Marco pauses as he walks into the lab, the normal bustle of movement missing. It’s quieter and there’s fewer people crowding around over a skeleton, though Coby is currently bent over one. Robin is close by, her sketch book in hand as she seems to direct Coby’s attention to certain points on the skull, voice too soft to carry.
“Luffy, it’s quiet today,” Marco tries not to flinch, ears still ringing. “Where is everyone?”
“A dig, Ace is mad become he wasn’t able to go and,” Luffy grins. “He’s gotten invited to his high school reunion and his mom asked me to convince him to go.”
“And he doesn’t want to?”
“Don’t know, it’s a mystery. Ace had fun in high school,” Luffy’s frowning in thought, head tilted to the side as the beetle in his hands almost buzzes. “You should ask him!”
“Should ask him?”
“Uh-huh, if Marco asks then Ace will tell him! Maybe he wants you to go with him,” Luffy nods like that explains everything. “You’ll ask right?”
“I’ll talk to Ace,” Marco promises instead, because he doesn’t understand why he would have something to influence Ace’s choices. “Your beetle is trying to escape again.”
Luffy panics, possibly realizing that his beetle isn’t in a lidded container, running off with his hand clapped over the top of it, one last shouted demand for Marco to “please make Ace go home so that Auntie stops calling me!”
Marco shakes his head, heading to Ace’s office even more confused than he had been when Luffy had rushed up to him. The door to the office is open, which is good, since Ace always shoves a chair up under the handle when it’s closed.
“Why is Luffy asking me about your high school reunion,” Marco asks stepping into the office and quickly sidestepping to avoid the rubber band that Ace had stretched between two of his fingers. “I was just curious.”
Ace snorts, releasing the band and grinning when Luffy shouts at him for hitting him, “I haven’t gone back home in years and my mom’s been trying to convince me that it’ll be fun. Usually they visit me instead, but they’re retired now and they prefer not having to drive into D.C. if they can help it.”
“And they think Luffy will convince you?”
“Luffy is my favorite cousin,” Ace says glancing at his computer, either paperwork or the book that they all knew he was writing even if he didn’t admit to it. “I’ve been doing what he wants since he was born. That’s the reason I was a pirate for Halloween until I was thirteen and decided to be a vampire because they were cool .”
“I can’t see you dressed up as anything but a cowboy.”
“The hat is actually from the pirate costume, it was too big back then. And have you seen Dr. Allen Grant? An inspiration even if Dr. Ellie Sadler had better choice in clothing,” Ace grins before looking almost hopeful. “Please say you have a case so I can tell them that work kept me from coming?”
Marco shakes his head, “No cases for us. I just came to see if you wanted to have lunch.”
“Lunch sounds good,” Ace sighs, like he had been hoping for a case, saving his work and then locking the computer. “You would think that forensic anthropology would have less paperwork but I swear that every time that I turn around the FBI is asking me for something new.” he pauses, hand hovering over the cowboy hat before shoving it onto his head and pulling his leather jacket from the back of his chair.
“I swear, you dress like you’ve forgotten how old you are,” Marco says, because Ace does remind him of some weird mix between Dr. Allen Grant and Ian Malcolm, which was horrible because Marco liked watching Jurassic Park, even if it was were Ace got all his fashion advice. “We aren’t in a movie.”
“I’m forty, not dead Marco. I can dress how I like, Mr. I can’t conform to the exact dress code because my tie is covered in fish,” Ace says leading the way out, pausing long enough to wave to the rest of the office. “The diner?”
“If you want, I just wanted to have lunch with you. We can go anywhere, as long as it’s not that taco place that murdered us both three weeks ago. I put my foot down, Ace. We are never going back there.”
“I called the health inspector, I have an iron stomach. I shouldn’t have gotten remotely that sick from some tacos. They were closed down four days ago, not that they were real tacos. Culturally-”
Marco cuts him off, hand resting on the small of Ace’s back, “I love you, but if you give me one more cultural lesson on our food, I will leave you here without lunch.”
“Fine,” Ace is smiling, leaning closer. “Food now, dumbass.”
Marco smiles, watching as Ace finally relaxes. No longer as tense as he had been when Marco had first asked about the reunion, because that hadn’t been the only reasons. Ace is smiling, moving faster and away from Marco like he always does when there’s food involved, smiling brighter at the woman behind the counter before stealing their usual table. It’s the one in the back corner that isn’t easily visible from any of the windows.
