Actions

Work Header

comatose

Work Text:

Shanks tells him that he first noticed it just after he saved the pink-haired Marine from Akainu’s wrath. Of course, he’s not told until they’re carrying Ace’s body on board the Red Force, and for that Marco kind of wants to punch Red Hair right in his scarred face. “He still has a heartbeat,” Shanks says as he carefully sets the body down on a cot in a small room. “If we can get away from here fast enough, you may be able to heal him. Now would be the time to pray that he survives that long, if you’re the praying type.”

He's not the praying type, but just he thinks he can make an exception for this. The bodies were the last things to be loaded onto their allies' ships, so Marco settles down on the floor as they set sail from Marineford. He leans against the wall opposite the bed, eyes trained on Ace's chest. He can see the way the small rivers of blood trickle out of his body in time with a heartbeat. But his chest doesn't rise and fall with breath. Not often enough that Marco notices it, anyways.

What seems like an eternity after they left Marineford, a sharp rap sounds at the door. Beckman's voice comes from the other side. "Boss says it's time, if he's still there." Marco waits until he hears the first mate's footsteps fade away to shift his arms into the fiery blue wings of his zoan form. It's not hard to call up tears. They haven't really stopped since Red Hair declared the war over; they've just slowed a bit. He's never actually tried this before. Crying on command isn't one of Marco's skills and there's never really been a situation dire enough for him to see if he's really a phoenix through and through.

This time the stars align just right, and he can shed a few tears over Ace's wound. When the liquid hits flesh it makes a strange sizzling sound. Then the wound slowly starts to close. It doesn't heal fully, just enough so the wounds are no longer fatal by themselves. Carefully, Marco props Ace up and grabs the bandages Red Hair had left in the room to wrap up his wounds. They're large, but not overly deep. He'll have a scar on both his back and his chest, and Whitebeard's symbol is almost completely gone. But Marco can feel a heartbeat under his palm and breath on his neck. It's more than he dared hope for twenty minutes ago.

Even so, he can't let go of his worry. There's still a risk of infection, of him having lost too much blood, of the lack of oxygen to his brain meaning he'll never wake up. Six minutes without air is all it takes for brain damage to set in. How long was Ace unconscious for? Marco sets him on the cot and takes his place at the wall again. His hands and chest are covered in Ace's blood. It's drying quickly and it's with a sort of morbid fascination that Marco rubs the flaking red off his hands.

A while after he's done taking care of Ace—he's not sure how long it was, exactly; long enough for the blood on his chest to dry—there's another knock on the door. Shanks comes in, all frowns and worried looks. "Is he—?"

"He's alive," Marco says. When did his voice get so hoarse and tired? When did he get so tired? He can feel it all throughout him, a bone-deep exhaustion and grief.

"I'm glad." Shanks carefully removes his cloak and sits on the floor a little ways away from Marco. He tosses over a cask and smiles slightly. "The day my captain died, I got so drunk I blacked out and slept for a day after. I still don't remember all of what happened that night."

A small, bitter laugh escapes Marco as he takes the cork from the flask and drinks. "You were an annoying little punk back then." He's still an annoying little something-or-other. Another drink, and he tosses the flask back. "I can't get that drunk right now."

Shanks nods. "You've got your crew to look after." And there's Ace to look after. He takes a drink and looks down. "Do you know where Whitebeard wanted to be buried? We need a heading other than 'The New World.'"

"Yeah..." The back of Marco's head hits the wall with a dull thunk as he looks up at the ceiling. "I know a place." He rattles off a heading and says that one of their navigators has the right poses to get there within a few days. If she's still alive, that is.

There's a long moment of silence. Marco looks back at Ace, and notices Red Hair doing the same. "They're going to keep coming after him if they know he's alive," he says quietly. "Just because of his blood."

"Bastards."

Red Hair murmurs a noise of agreement. "With Whitebeard gone, protecting him isn't going to be easy..."

Silence reigns. It's not hard to get what Shanks is implying, but Marco's too busy thinking over the logistics in his head to comment. At least he is until he has to factor Ace's reaction into everything. Then he snorts. "He's not going to like having to be cooped up."

"It won't be for long, just a few years," Red Hair says. He blithely ignores the Oh, is that all? look Marco sends him. "Once Luffy is Pirate King or your crew can reclaim its position, once he can be easily protected with the same kind of strength and reputation Whitebeard had, he can move freely."

