The whispers start up on deck the moment that Dark King Rayleigh steps onto it, a kid balanced on his hip. Marco wonders how Izo missed rumors about the Dark King reproducing.
“You don’t look dead then,” Rayleigh states bluntly, glancing up at Whitebeard over the tops of his glasses. “I guess the brat didn’t off you.”
“Ace has agreed to take my mark,” Whitebeard answers. “How do you know my youngest?”
Rayleigh grins, “None of your concern. Where is he? You haven’t gotten him locked up somewhere, do you?” He glances at the kid in his grasp. “Still tired?”
“Hm,” The kid mutters.
“Old man!” Ace shouts, throwing open the door to the lower decks, his grin blinding. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you that I was going to come looking for you, you stupid brat. You can’t just vanish and expect people not to worry,” Rayleigh says primly. “And Luffy missed you.”
Ace blinks, “Oh.” He steps closer, looking nervous, ducking to put himself on the kid’s level. “Hey Lu, the nasty ocean still out to get you, huh?”
“I don’ wike it,” Luffy agrees, floppy arms reaching for Ace. “I don’ wanna ‘wim.”
“I know, it’s gross,” Ace agrees, lifting Luffy from the Dark King’s hold and letting Luffy bury his face into Ace’s shoulder. “Was it fun with Ray and Shakky?”
“Mhh. Lotsa meat.” Luffy answers.
Ace nods, running a hand up and down Luffy’s back, “Yeah? Sorry I didn’t come back, I was gonna talk to them and see if you could come along. I know you don’t wanna stay with Ray,” He glances at Rayleigh, “No offense.”
“None taken. Brat’s done nothing but complain about wanting to be with you since you left.” Rayleigh snorts. “You would think he thought you were his dad.”
“Ace m’ brother.”
“That’s right,” Ace agrees. “I’m to young to have a kid.”
“I’m surprised your old man didn’t have a kid by the time he was your age,” Rayleigh doesn’t bother dodging the blast of fire sent his way, Haki keeping it from ever hitting. “Don’t be a brat, Portgas.”
Ace scowls, “Fuck him, I don’t give a fuck about that man.” He takes a breath. “Gramps didn’t bother you, did he?”
“No, stopped by a few times and Shakky made sure that I took Luffy out of town. He got some rumors about a kid in a straw hat, but nothing that would have warranted a real search.” Rayleigh agrees. “Going to introduce us?”
“Er, yeah.” Ace glances to where Whitebeard is watching. “Pops this is Silvers Rayleigh, he was friends with my mom, and this is my little brother, Luffy. Ray was watching him for me while I tried to take your head.”
“I see.” Whitebeard nods. “Why was your brother with you?”
Ace flinches, “Gramps isn’t the best judge of who can take care of kids, he dumped me with this lady when I was young and came to visit once a year or so. Luffy’s only seven, I couldn’t leave him alone, but if I stayed much longer, Gramps would have forced me to join the marines, So when I left, I took him with me.”
“And I’m returning the kid,” Rayleigh states. “He can’t stay with me any longer, not with their grandfather on my tail, and the brat won’t send him back to their home island, so now he’s your problem.”
“I suppose you could give him to Shanks,” Rayleigh agrees.
“Your brother can stay, Ace.” Whitebeard laughs. “He’s family.”
Ace bites his lip, “He’s not this quiet and he eats as much as Marco after a fight and he’s constantly asking stupid questions and getting into trouble and…”
Whitebeard cut him off, “Your brother can stay, Ace.”
“Thank you,” Ace breaths, arms going tight around Luffy. “Thank you.”
“Marco, perhaps you can show Ace where we keep the spare bedding and such?” Whitebeard offers.
“Come on, we’ll get him set up,” Marco agrees, shoving off the railing he was leaning against.
Ace follows after a hasty whispered conversation with Rayleigh, moving smoothing as he rubs at Luffy’s back, almost absent minded in his comfort. It’s cute.
“This is where we keep the spare blankets and pillows,” Marco shows Ace, unlocking the door and showing Ace the code. “We keep it locked up because the last time Thatch and Haruta had unlimited access we ended up with a ship-wide blanket fort, please don’t make us regret giving you access.”
“No, I won’t,” Ace promises trying to shift Luffy to take the pillow and blankets that Marco pulls from the closet. “Sorry I.”
“I’ll carry it.” Marco assures. “Do you want to set a hammock up for one of you or are you fine sharing?”
“Sharing is fine,” Ace agrees. “That’s how we did it back on Spade. Huh, Lu?”
“Share,” Luffy murmurs into Ace’s neck.