“So,” Marco says slowly after taking his seat. “Why don’t you want to go home?”
Ace sighs, pushing his hat so that it hangs from his neck, hand scrubbing through his hair, “I don’t like seeing everyone from back then. I, I wasn’t the best student back then, not because I was stupid but because I was a dumb highschooler. You know how they are.”
“I was once in high school,” Marco agrees, chin resting on his palm. “Did they not expect you to get far?”
“Some of them use to joke that I would be using my parents’ names to go anywhere in life. They weren’t my friends, but they were vocal and it stuck with me. My mom’s name is lesser known, which is why I use it academically. If I go back they’ll ask what I’m doing and I’ll have to explain using her name,” Ace pauses. “The other issue is going back alone.”
Marco snorts, “That bad?”
Ace smiles politely at the waitress and giving his order, waiting for Marco to order and for her to walk away before continuing, his smile falling from his face and Marco almost feels guilty for pushing the issue.
“I had a boyfriend in high school and everyone used to say that we would get married or something. He graduated two years before me and the distance, not to mention life, eventually led to our break up. We were friendly about it, we cared about each other, we didn’t want to hurt each other. But,” he shrugs. “We were kids. They always ask if they should track him down for me and set us back up, like a bad rom-com.”
“Instead of a good rom-com?”
“I love you. You’re a smart man, but if you don’t shut your mouth, I’ll gag you.”
Ace rolls his eyes and Marco hides a grin, “Won’t be if I go through with it. Which is another reason I don’t want to go. There’s only one person that I want to come with me.”
“When is it?”
“Three weeks. It’s three days because, it’s been so long ,” Ace answers turning his coffee cup slowly.
Marco hums thoughtfully, “Might be able to get some time off, just to escort you to your reunion. Of course,” he grins teasingly. “I would expect to be compensated for it.”
“Compensated, huh? I don’t know, it’s only three days, maybe I should say that I’m not coming.”
“A trade, you did say you would be willing to try something the last time we talked privately. I’ll go, if you would be willing to pick a time to try it.”
“We’re not going to have sex those three days,” Ace warns. “My mom will insist that we stay with them and I haven’t had sex in their house since I was in high school. It could only be more awkward now then it was back then. That stupid grin you get doesn’t help.”
Marco laughs, “You have the stupid grin, Ace, but I suppose if you don’t want to have sex at your parents house, I can respect that. We’re adults, we’re not going to start fucking like teenagers or something.”
“Does the FBI know that you walk around with that kind of language or is it just me that gets to hear you like this?”
“I’m not censoring myself.”
Ace grins, “My mom probably swears worse than that, at least she did the last time I talked to her and she wasn’t trying to censor herself. They’re pretty well known. Dad was in politics and mom’s got her own company.”
“No wonder they thought you would use his name,” Marco brushes their fingers together, smiling softly. “I’m dating you, I’m not dating you for your name or your family. I spent three hours listening to you complain about the glue you used to stick bone fragments together. I think, if I was here for your parents, who I don’t even know yet, the I don’t think I would willingly sit through something like that.”
Marco wants to say something the moment they pull off the interstate, but he doesn't. Listening to Ace talk about people that they’re going to meet and his complaints about why the institute wouldn’t let him go on the dig that a number of the people had left to join. It gets worse when Ace pulls to a stop at one of the major intersections of his home town.
“That’s new,” Ace says, sunglasses sliding down his nose as he points to a pet store that Marco can’t remember from his last visit almost ten years ago. “I came through five years back when my dad was in the hospital, but I think I would remember that.”
“It looks new,” Marco agrees.
There’s two high schools in town and Marco knows them both well. He had gone to one and the other had been the one that his ex had attended. The number of events between the two had seen him at both far more than he had wanted, but it had made his ex happy.
But if Ace had gone to school here, wouldn’t that put him at the same age as Marco’s ex? He had known a lot of people at both and he didn’t remember seeing Ace, not even in passing. It could be that his memory wasn’t as sharp, but still.
“I should warn you,” Ace says as he drives into the nicer part of town. Not that any of the town looked bad. “That it’s a bit much.”
“What is?” Marco asks, watching as they turn down the road where both his father and his ex lived down. This is almost as bad as when he went on a date with a serial killer.
“The house,” Ace gestures to the driveway as they turn into it. “Dad’s always been a little weird with aesthetics and mom can only temper him so much. Oh, dad’s friend is here.”
