The light scratching of Marco’s pen on paper filled his cabin, as the first division commander dutifully worked on his last stack of forms for the day. It was another fairly uneventful afternoon on the Moby Dick, which was currently carrying roughly half of her crew as opposed to her usual complement. The halls were quiet, the decks peaceful, and the galley for once was tidy.
Whitebeard and Jozu had left on their sister ship the previous day with a large portion of the crew, to check on a nearby island. While their Captain was away, responsibility of commanding the Moby Dick fell to Marco. So far nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and the blonde was glad for the brief pause so he could tend to his duties at his leisure.
Thump! Thump, thump, thump-thump-thump-thump-thump.
Marco lifted his head and looked towards his door. “What the hell, yoi?” he asked himself, raising an eyebrow as he heard hurried footsteps rushing past outside.
“Ace, you got it?” Haruta’s voice called.
“Yeah, I’m coming back up.”
Marco sighed. He might have known his hyperactive boyfriend had something to do with it, whatever it was. Deciding that it was a perfect excuse to take a quick break from his work, Marco pushed his chair back from his desk and got to his feet. He stepped out of his room just in time to see Ace disappearing back upstairs towards the main deck. But what was he up to? It was time to find out.
The fresh ocean air greeted him gently as he stepped up into the sunshine, and for a moment there was no sign of either Ace or Haruta around the deck. Izo was there though, lounging on a chair rather comfortably with a book in his hand. Marco almost rolled his eyes as he approached him. “It’s nice to see I’m not the only one working hard, yoi,” he commented.
Izo chuckled as he turned a page. “Is that sarcasm I hear, oh brother mine?” the okama asked, reaching for a glass of lemonade that was perched on a small table beside him. The ice clinked against the glass with his movement. “You really should get out of that habit. The new recruits always struggle to figure it out.”
Marco folded his arms with a patient sigh. “That’s precisely why I don’t deal with the new recruits directly. Vista is far more patient for that sort of thing.”
“And you’re always terrified we might take on new phoenix fanboys,” Izo smirked.
Now Marco was scowling - Izo really did enjoy winding him up. “Have you seen Ace?” he asked curtly, hoping to change the subject.
Izo hummed as he sipped his lemonade. “Oh, fanboy number one?”
“He’s my boyfriend, yoi,” Marco ground out. “It’s different.”
“Whatever you say, dear brother,” Izo smiled. “I think he’s messing around with Haruta somewhere towards the bow. I wasn’t really paying attention, but they were laughing about something.”
Marco grunted and turned away, heading to the front of the ship and purposefully ignoring Izo’s cheerful farewell. Honestly he couldn’t wait until Oyaji got back, just so he could have someone to moan to about how annoying Izo could be. Sitting in his stupid chair, reading his stupid book, making his stupid comments. Marco wasn’t afraid of new recruits, and Ace most certainly wasn’t a fanboy. That whole conversation had just been a stupid waste of time.
The first division commander paused, an image of Whitebeard coming into his head, chuckling at him and telling him not to sulk over petty matters. Marco was a grown man for heaven’s sake; he shouldn’t let Izo reduce him to a petulant child with only a few words…
Marco hoped he choked on an ice-cube!
Heading down the stairs toward the main deck, the first division commander found several members of the crew standing round the centre ring, tossing something back and forth between each other. Ace was one of them, standing with his back to Marco, and the blonde quickly realised it was a bright green rubber ball that had them all so interested. Well that explained the strange thumping sound he’d heard outside his room; it had been the bounce.
“Where did that come from, yoi?” he asked, drawing several people’s attention. The freckled second division commander smiled brightly as he looked round.
“Marco,” he greeted. “Thatch found it in one of the potato boxes in the kitchen. A kid must have lost it when we were loading up at the last island.”
Marco hummed, satisfied that his minor mystery had been solved and he’d had an excuse to stretch his legs. But now that he knew it was nothing more than a bouncy ball, he had work to return to. “Just be careful where you’re throwing it yoi,” he advised with a small smile. “It’ll be a pain if a window gets broken.”