Marco raises an eyebrow, “Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine, Ray likes to go swimming places and forgets that not all of us are adults that make real choices.” Ace sighs. “Luffy’s got a Devil’s fruit, he’ll be out of it for a bit longer.”
“I see. And you left him with Rayleigh?”
Ace nods, pushing open the door to his room, “It was either him or Shanks, word was already getting around that I was looking into Whitebeard and I couldn’t bring Luffy into that, accidents happen all the time, so I picked the lesser of the two bad options that I had.”
“Ah.” Marco pauses. “That was probably the best, I suppose. Good night?”
“Goodnight,” Ace agrees, taking everything from Marco, Luffy balanced on one arm. “And thanks.”
The door closes behind him and Marco sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face and making his way to his own room, already regretting everything that had led him to this moment and his stupid crush on a seventeen year old who had tried to kill his father.
Luffy turns out to be every bit as hyper and excited as Ace tried to warn Pops and Marco learns this the next morning when the door to his room bangs open and something small and sharp angled lands on his stomach with a shout of ‘ACE!’.
“You’re not Ace,” Luffy says after a long moment of silence. “Who are you?”
“Marco, I’m the first division commander of the Whitebeard Pirates.” He answers. “And you’re Ace’s little brother, Luffy.”
“You know my name?”
Marco laughs, “Of course, Ace told me your name yesterday.”
Luffy nods like it makes sense, face twisted in thought, “I thought Ace wanted to kill Crescent-stache? Did he do it?”
“No.” Marco corrects. “Ace decided to join Pops’ crew instead.”
“If Ace was gonna join any crew, he should have joined mine.” Luffy pouts. “He’s my brother.”
Ace laughs, leaning in the door frame, “I would never join your crew, Lu. I would have to wait twelve years for you to set sail and I have other things to do with my time then to wait for you to grow up.” He lifts Luffy off of Marco. “Apologize to Marco, you know the rules, you aren’t allowed to wander on your own.”
“But that was on the Spade!” Luffy whines.
“No, Luffy, I told you. All ships follow the same rules as the Spade. Apologize to Marco for waking him up, that was very rude.” Ace orders.
Luffy pouts, “Sorry Mr. Marco, I shouldn’t have wander off on my own and I shouldn’t have come into your room and woken you up, it wasn’t very nice and I won’t do it again.”
“Thank you,” Marco says slowly.
“There you go,” Ace adjusts Luffy to sit on his hip, “Sorry he woke you up, Marco. We’ll leave you now.”
Marco nods, brow furrowing in confusion, because what just happened? The door closes behind them and Marco stares blankly at his ceiling, hoping for answers.
The rude brat that had rejected all manners and common courtesies was teaching another brat about the same things, and doing decently with it, if Luffy had a set of rules that seemed to be regularly enforced. It was almost responsible. He sighs and forces himself out of bed, this isn’t helping his crush.
“Marco,” Thatch shouts slamming open the door. “Oh, you really are up, I thought Ace was trying to play a prank on you.”
“And yet you still brought me breakfast,” Marco shoots back, eyebrow raised.
“Well, a good prank must be played,” Thatch shrugs handing over the tray with breakfast and coffee. “I expect this plate to be clean by the time I come to pick it up, understood?”
“Yes, Thatch. Get out,” Marco agrees absently, picking up his coffee and starting on the paperwork covering his desk. “I’ll eat.”
Thatch makes a muttered comment about how he’d better before leaving, the door gaping open in his wake, but Marco ignores it, too deep in the paperwork already.
Marco twists, spotting Ace’s brother in the door, “Luffy, what are you doing here?”
“Ace is talking to Crescent-stache and I was bored.” Luffy says throwing himself onto Marco’s bed. It’s more of a mad scramble up the side, but the intentions are clear. “So I asked Mr. Thatch to bring me here, cause Ace says that he likes you best.”
Marco’s heart doesn’t skip a beat, it doesn’t, because he’s not a child with a crush on someone. He’s an adult and he can handle being Ace’s favorite person on the crew without it leaving the realm of platonic.
“I’m glad, I enjoy Ace being here too.”
Luffy stares at him, too wide brown eyes just over the edge of Marco’s pillow, “I don’t know why, you have stupid pineapple hair,” He pouts.
“That was rude,” Ace states, both of them jumping at his sudden appearance. “Luffy?”
“I’m suppose to be your favorite!”
Ace laughs, sitting down on the edge of Marco’s bed, coaxing Luffy up from his pout and into his lap with the ease that Marco’s only seen on parents. It’s rather shocking to see it employed by a boy that Marco knows is only seventeen.