Marco bites his tongue because he remembers this house. How can he not, not when he spent so many years being dragged here for events and holidays shared between his pops and his ex’s dad.
“Oh?” that’s his pops’ new car after all.
“My ex’s dad,” Ace adds, leaning into the back seat and grabbing their bags. “They’ve taken to playing golf because that’s what old men are suppose to do. They both hate it, but they bought memberships to a golf course and mom keeps making noise about them wasting money.”
“Your mom sounds like a walking guilt trip,” Marco says instead of asking if Ace had dating someone he had known so well. It’s less awkward because he can remember how Roger Gol had looked when Marco had knocked on the front door and asked for his ex after they had started dating. “Your ex’s dad is your dad’s best friend?”
“Yeah, he was pretty gutsy, you know? Asked me out in front of our parents because he was stupid and couldn’t wait four minutes for them to clear out the kitchen.” he takes a deep breath. “If we go in and no one meets us, we’re going straight to my room.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Marco can feel his sanity slipping as he follows Ace inside and finds the entrance looking almost exactly the same as it had the last time he had been here. It’s empty however, Marco is grateful for that, as Ace leads the way upstairs, taking care to avoid the loud discussion coming from the living room.
“I don’t think anything has changed here since high school,” Ace states pushing his bedroom door open and stepping in. “Close that, the longer we pretend that we aren’t here, the less time that my dad can try and threaten you.”
Marco glances around the room, the room that’s stepped right out of his memories, as Ace kicks off his shoes and collapses onto his bed, “Ace, I need you not to punch me after I show you this.”
Ace glances at him, eyebrow raised, “Okay? If it’s a text from work asking you to come in, I’m not keeping that promise. Unless they need us both, in which case we are sneaking back out the house and telling my parents that work stopped us halfway and we never reached the house.”
“This,” Marco says unlocking his phone and finding the newest picture of his pops and Stefan IV. “Is my pops.”
“Your pops,” Ace says leaning closer to get a better look at the picture as Marco resolutely looks away. “This is dad’s best friend,” it seems to take a long moment to settle in before Ace looks at him. “Jesus fuck, Marco?”
“I know I mentioned him before, but I don’t think I’ve shown you a picture or talked about my hometown,” Marco says nervously. “But it seems a little important now, since you did pull up to my ex’s house and take us right to his bedroom.”
Ace makes a quiet, dying sound as he drops his head down onto his pillow, “I’m gonna die. I’m dead and it’s all your fault, what the fuck, Marco?”
“We never talked about where we grew up or even about high school. And you always have blamed me.”
“No joking about this yet. How can you joke about this now?” Ace pauses and Marco can imagine the horror on his face. “Your dad is downstairs.”
“He is,” Marco agrees. “Thank you for not stopping in the living room, it’s much easier to have this conversation here,” he doesn’t mean to make light of it, but, “probably as bad as that time your dad caught us in the pool.”
Ace snorts, “He redid it, you know. After we broke up. Said that I needed it to be untainted, but mom and I think he just needed to know that I had never sex in the pool before he could use it again. God this is going to be so awkward.”
“That sounds like your dad, scoot over,” Marco sets his bag down and slips off his shoes, dropping down into the space that Ace left for him. “Thanks.”
“So, do we wanna tell our folks that we started dating again? Leaving out that we only just found out ourselves or should we wait for your dad to go home? Your dad doesn’t show off pictures much, they might not remember you and you’re older now. If we tell them, dad is gonna start complaining that I’m making his friendship with Nr. Newgate hard again.”
Marco laughs, “God, I remember that. He told pops that he should have stopped me, they had been friends for years and Mr. Gol knew that we told him everything,” he pauses. “Pops will laugh himself sick if he finds out.”
“You look different,” Ace says softly, shifting to look at him, one finger sliding over his cheek. “I mean it’s been twenty years and we’re both older, but you look different. I wouldn’t have guessed you were the same person and we never talk about high school.”
“Apparently most people do,” Marco remembers talking about where he went to high school with other exs. He knows that he has, but with Ace, they only talked about college. “We’re never going to live this down if someone finds out,” he trails off slowly. “Could Luffy know?”
Ace blinks slowly, “Shit, he could. The amount of times we ended up having to babysit him on our dates? If he does,” he trails off as he moves again, pulling out his phone and calling Luffy, ignoring the text from his mom asking if he would be home in time for lunch, placing it on speaker.
