say anything. Just forget about your issues and sleep for one night. You can go back to hating me tomorrow.” Marco wasn’t letting him slip away and Ace nodded slowly, clearly too tired to argue.
“Are you going to stay here?” Ace asked suddenly, fingers touching the fabric of the hammock.
“If I leave, you’ll be interrupted at some point. I’ll sleep over here though, by the door if it helps.” Marco gestured to the wall near the door. He’d done it before, back when he’d not thought of a hammock, and while it wasn’t exactly comfortable, there were worst places to sleep.
“Seeing as we’re holding a truce,” Ace said, though the truce was between Ace and himself in reality, “I want to ask you something. Don’t think much of it… I just need…”
Ace took a deep breath and turned his back on Marco.
“I’m used to sharing beds. It’s been a long while since I have and…” Ace made an odd noise in his throat and hastened to correct himself. “It’s not sexual, it’s not anything I just want-“
“It’s comforting,” Marco supplied and Ace spun around to look at him, cheeks flushed red. There was nothing to be ashamed about though.
“If you’d prefer, I can hand you some chickens. They’re what I usually use to keep me company.” Marco frowned. “Not in any strange way, they appreciate being warm and I appreciate the companionship.”
Ace shook his head, red flush darkening slightly and Marco understood.
“We’ll probably wake up with a chicken or two with us anyway. They like the heat,” he said kindly and Ace gave a shaky smile.
It was a struggle to get into the hammock comfortably, but once they were settled, Marco wasn’t sure how he’d be able to return to it without Ace. He was warm and satisfied, the restlessness soothed quicker than it had ever been before.
“Thank you,” Ace said quietly, pulling Marco’s around his chest.
There was nothing for Ace to thank, but Marco remained silent, closing his eyes and letting himself drift off to sleep.
A week later, Ace accepted Whitebeard and paused at Marco’s side the morning after the celebratory feast.
“If you ever need company,” he began, but Marco held his hand up, smiling.
“My door’s always open, chickens or no chickens.” The smile Ace gave in return was blinding and Marco knew then that a cuddle from a chicken would never be enough ever again.