Marco blinks slowly. "You say that like Ace's brother becoming Pirate King is an inevitability."

He's not expecting Red Hair to tip his head back and laugh loudly at the remark, but that's what happens. When he stops laughing, the proud grin doesn't leave his face. "That's because it is." He looks over at the bed, and the smile fades. "Are you going to tell your commanders now or later?"

Something in Marco snaps. They're not his commanders, they're Oyaji's. He shoves the urge to fly off the handle down deep and contents himself with frowning sharply. "Not yet. If he lasts the night I'll tell all of them tomorrow." He pauses. "Is Vista on the Red Force still? Mind sending him in here?"

Shanks nods and stands. He tosses the cask of alcohol, still mostly full, at Marco and disappears out the door. Despite his earlier words, Marco finds himself taking another long drink and wishing he was a lightweight. A little fuzz on the edges of his brain wouldn't be unwelcome. The rational part of his head tells him that he needs all of his faculties so he can check up on the crew that's on the Red Force and write out orders to send to the other ships. He needs to stay strong and be present so the rest of the crew can take comfort in the fact that their first commander still has his head up. Most of him wishes he didn't have to do that. He just wants to grieve.

Vista doesn't knock when he comes in, he just slides in and shuts the door behind him. He looks at Ace on the bed—he can't miss the bandages—and at Marco rubbing the heel of his hand into his left eye. A hissed oath escapes from between his teeth.

"Tell me about it," Marco says dryly. "Can you stay with him while I make the rounds?"

A grave nod and a hand up is his answer. There's a small bit of comfort in the warmth of Vista's helping hand, but Marco doesn't let himself dwell on it as he slips out the door. There's a good number of their people on the Red Force and while he doesn't visit with everyone, he does most of them. A quick check-up to make sure they all know they're not alone is all they need to keep morale boosted, and Marco figures that the faint tear tracks on his face are enough to let them know they don't grieve alone. That's not actually a calculated move, he's just too damn tired to clean his face, but if it serves a purpose then it sets his mind at ease.

It's hours later that he slips back into the small room. He raises an eyebrow at Vista. The chair and the book are new. Probably charmed or finagled out of Beckman. The swordsman stands and claps his free hand on Marco's shoulder. "To be completely frank, my friend, you look like shit." He keeps going before Marco can make a remark in return. "Ace's temperature is slightly elevated, but that may be normal for him. I can't tell. He should be alright if you take an hour or two to sleep."

Carefully, he puts a hand on the one on his shoulder and nods. He doesn't have the energy in him to protest. Vista squeezes his shoulder, lets go, and leaves. Taking that as his cue, Marco shifts into bird form and settles on a free spot on the bed, curled into Ace's side. If anything goes dramatically wrong, being this close to Ace should wake him up. Or so he reasons as he tucks his beak under his wing and gives in to the exhaustion.

When he wakes with a start it takes him a moment to realize what it is that woke him up. Ace is shivering. With a muttered curse Marco shifts back to human form and puts a hand on a sweaty forehead. It's hotter than any human forehead could ever be, the fever burning Ace from the inside out. The cold hand of barely suppressed panic grips Marco's gut as he checks the bandages and sneaks his way into the galley to get a bowl of water for a cold compress.

"I know, I know," he murmurs as Ace shivers even more as the cool cloth is pressed to his forehead and the blankets are stripped from the bed. "I can't let you get any hotter though. Don't want you to set the ship on fire in your sleep." Not that it's a real risk. They'd be able to do something to contain Ace's flames before he destroyed the entire ship. (Hopefully.) But talking to someone who can't hear him is somewhat cathartic.

The fever lasts through the night and into the next day. Vista is a godsend, watching over his brother as Marco does what he needs to. He gathers the rest of the commanders together and quietly tells them about Ace, and about the fever. "We may still lose him, but for now he's here. And we're going to keep him safe," he says. They all nod in agreement, faces set and determined. Even Jozu, who's still on bedrest as he deals with his missing arm, looks ready to go through hell and high water again for Ace. It makes Marco smile.

They make it to the island and they bury their father. Though it pains them all to do so, they make a headstone for Ace as well. His knife, beads, and hat are placed on it carefully. Marco tries not to think of the yelling he's sure to do once he wakes up. If he wakes up. It's been days and though his fever's broken, he's still comatose. He stays comatose as they transfer him onto the new ship, and he doesn't wake even as they set sail.