“Ace?” Luffy sounds tired when he answers. “I thought you were gonna go home, did you back out?”
“We’re still on our way,” Ace lies. “Do you remember my boyfriend from high school?”
There’s a long moment of silence, before Luffy groans, “His name was Marco too, right? I know that I thought it was funny you were gonna date two Marcos. I can look him up for you if you want? But I thought Mr. Mustache said his oldest never came to visit him?”
“No, that’s enough. Thank you, Luffy, I just didn’t remember his name,” Ace answers and Marco falls back on the bed in relief. “You okay?”
“Coby begged us all to go clubbing with him last night since his friends backed out on him. I’m too old to be clubbing, Ace. I’m hungover and tired now, I’m so glad that I don’t have work today,” Luffy makes a sad sound. “I have to go, my boyfriend brought me breakfast and medicine, so I’m going to go cry on him.”
“Go cry on him, thanks Luffy.”
Marco waits for them to finish their goodbyes, “I have never been so glad he doesn’t remember me.”
“You’re glad? He encouraged me to date you, I’m ecstatic. Do you know how hilarious he’s going to find this? Funnier than when Coby finally realized that Robin’s married to the engineering professor at the college we’re connected to.”
Marco wants to add something to that, has something in mind to say, but, “footsteps,” Marco hisses, throwing an arm over his face because he can’t look either Mr. or Mrs. Gol in the eye right now.
Ace groans softly, hiding his face in the pillow as the door slams open.
“Ace!” Mr. Gol shouts. “You come home and you don’t let us know you’ve arrived? You’ve come in and hidden away from us?” he goes on for several moments before, “At least you’re wearing clothes. You should come down for lunch, Rouge made enough for you both since you didn't answer her text. Ed’s going to be there.”
Marco lifts his arm enough to peer at Ace, whose shoulders are shaking, “Shall we?”
“We’re going to die,” Ace hisses back, pushing himself up and elbowing Marco in the stomach as he climbs out of the bed. “Come on Marco.”
“Marco,” Mr. Gol says nodding. “It’s nice to meet you,” he turns to Ace. “Is it the name, this is the second one.”
The look on Ace’s face is one that Marco knows well as Mr. Gol leads them downstairs to the kitchen, “What are you talking about, dad? I’ve only ever dated one Marco.”
“No, this is Marco and you dated Ed’s Marco when you were in high school, that’s two Marcos.”
“One,” Marco answers as they step into the kitchen, grinning at the look that crosses his pops’ face. “Hey Pops, sorry I didn’t tell you that I was going to be in town.”
“Marco, I didn’t know you were still talking to Ace,” Pops says frowning, just as confused as Mrs. Gol.
“We weren’t,” Ace answers sitting in the chair that Marco pulls out for him. “We work together, have for the last year or so, but we started dating again about seven months ago. Oh, nice ribs!” Ace reaches for the tongs as their parents go quiet. “Thanks mom.”
Marco waits, watching Pops because at least he knows how Pops is going to react to things, grinning when Pops starts laughing hysterically, hand slapping against the countertop. Mr. Gol joins in after a moment.
“Oh, honey,” she’s still giggling as she puts a hand on Ace’s shoulder. “That’s amazing. I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks mom, is dad okay?” Ace asks and Marco finally risks a glance at Mr. Gol, who’s still frozen, blinking slowly. “He looks like he’s gonna pass out. I thought you said his heart was okay and we could still pull pranks and things on him?”
“He’s fine, honey. Don’t worry about him. You work together?” Mrs. Gol demands. “I thought you were suppose to be safe and sound in that lab of yours.”
“He works as a consultant with the FBI, his expertise has been exceptional in helping solve a number of cases,” Marco says smiling at Ace. “And he hates being the lab all the time. I had to get special permission to bring him into the field.”
Mr. Gol makes a high pitched noise as he stumbles, catching himself on the counter, “Why do you do this to me, son? I thought you would stop trying to kill me and ruin my friendship, but then you come home with the same boy.”
“Stop being over dramatic, dear. Ace can date Marco if he likes, come eat lunch.”
“He didn’t even tell us,” Mr. Gol mutters dramatically, taking a seat and glaring at Marco.
Ace laughs, “Of course we didn’t, look at how you reacted.”
“Tell us about one of your cases,” Pops asks finally. “I’m sure they’re very exciting if it takes you both to solve them.”
“Of course, pops.”