Ace grinned. “Don’t worry, nothing will get broken. I promise.”
“Famous last words,” Vista commented, standing watching from the starboard rail. Marco grunted and then returned to his room to carry on with his paperwork.
The first division commander didn’t emerge from his room again until a couple of hours later, by which point the dinner bell had long since been rung and most of the crew had rushed to the galley for food. Marco knew that Thatch was on kitchen duty that day though, and the pompadour man always made sure that a portion was saved for him, knowing how busy the phoenix could be. Sometimes Ace would bring food to Marco in their room if he left it too late, but it seemed today that the fire user was otherwise preoccupied. Marco didn’t mind though, and stepped into the galley looking forward to whatever meal had been prepared for them today.
He paused just inside the doorway as there was a sudden cheer, raising an eyebrow curiously at a group of crewmembers all gathered round one of the far tables. A single mug was sat on its surface, and everyone was clapping and moving excitedly around it. Well, almost everyone. Marco had no idea what was going on, but Vista looked impossibly smug as he stood in the middle of the galley, and Thatch was staring into the mug in devastation.
“Ha, that’s fifteen table bounces, Thatch!” Haruta cheered. “You’ve got Vista’s paperwork for the next week.”
“No, that’s not fair!” Thatch exclaimed, and Marco saw Haruta remove the green ball from the mug. “That’s gotta be some kind of fluke. He was just lucky.”
“Ha!” Vista laughed. “Who needs luck when you’ve got talent?”
There was a chorus of laughter directed at the chef, and Marco moved into the galley, stopping beside Vista. “They got you involved in this, Vista?” he asked in surprise, looking up at the taller man in mild amusement. Vista was normally the kind to stand by and watch from the sidelines, rather than join in on whatever chaos other crewmates were up to. It was nice in a way to see him participating in an activity.
“Ah, Marco,” Vista greeted. “Yes, Thatch goaded me into trying, though I guess he regrets it now. They’ve been bouncing that ball across the tables and into that mug since the first dinner bell rang, and then they started betting chores and paperwork. I saw an opportunity, so I took it.”
Marco nodded, amused by the still broken expression on Thatch’s face. “Quite right,” he agreed. “Oi, Thatch! Any chance of getting some dinner, yoi? Preferably before you start all that paperwork.”
The chef looked up and scowled at the first division commander. “No need to rub it in, Marco,” he complained, getting to his feet. “I’ll get your food.”
“Marco,” Ace said cheerfully, trotting over as the blonde sat down at his favourite table. Ace quickly slid onto the bench beside him, pressing their shoulders together in affectionate greeting. “You should have come by sooner. Everyone’s getting really competitive, and Vista just beat the record with fifteen bounces into the mug.”
“I heard, yoi,” Marco replied, smiling in spite of himself as he watched his boyfriend. Ace’s eyes were sparkling with excitement, and Marco just loved to see him looking so happy.
It was hard to believe that he was the same hot headed young pirate who had been taken aboard after losing to Oyaji, foul mouthed and feral as he’d gone on a murderous rampage against the Yonko. Now he was like a completely different person, and Marco was so grateful that he had played a small part in convincing Ace to stay with them and take their mark. He couldn’t imagine life on the Moby Dick without him, and he didn’t ever want to.
“You should have a shot too,” Ace said, hoping to convince his partner into a game. “I bet you’d be really good at it. You could even bet your paperwork on someone.” He shifted closer to whisper in the blonde’s ear. “Then we could have loads more quality time together,” he suggested smoothly, a hand sliding gently up Marco’s inner thigh.
Marco shuddered, trying not to let his thoughts go straight into the gutter, and caught Ace’s wrist. “Behave, yoi,” he said quietly, pulling his boyfriend’s hand away and looking at his now pouting face. He smiled. “As it happens, I’ve already finished all my paperwork for today. So let me have dinner, and then we can have as much quality time together as we want.”
Ace seemed to consider this offer, smiling again as he nodded his approval. “That sounds fine,” he agreed. “But you have to promise me.”
Marco rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine,” he agreed, knowing better than to argue with his stubborn partner. “I promise. But the ball stays out--”
Bang. Clatter. Smash!