“You’re my brother, of course you’re my favorite. Marco’s my favorite, non-brother, person.” Ace explains.
Luffy frowns, “Like how meat’s my favorite thing but I still like you more?”
“Oh,” Luffy nods. “Sorry for being mean again, Mr. Marco.”
“That’s okay, I would be jealous if one of my brothers said they liked someone more then me and didn’t explain why.” Marco assures.
Luffy looks relieved and Ace hides a grin in Luffy’s hair, bouncing his brother in his lap for a moment before ushering him onto the ground.
“Sorry that we keep bothering you, Marco, we’ll let you get back to work.” Ace says honestly. “Do want us to close the door?”
“No, thank you, leave it open.”
Ace hums, leading Luffy off down the hall. Marco drops his head onto the table, he’s screwed. He’s never going to escape this with his dignity intact.
Ace looks like he might cry when Marco opens the door to his room. In fact it looks like he’s so tired that he’s about to fall asleep on his feet.
“I’m really sorry, but could you watch Luffy for two hours? I was on watch last night and I need some sleep, but Izo brought Lu back after twenty minutes and Thatch says no. Haruta isn’t a good choice and he won’t go near Teach, so I didn’t even bother to ask him.” Ace rambles. “I know I should have planned this better, I’m so sorry.”
Marco holds up a hand, “I can watch Luffy, I’ll wake up in two hours, so bring me your brother and get some rest, alright?”
“Thank you!” Ace shouts, throwing his arms around Marco. “Thank you, so much!”
“You’re welcome,” Marco mutters, patting Ace lightly on the back until he lets go, hurrying down the hall to return with Luffy a few minutes later. “Hello Luffy.”
“Izo got mad cause I spilt juice on one of his dresses.” Luffy informs. “I didn’t mean to, but sometimes I can’t control myself.”
Marco raises an eyebrow.
“Lu ate a Devil’s fruit, I told you, means he made out of rubber. Sometimes when he reaches for things or moves certain ways, it just activates and his arms goes through a wall or something.” Ace explains, covering his mouth as he yawns around the end of the sentence. “Sorry.”
“Go to bed, I’ll wake you.” Marco orders, smiling at the sloppy salute that Ace gives him as he stumbles back down the hallway to his bed. “Would you like to do some training, Luffy? I think I want to spend some time up on deck.”
“YEAH!” Luffy slaps a hand over his mouth. “Sorry, yeah!”
Marco grins, “Alright, let’s go.”
Luffy follows on his heels, bouncing excitedly behind him. The crew watches them as they go, because Ace hasn’t really left Luffy alone with anyone. Not for any amount of time or for anything important, but here’s Luffy trailing along behind Marco like a little duckling.
“Alright,” Marco says once they hit the deck and clear a corner, Namur settling onto the railing close by at Marco’s insistence. “We’ll start with punching, okay?”
“I can already do that,” Luffy whines. “Can’t we do somethin’ else?”
Marco shakes his head, “What if you’re doing it wrong? We have to check or you might hurt yourself. A normal punch, nothing enhanced.”
Luffy pouts, but does as asked, a picture perfect punch. He runs through everything that Marco asks him to, before Marco’s satisfied with where they are and starts working on Luffy’s ‘rubber stuff’. It proves to be a rather fraught choice when Luffy stretches to touch the fighing top and ends up launching himself into the ocean.
Namur follows and returns in minutes, Luffy shivering.
“You can swim super fast, Mister Fish.” Luffy enthuses.
Luffy nods, “Mr Namur.”
“But Ace says that I gotta call grown ups mr and ms or mrs. He says that it’s 'spectful.” Luffy says with wide eyes. “Ace will get mad if I don’t listen.”
Namur falters under that look, “Alright, kid.”
“Thanks for saving me, Mr Namur!” Luffy thanks him, bouncing to where one of the nurses has appeared with a towel.
“You know he played you, right?” Marco asks.
“Yeah, but I mean, it wasn’t poorly done. You got to let the kid win sometimes.” Namur agrees. “You going to go again?”
Marco shakes his head, “It’s lunchtime. Luffy will remember in a moment and come back to make me take him.” He catches the look on Namur’s face. “What?”
“You like kids, it’s weird thinking about.” Namur explains. “We don’t see many so when we do, it’s strange remembering that you’re so good with them.”
“I keep hold of you lot,” Marco agrees as Luffy bounces back over, talking excitedly about what the nurse had to say about lunch. “I’ll see you later, Namur.”
“What did Mr Namur say?” Luffy asks.
“He wanted to know if we were gonna practice more before lunch, but I told him no,” Marco answers letting himself be pulled into the line. “There better be vegetables on that plate, Luffy, Ace will be very upset if you don’t eat them.”