The room they put him in quickly becomes less a bedroom and more a hospital room, with all the machines and tubes hooked up to him. His injuries are almost completely healed, but without the things providing him with the nutrients his body needs, there's no telling what would happen. He'd starve, maybe.

"There's no telling what the lack of oxygen did to his brain. And we don't know what your tears can and can't heal," he ship's doctor says to Marco quietly as he checks on Ace a week after the war. There's a lengthy pause before he continues, his expression turning even more grim. "We also need to take into account the fact that he was prepared to die. When a person's spirit is settled like that..." Marco's glad he doesn't finish that sentence.

Despite the fact that he has his own room as he's now something like acting captain, Marco finds himself spending all his free time and some of his working hours at Ace's bedside. He knows, rationally, that him being there and occasionally talking to the prone form isn't going to make him wake up faster. But he's not always a rational person. Rational people don't fall asleep in chairs as they watch their nakama sleep. Rational people bring cots and pillows into the room.

But it's a lucky thing that Marco can fall asleep in all kinds of places. It means that one day, nearly two weeks after the war, he wakes up to gentle, shaking fingers combing through the tuft of hair on his head. He blinks blearily and shifts so his face isn't buried in his arms. What he sees almost gives him a heart attack.

"You're awake." He ignores how hoarse his voice sounds and the way his throat feels like it's closing around the words.

Ace grins. He looks a little tired and a little thin, but he's sitting up and nodding. "I'm awake. How long was I out?"

Marco doesn't answer right away. What he does do is grab Ace into the tightest hug he's ever given anyone in his life. He buries his face in the bare shoulder and tries to ignore the way he trembles ever so slightly as Ace's arms come up around him in return.

"Marco...?" he sounds confused.

"Two weeks," he says finally. "Before that, we thought you'd—" The air hissed in between clenched teeth is the only sound Ace needs to make for Marco to know he gets what can't be said right now. "We weren't sure you were going to wake up."

The last part is mumbled into the skin of Ace's shoulder. It's a more intimate sort of a thing than Marco is used to doing, but luckily, Ace doesn't seem to notice. He just holds on even tighter. "I'm awake now." A moment passes. "Is—I mean, did Oyaji—"

Marco pulls back from the embrace and looks away. The grief that hits him isn't nearly as overwhelming as it was a week ago, but it's still a force to be reckoned with. "He's gone. So are you, technically." The offhand remark and a crooked grin are meant to soften the blow. He doesn't know if he can deal with the start Ace's mourning without breaking down again himself. "The crew and a handful of Red Hair's people are the only ones who know about you actually being alive," he explains. When he tells Ace how they're going to have to keep this secret for a while, he's expecting anger. The fact that there's enough of it to make wisps of flame travel the length of Ace's shoulders surprises him.

"No," he says vehemently. "I need to tell Luffy. I can't let him think—" He looks like he's been punched in the gut as he says it. Guilt quickly replaces anger, confusing Marco until Ace continues. "I promised him I wouldn't die."

It's says something that Marco can actually bite his tongue around the comments of Of course your kid brother is your first thought, and Who the hell makes a promise like that? sitting on the tip of it. "We don't know where he is," he says and rubs the back of his neck. "Except that he might still be with Rayleigh." Which means if they want to find Luffy, they're going to have to talk to Shakky. He's not sure how he feels about that.

Ace deflates back into the pillows suddenly, like a puppet with his strings cut. A jaw-cracking yawn explains why. "Nnngh. You'd think sleeping for two weeks would mean I wouldn't be so damn tired."

The comment makes Marco chuckle. "Get some rest," he says as he stands. "I'll let the others know you're awake and as Doc what he wants to do with you now."

Before he can make it to the door, a too warm hand catches his wrist. Marco's almost used to the sight of the IV in it by now. "Stay?" Ace asks quietly, "Just for a little while?"

He hesitates for a moment, then kicks off his sandals. Figuring out how to get in the bed without laying on the IV line is a little hard, but he manages. Ace curls into his side, head on his shoulder, and Marco absently puts an arm around him. It's not long before he's snoring away, and Marco idly brushes his hair back. Everything's changing around him, and it's going to be a while before things can settle into a new normal. But this? This helps.