The galley fell into a dead silence, save only for the light chinking sounds as the ball rolled through the remnants of an entire stack of dishes - now no more than a shattered mess spread out across the kitchen floor.
Having been too enthusiastic in his attempt to beat Vista’s new record, Haruta had thrown the ball with incredible force, causing it to bounce across the tables, clean over Thatch’s pompadour head and in through the service hatch of the kitchen. There it had struck a wall, changed its trajectory and ploughed head on into the stack of freshly washed plates, bowls and glasses, toppling them over the edge of the counter and down to the floor to meet their demise.
“Uh-oh,” Ace murmured beside Marco. “Looks like Thatch is about to blow a fuse.”
Marco raised an eyebrow. “Can you really blame him?”
“HARUTA! You’re dead meat!”
“I said I was sorry!”
Marco quickly moved to intercept before Thatch could start carving Haruta up with any steak knives, or even his own swords. The Whitebeard Pirates were known for many things in the New World, but cannibalism was not one of them.
“Anyone wanna play catch?” a member of the second division asked, trotting out into the middle of the deck and trying to convince his ship mates to join him.
It was a new day and Marco was immensely looking forward to the return of Oyaji and the others, just so he could get a bit of a break from what was now more like school playground supervision than commanding a pirate ship full of grown men.
Sitting perched on the railing he watched with disdain as several others got up and the wretched green ball started flying back and forth through the air. Beside the first division commander, Thatch also eyed the ball warily.
“If that thing goes anywhere near my kitchen,” he said, shuddering at the thought of more smashed plates, “heads will roll.”
Marco snorted. “How long do you intend to keep Haruta down there anyway, yoi? He was up all night cleaning.”
“As long as it takes for him to learn his lesson,” Thatch replied with a shrug. “You can’t talk. You’ve had some of the crew swabbing the decks for less.”
Marco grunted and turned back to watching the game, noticing Ace trotting over to join his fellow crew mates with a bright smile on his face. That look alone eased a smile onto Marco’s own lips, and he relaxed a little as he observed his boyfriend having a good time.
“Just be careful, you lot,” he called. “We don’t need a repeat of yesterday.”
“You worry too much,” a member of Marco’s division told him, and the blonde folded his arms as there was some light hearted laughter directed his way. Sometimes he felt less like a brother to his ship mates, and more like a second father. It was almost ironic that he’d ended up in a relationship with one of the most childish members of the crew.
“Think of it this way,” Thatch said, interrupting Marco’s thought process. “At least out on deck they’re less likely to break something.”
“Oh, I feel loads better,” Marco deadpanned. “Seriously, yoi? You know what this lot are like.”
As if to prove his point, before their very eyes the next incident was already brewing. One of Thatch’s men threw the ball with extra force to bounce it off the deck, and it sailed clean over Ace’s head on the opposite side of the circle.
“I got it!” the fire user called, keeping his eyes high to follow the ball’s flight path. It disappeared over the railing just as Ace reached it, plummeting down into the water below. “Ball overboard!” Ace yelled, continuing his pursuit and vaulting over the railing to retrieve it. He realised his mistake a split second too late. “Man overboard! Man over--!”
He hit the water with a loud splash, spurring everyone into immediate action as they ran towards the rail.
“Can you see him?”
“He can’t swim, remember!”
“Someone get a life raft!”
Marco shoved his way through to the front of the crowd, blue flames flowing down his arms and morphing into wings as he went. “Stand aside!” he ordered sharply, hopping up onto the rail just in time to see the ripples of Ace’s impact disappear.
The first division commander cursed - he’d hoped Ace might have been able to grab on to the side of the hull, as he had done a few times in the past. Today however he had not been so lucky, leaving Marco unable to fly down to his rescue. Only the ball and now Ace’s hat could be seen floating on the surface. Ace was gone, sinking like an anchor towards the ocean floor.
“Namur!” Marco called, and the fishman was suddenly diving over the edge to retrieve their lost crew member.
“On it,” he replied, disappearing with a small splash beneath the waves.