Luffy pouts, “Ace doesn’t have to know.”
“I have hundreds of little brothers and sisters, that face won’t work on me,” Marco states, poking one of Luffy’s cheeks. “Get your vegetables.”
“You’re so mean,” Luffy pouts, less for show and more for his own sake, as the cook loading his tray laughs, dumping a ladle full of broccoli onto his plate.
“Just the worst,” Marco agrees, leading Luffy to the table that the commanders used. “Want to know a trick?”
Luffy nods, eyes wide.
“Cheese,” Marco takes the melted cheese that Thatch always puts out and pours some on the broccoli. “Hides the taste,” He explains doing the same to his own.
“You don’t like vegetables?” Luffy whispers in awe.
“I don’t like broccoli,” Marco corrects. “But Pops will be upset if I don’t eat them, so I have to. Just like Ace will be upset if you don’t eat yours.”
Luffy sighs, before stabbing a stalk and holding it for a moment, before stuffing it into his mouth and chewing quickly. He shudders as he swallows, making a face.
“It tasted better,” Luffy agrees. “But I still don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.”
Ace stumbles out of his room and down the hall to Marco’s room, blinking the sleep from his eyes as he knocks softly. He knocks again a moment later, when no one answers.
“Ace?” He spins to find Luffy and Marco behind him. “Are you okay?”
“Sorry,” Ace mutters. “Nightmare. You were good for Marco, right Lu?”
Luffy nods, throwing himself at Ace, “I even ate my broccoli.”
“Look at that,” Ace grins. “That’s really good, Luffy. I’m so proud of you. What else did you do with Marco today?”
“We practiced sparring and he let me do some of my rubber stuff! He had Mr. Namur watching us and I went into the water and it only took Mr. Namur a few seconds to get me back on the ship!” Luffy enthuses. “I had lots of fun with Mr. Marco!”
Ace laughs, “I’m glad, why don’t you go wash your hands and while I talk to Marco for a second.” He waits for the door to close. “Thank you, I know you said two hours, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a little later than that.”
“After dinner,” Marco agrees. “Thatch has dinner set to the side for you, I can watch Luffy while you eat.”
“Thanks. He was well behaved?” Ace asks.
Marco nods, “He was good, no worries.”
Luffy thinks grown up stuff is gross, like kissing. Kissing is grown up stuff and Luffy thinks it’s weird, like trying to eat someone’s face. Which is why he’s sitting in Izo’s room and staring at his feet as he waits for Izo’s answer.
“You want me to help you get your brother and Marco together, even though it means they’ll do gross grow up stuff?” Izo asks finally.
Luffy nods, “Ace like Marco and Marco likes Ace and I want them to be happy. Do you think that would make them happy?”
“You are a strangely perceptive child,” Izo states calmly. “I’ll help you. In return, you must allow me to paint you nails.”
“Okay!” Luffy agrees easily. “So what do we do?”
Izo laughs, “You leave that to me, Luffy, you just relax.”
Luffy doesn’t know what Izo does, he doesn’t want to because gross, but two days later, Ace starts hold Marco’s hand and Izo gives him a thumbs up.
Luffy supposes he can pretend to ignore their gross grown up stuff.
“Ace!” He jolts up at Luffy’s scream, already searching the room he and Marco share for his brother. “ACE!”
Ace stumbles out of bed, barely wasting time to check his sleep shorts were on, before taking off down the hall, stopping short at the blood all over Luffy’s hands before catching sight of Thatch on the ground.
“Luffy,” Ace snaps, hands going to put pressure on the wound. “Look at me.” He waits for Luffy to look up. “Go get the nurse. Tell her that Ace wants her at Thatch’s room now, understood?”
Luffy nods slowly, glancing back down at Thatch, “But.”
“Go!” Ace orders. He spares a moment to hope he wasn’t too harsh, before he pushes down harder, ignoring the groan that Thatch makes.
“What’s goin’ on?” Thatch mutters. “Ace?”
“You’re bleeding.” Ace says calmly. “It just missed your spine. What happened?”
Thatch blinks slowly, as if he was waking up but couldn’t quite make it, “I was…thinkin’.”
“Thinking?” Ace prompts.
“'Bout if I was gonna eat it,” Thatch nods slowly. “But Teach was there.”
Ace’s heart stops, he doesn’t know Teach well, Luffy didn’t like him and Ace spends more time with his little brother then he spends without him, but he’s a member of the second. A member of Ace’s division.
“He was talkin’? I don’t 'member.” Thatch mutters. “But then it hurt and I saw Luffy, I 'hought he was a dream.”
