Title: Not So Bad
Word Count: 2280
Summary: Ace squeezes his eyes shut and tells himself that, no matter how wrong he might think he is, whatever higher power is out there won't judge him for taking one night to feel like he's right where he belongs. Written for marcoace week on tumblr for Angst Day.
Notes: This fic is somewhat AU because in canon I don't think Ace realized what Blackbeard was capable of when he went to fight him. Also I realize the fic in and of itself isn't particularly angsty, but knowing what happens afterward in the story kind of makes it so.
Not So Bad
"It's not your fault."
"I know," Ace pauses before jamming his hat back onto his head, the cord on it whipping in the evening wind. It's a dark day, despite the nice weather; the clouds are tinged blood-red by the sunset and it seems almost too prophetic. 'Red sky at night, sailor's delight,' the saying went, but right now it feels like that sky is mocking him.
He's not good enough. He's never been good enough. And this is just one more way that he's failed, despite the fact that everybody seems to be trying to convince him he hasn't.
"You don't have to do this."
"Don't try to stop me. Pops already tried that…"
"Because you have no idea what Teach is capable of, yoi," Marco sounds unusually exasperated but Ace still doesn't turn, not needing the other man to try and guilt him into staying. "There's a reason Thatch never ate that fruit."
"So what? I'm a Logia user, he can't touch me," Ace is sure of that, at least, until he hears Marco laugh darkly behind him. "What?"
"Don't make me school you, brat," Marco says and Ace huffs an annoyed breath. "There's stories about that fruit, that one touch can nullify any other ability, regardless of type. That it might even be able to absorb other abilities if the person who ate it is there the moment they die. It's powerful, and it's dangerous, and it's in the hands of a murderer. You're walking into a death trap," Marco sounds utterly serious and, more than that, Ace knows he's utterly serious and he'd be lying if he said that it doesn't concern him a little.
"He was under my command," Ace says firmly, wondering how much he needs to take with him since his boat is little more than a glorified surfboard and it's not like he can travel heavy. "Even if I didn't have anything to do with it, he's still my responsibility."
"He fooled us all, Ace, and most of us for a lot longer than you've been around," Marco just sounds tired, now, and Ace finally turns to look at him. He looks exhausted and old, shoulders hunched over, and Ace feels a little guilty because he knows at least some of that is because of him. "Thatch was my friend too, yoi. One of my closest friends, and he didn't deserve to die like that, but that's no reason to sacrifice yourself."
"You really think I'm gonna lose?" Ace stands up to his full height, glaring at Marco, who merely stares impassively back at him.
"The way you are now, yeah. You don't stand a chance, kid" Marco crosses his arms and leans back a little, looking utterly unconcerned now, and Ace is betting that a lot of people probably underestimate him because at first glance he doesn't look like a threat at all. Ace knows he's pissed, though, but he can't worry about that now.
"You're not gonna stop me," he says, rather petulantly, but Marco laughs bitterly and shakes his head.
"Nah, I'm not, not if you decide to go anyway. But throwing your life away for nothing is stupid," he turns on his heel and Ace sighs.
"Yeah, when has my life ever meant anything good," he mumbles under his breath, but Marco stops walking and Ace realizes that he's probably heard him anyway.
"Then go, if you think so little of yourself."
It's about the coldest thing Ace has ever heard him say and it feels like a shard of ice through his heart, something not even his powers can burn away, but before he can reply Marco's shifting into his phoenix form and taking off, blue and yellow flames swirling around the mainmast as he soars up toward the crow's nest.
"Shit," Ace mutters to himself, pouting and leaning back on the rail.
Looks like he won't be leaving right away.
He knocks on the door to Marco's cabin later that night, once he's sure that he's come down from his spot on top of the ship, although when the door does open he's at a loss for words.
"You're not gone," Marco leans against the doorframe and Ace shrugs.
"I couldn't go with us…" he holds up his hands rather helplessly and squawks when Marco yanks him forward and into his arms. "Marco…"
"I know you're not gonna change your mind, yoi," Marco's voice is muffled against his hair. "But I want you to know what you're getting into."
"I know," Ace assures him, because he gets the general idea, but he still has to do this. "I get that, but what kind of…of leader would I be if I let one of my men get away with something like murder just because I was afraid?" he almost spits the word out and Marco sighs.
"You don't have to prove anything to us," he whispers, and Ace looks up in surprise because something in the air feels much heavier than it has any right to. "Or to me," the older man adds. "You're not your father, Ace, and getting killed just for the sake of some…redemption mission is…"
Ace is momentarily stunned because he didn't think anybody other than Whitebeard himself knew about his true lineage, but he supposes that if anybody else would, it would be Marco. "So you know," he laughs bitterly and Marco tilts his chin up, forcing Ace to meet his eyes.
"I do. I've known for a while, actually. I admit I didn't interact with your father much but if nothing else you share a stubborn streak with him that would be admirable were it not going to get you killed, yoi," he sniffs and Ace bows his head, clenching his fingers in the fabric of Marco's shirt before he finally lets him go and moves to sit on the edge of the bunk.
"Shit, Marco, how old are you?" he asks, because yes, realistically he'd known that there's a gap there but not this much of one.
"Old enough to be your father," Marco replies vaguely, one hand on his hip and staring out the window at the night sky. "I might not look it, but I've seen more than you probably ever will. I know that sometimes it's not weak to run," he starts but Ace shakes his head, because running is the one thing he'll never do. Not if it means people he loves getting hurt. "You're so young," Marco chuckles and sits beside him, leaning back on his hands and not looking at Ace directly.
