He won’t tell anyone, but the night his world turns upside down isn’t the first night he hears Lucci’s voice.
The first time he hears it, Lucci’s back is against the wall in Paulie’s shitty little apartment, his hands fisted in Paulie’s shirt and holding him close.
Lucci shows up at his front door, damp from the drizzle that precedes Aqua Laguna, with a look in his eyes that Paulie can’t name then.
(He’ll be able to later, but he won’t let himself think of it without at least four beers in him.)
When Paulie gestures for him to come in, Lucci steps closer, close enough for Paulie to see there’s something off in his face, and curls his hands around Paulie’s face, his own head tilted, in a gesture that Paulie can’t mistake for anything else.
He hesitates, long enough that Paulie’s the one to lean in, but he’s the one to finish it, pressing their mouths together. He’s the one to push it further, kicking the door shut behind him, hands moving to grab at Paulie’s shirt.
Paulie would be lying through his teeth if he says he doesn’t want this, if he says he hasn’t wanted it since they first fought and Lucci gave it as good as he got, but—
He gets lost in it for a moment, just a moment, enjoying the way Lucci still tastes like the beer from Blueno’s, before he pulls away, pushing Lucci back against the wall.
There’s a moment where he tries to come up with something to say, to ask, but before he can open his mouth, Lucci speaks for the first time that Paulie’s ever heard.
It’s near-silent, so quiet it’s almost drowned out by their breathing, and it takes Paulie another moment to realize what he’s hearing.
Lucci says nothing else, offers up no explanation, but that thing is still in his face and Paulie’s willpower has never been great when it comes to things he wants.
So he pulls Lucci in again, tripping on the edge of his shitty rug as he steps backwards, steering them towards his bed.
In the morning, all of this will seem like a fever dream. None of it will feel real.
None of it, from the way Lucci touches him, fingers mapping out the lines of his body, to the way his hands curl around Paulie’s jaw, the soft touch at odds with the rough calluses, to the way he kisses, surprisingly gentle, even when they strip, even when things take a more heated turn.
To the way Lucci looks at him, like he’s trying to commit it to memory. Like he won’t get another chance.
Despite how late they’re awake, despite how tired he was when they fell asleep, despite falling asleep curled around Lucci, Paulie’s not surprised when the awful morning sunshine hits him full on, making him stir, and he finds he’s alone in his apartment again.
There’s no proof of anything happening last night, that it wasn’t some kind of dream but, if nothing else, he won’t forget the sound of Lucci actually speaking.
The next night, that night, he’s standing amid the rubble in Iceburg’s bedroom, more than a little angry and bleeding all over the floor. In the center of the room, the center of attention, Lucci stands there, hands tucked in the pockets of his suit, face as impassive as ever, save for the barest hint of a condescending smirk.
Lucci gives the Straw Hats a brief glance, registering their presence, before his eyes slide over to Paulie. The smirk flickers the slightest bit, the only tell he has, but it says enough.
He knew this was coming, that tonight would be the end. That last night was the only night they’ll have.
Paulie hates it, all of it. Hates the fact that he’d given in last night like an idiot, that he’d shown Lucci how easily he can be played, how little effort it took for Lucci to beat him in a game he didn’t know they were playing.
And he hates that last night wasn’t a dream, that it happened, that he didn’t hallucinate Lucci’s voice because that same voice is mocking him, threatening to kick Iceburg’s face in to prove his disloyalty.
He hates that he can still hear the please in his head, that he remembers everything with horrifying clarity, that he still feels Lucci under his hands, that he still sees the look on Lucci’s face, in Lucci's eyes, and wonders how Lucci became a good enough actor to fake that.