“Luffy is never a dream,” Ace jokes.
Thatch whines, “Wish he was.”
“Commander!” The nurse skids to a stop just as she makes the corner. “Commander Thatch!” She turns over her shoulder and shouts at others, before long Thatch is on a stretcher and being wheeled down the hall to the medical bay.
Ace slumps into a seat beside Luffy.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Ace asks finally, staring at his hands blankly.
Luffy nods, “I had a bad feeling, so I went on a walk. I didn’t leave the commander’s hall, just like you told me.”
“I think we can forgive it this time,” Ace agrees. “Did you see Teach?”
“Yeah, he was talkin’ bout Blackbeard.”
Ace fights the urge to drop his head into his hands, still covered with Thatch’s blood, both his and Luffy’s, as Marco skids around the corner with Izo and Curiel. The rooms closest to Thatch’s.
“Ace?” Marco asks.
“Luffy went on a walk, he couldn’t sleep and since we’ve been here a while, I let him wander the commanders corridors alone. He says that Teach stabbed Thatch.”
Marco kneels down by Luffy’s chair, “Luffy?”
“He stabbed Thatch and than he ate the fruit that Thatch had and he was talkin’ about Blackbeard, and,” Luffy sobs. “My hands are covered in blood.”
“Okay,” Marco whispers, brushing tears from Luffy’s face, “Okay. Would it be okay if Izo takes you to wash your hands? You can come right back here when you’re done, promise.”
Luffy nods, “Please.”
Izo smiles, strained and worried, “Come on, Luffy. Let’s go get you cleaned up.”
“Ace?” Marco asks when they vanish around a corner.
“I heard Luffy scream for me, so I went running. He was covered in blood and Thatch wasn’t moving, so I told Luffy to get a nurse and put pressure on the wound, like they said. He woke up, Thatch, while we were waiting for the nurses. He said that it was Teach.” Ace fights the urge to drop his head in his hands. “It was Teach, Marco.”
Marco scrubs a hand through Ace’s hair, “Breathe for me, just for a little bit okay?”
Ace nods, taking a breath and holding it for a moment before letting it out, repeating until he seemed to be under control again his eyes closed.
“Curiel, go wake Pops and have the commanders and seconds search the barracks. If First, Second, or Fourth ask where their commanders are, tell them that they’re taking care of an emergency.” Marco orders.
Curiel nods, “Got it.”
Ace takes a breath, “I’m suppose to protect Luffy from this.”
“You did a good job, none of this is your fault,” Marco promises. “Do you want to go back to our room with Luffy?”
“No, I think Luffy and I both need to know if Thatch is going to make it before either of us can sleep.” Ace admits softly. “I want to wash my hands.”
“Here,” Izo shoves a washcloth into his hands, “I figured you’d want something to clean up with.”
Luffy waits until Ace cleans his hands and sets the washcloth to the side to crawl into his lap, hiding his face in Ace’s chest as Pops turns the corner and the storytelling repeats itself. They don’t move for hours, not until the nurses come out and announce that Thatch should make a full recovery. Marco helps them both back to their room, staying long enough to tuck them in before hurrying back out to take care of everything.
Ace winces as a boney elbow slams into his stomach, “Lu?”
“I had a nightmare,” Luffy mutters, face buried in Ace’s stomach, damp and warm from crying, “Can I sleep with you and Marco?”
“Yeah,” Ace turns to put Luffy comfortably into the space between him and Marco, one of Marco’s eyes opening enough to register what was happening before closing once more, letting Ace try to comfort Luffy. “Want to talk about it?”
“It was about Thatch again,” Luffy sniffs. “I woke him up too, cause I was scared he was dead. I woke up Izo too, I promise I’ll apologize in the morning.”
Ace hums, “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being scared. I have nightmares all the time.”
“Yeah and if you’re scared then you can climb into my bed okay? Right, Marco?”
Marco grumbles and Luffy giggles.
“See, even Marco says that you can stay with us.” Ace smiles, kissing Luffy’s forehead. “Now go to sleep.”
“Kay,” Luffy yawns, curling close to his chest and falling asleep almost instantly, one hand pressing close to Ace’s heart, as if checking that his pulse was still there.
Ace waits, long lingering moments before frowning, “I’m going to murder him.”
“It can wait,” Marco reminds him. “Luffy needs you here. We’ll get him, but this isn’t something to run off half-cocked on.”
“I know.” Ace mutters. “Just.”
“I know.” Marco agrees.
Ace is going to murder Teach one day and he’s not going to regret it, but for now, he has to keep Luffy safe and he has responsibilities to take care of.