"I know what it's like to lose somebody," Ace isn't sure why he says that, other than there are times when Marco seems to think that just because Ace is young he hasn't had any proper life-experience. His hand reflexively grips at the tattoo on his arm, over the crossed-out 'S', because what happened to Sabo is always going to haunt him, too. Even if he couldn't have done anything, it still feels like it's his fault.
"Do you know why Thatch never ate that fruit?" Marco abruptly changes the subject and Ace isn't sure how to feel about that, but he goes along with it regardless.
"I know you're gonna tell me," he says and Marco chuckles a little, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.
"Devil Fruits are strange things, yoi. Most of them aren't evil by themselves, but the bearer can choose to use them however they wish," he begins, and Ace shrugs.
"You mean, like mine?" he raises an eyebrow and Marco nods.
"Exactly. Fire can destroy, but it can also keep people alive and give warmth," he reaches out his hand unconsciously and Ace raises his own, flames licking over his fingers and feeling the heat pouring off of them. Marco's own fire burns cool and Ace knows that, for whatever reason, the phoenix is drawn to him. He thinks Marco likes him for more than his ability, but he's not naïve enough to assume there's anything more to their…thing than phoenixes needing fire to be reborn. Although, speaking of that…
"Yours, though. Yours can't harm," he realizes, and Marco gives him a tiny smile.
"No, yoi. But it could have been eaten by somebody only interested in doing horrible things, and by extension become horrible because of it," he shrugs, and Ace admits he has a point. "But the fruit that Teach stole…darkness can only be evil. It's only ability is to consume the life of others," he says darkly. "It's immensely powerful, but only somebody interested in power above anything else would covet it."
"What about somebody who wanted to eat it just to make sure nobody else could?" Ace asks, because the idea that something can't possibly be good…well, it hits a little too close to home.
"Nobody's that selfless," Marco rests his hand on Ace's back, the soft touch causing the younger man to flinch a bit before he relaxes into it. "Knowing what you're giving up for a power you'll never be able to use? It's not worth it," he decides, and Ace figures that he's probably right. "You're still going after him, aren't you?"
"I have to," Ace feels like he's repeating himself, but he feels Marco's arms come around him and his fire flares up instinctively. He knows he can't hurt Marco, both because of the other man's ability and because he could never bring himself to, and Marco smiles against his neck, blue flames clashing with his own orange ones. "Are you trying to distract me?"
"I've accepted you're going, yoi. I'd rather not think about it more than that," he slides a hand down Ace's chest and the younger man sighs, letting his eyes flutter closed. "You're okay with this?"
"Yeah," Ace is a little surprised at how choked the word comes out, but maybe he's starting to realize the danger he's up against.
Truth be told, a distraction sounds like an amazing idea right now.
"Do you know how hard I tried to keep from falling in love with you?"
Ace closes his eyes, because yeah, he'd kind of suspected but Marco's a fairly private person so to hear the words is altogether different. "It probably would have been better," he admits and Marco hooks his chin over Ace's shoulder and pulls him back into his embrace. Ace knows he's got…problems with believing he's worthy of love, but he just feels guilty that somebody would willingly love him because he doesn't deserve it.
"It's not something you can plan out, yoi," Marco scoffs. "But I've had...there were times I wished I could will my heart to stop beating, but my power doesn't care about that. I've watched so many people die, Ace…so many I could have saved, or that died from something that should have killed me but I just…heal and keep going while the light fades from their eyes and I can't do anything to stop it," he sounds broken and Ace grabs his hand, bowing his head forward. "So that's why I've tried not to let emotions get in the way anymore, but you…I don't know if it's because you're fire or just because you burn so damn brightly even without your ability, but I couldn't stop myself."
"Don't," Marco hushes him, and they sit in silence for a few moments, Ace wanting to take all the pain the other man's feeling and transfer it to himself somehow because it hurts. He realizes a few seconds later that it's because he's in love with Marco, too, and the knowledge isn't nearly as startling as he'd first thought it might be. "It's something I have to live with, for better or worse. And I know it's selfish, to ask you to not do something just for me, but…"
"He's not going to kill me," Ace vows. "No matter what. We're going to see each other again," he half turns so he can kiss Marco, hoping to convey through touch what he can't seem to with his words, clumsy as they are. "I love you."
"I know," Marco smiles at him, but there's a weariness behind his eyes that tells Ace just how many times he's been through this. "There are so many people here that love you, Ace. You don't have to prove anything to us, but if you feel like you need to prove it to yourself, nobody has a right to stop you," he reaches to cup Ace's cheek, staring into his eyes, and Ace knows that this is what he's been waiting for.
Maybe subconsciously, but Marco's approval means that he's at least on the right track with what he's doing.
"I'm leaving in the morning. I don't want them making a production out of this," Ace wraps his arms around Marco's neck and falls back on the bed, pulling the other man with him so that Ace is looking up at him.
"I'll see you off," Marco promises, leaning down for another kiss, and Ace squeezes his eyes shut and tells himself that, no matter how wrong he might think he is, whatever higher power is out there won't judge him for taking one night to feel like he's right where he belongs.
"Hey, old man," he murmurs, and Marco looks down at him with a raised eyebrow. "You too tired to go again?"
"Try me, brat," Marco reaches to pin his wrists, smirking, and Ace grins at him, feeling a lightness in his chest that's freeing and beautiful.
"Prove me wrong, then," Ace arches up into the next kiss, feeling at least a little closer to figuring everything out.
He doesn't know what the future will hold, and he's still not convinced he's supposed to be alive, but if Marco, of all people, can love him?
Maybe his existence is not so bad after all.