“Hold her steady,” Marco instructed his men, taking flight to oversee the rescue from a better vantage point. It was only a few more seconds before Namur reappeared, a coughing and spluttering Ace hanging over his back - a bit cold and wet but very much alive.
Knowing that there was nothing more to worry about, Marco waited until he saw Thatch having the ladder lowered for the two, then turned his attention towards the Moby Dick’s wake. Ace’s hat was still just managing to cling to the surface in the wash of the massive ship, though the treated leather was now water logged and looking rather limp.
Ace would be devastated if he lost his beloved hat, his only keepsake from home that had apparently been gifted to him by the woman who’d raised him (her name escaped Marco in that moment).
With a sigh the first division commander swooped down and morphed one of his feet into talons, using them to delicately pluck the hat from its near watery grave. As he did, another object caught his attention - the ball was still there too…
Landing back on deck a minute later, Marco let his flames recede and moved towards the group of men gathered in the centre, surrounding Ace who was now sat safely on the floor. Izo had hurried off to get a towel that was now hanging round the second division commander’s shoulders, and he was still lightly gagging salt water as Thatch patted his back.
“Honestly, Ace, you need to think before you act,” the chef chided lightly. “You just about gave us all grey hairs there.”
“I know,” Ace spluttered, using a corner of the towel to dry his face. “I just got so into the game that I forgot.”
Marco stopped in front of him and all the chatter came to an abrupt halt. “Forgot?” the blonde asked in disbelief. “Forgot?! Ace, if we hadn’t all been out here you would have drowned! It’s lucky for you that Namur was here and not in his bunk, or he might not have found you in time.”
The fishman snorted quietly. “Yes I would ha--” He stopped quickly as he caught Marco’s glare. Now was definitely not the time to be making light of the situation. Not when the most powerful man currently on the ship was in such a bad mood; he had just watched his partner nearly drown through their own stupidity, so of course Marco was going to be upset.
Sensing that a quiet word was needed between first and second commanders, Thatch and Izo began to usher the rest of the men away, giving Marco and Ace a bit of space to breathe and calm themselves down.
“It was an accident,” Ace tried quietly, realizing Marco’s anger and understanding it fully. “I was just having fun.” He kept his gaze downward, and blinked as his hat was placed on the deck in front of him.
Marco sighed and straightened. “I know that, yoi,” he said, his tone calmer now. “But don’t ever become complacent, Ace. We’re out at sea, and even if there are no enemies around us accidents can still happen.” He paused, eyes softening at the crestfallen look on Ace’s face; it didn’t suit him at all. “Promise me you’ll be more careful in future.”
The younger man lifted his head and peered at Marco through his sodden bangs, blinking through the salty drops on his lashes and in the brightness of the sun. Marco had to remind himself in that moment that the kid was twenty; Ace always looked far younger when he was feeling down or vulnerable.
“I promise,” he said quietly. “And I’m sorry, Marco. I’ll be sure to think more in future.”
Feeling his heart melt at the sight, Marco sighed and crouched down on his knees, lifting the edges of the towel and wrapping it further around his boyfriend. “It’s okay,” he said gently, forgiving Ace now that his own fear had subsided. “I know you didn’t mean it, yoi. You’re many things Ace, but suicidal definitely isn’t one of them.”
He watched as Ace reached carefully for his hat, and then helped him to his feet. “Come on, yoi, lecture over. Let’s go below deck and you can warm up in the shower. Devil fruit flames don’t do much warming when you’re still dripping with sea water.”
Ace smiled and nodded, holding his hat close and sticking even closer to Marco as the pair of them headed towards the cabin doors. Lesson learned, he began to chatter away with his usual enthusiasm about Marco rescuing his hat, and forgot all about the reason for his impromptu dip in the sea.
Later that night as Ace slept, Marco saw to it that the ball was safely disappeared into the back of a drawer in his desk, where it would remain until such a time that it could be safely revealed to the men. Marco would have no problem with them playing with it if they stopped at an island where no one could drown and no plates could be smashed, but until then it would remain under lock and key.