"The fuck I will," Ace snapped.
"Don't make me hit you," Phil said, "'cause I will. Do you have any – any – idea what it costs us to feed your black hole of a stomach? Do you?" He brandished his wooden spoon menacingly.
"I might have an idea; yeah," Ace said grudgingly. For years, living on Mt. Corvo, Ace had caught and cooked his own meals, which was to say that money was never a factor. Then he set out on his own for the Grand Line. All of a sudden, he didn't know what to hunt or where to hunt. The open ocean was a complete mystery in terms of what food could be derived from it. Even if he did manage to catch something, he had no idea how to cook it, or if it was even edible. What food he did procure had to be bought and paid for. That, or stolen. His wallet had taken one hell of a hit from that little incident. It wasn't until he met his first mate, Darrow, that he learned how to live mainly off of the sea and less out of his rapidly-thinning wallet. Even so, Ace had been holding back a bit in his appetite as Captain of the Spade Pirates. He hadn't wanted any-one else to go hungry for want of the food he inhaled. But now, aboard Whitebeard's ship, with his enemies footing the bills? He was going to eat everything in sight. Fuck, yeah. Because that was just how he rolled. Plus, it felt marvellous to finally eat his fill. He hadn't done that since… well, since being back on Mt. Corvo with Luffy. It was a wonderful, nostalgic feeling, for all that Ace was determined not to enjoy his time aboard the Moby Dick.
"Well, if you understand, then you should also understand that we have to pay for your continental appetite somehow," Ludo said in that low voice of his.
"And you're going to help mainly in the kitchens. The less oil and wood we have to burn to get the stoves lit will help out enormously with the costs. Come on, Sparky. You're going to learn to cook," Phil said.
"I know how to cook, asshole, and if you call me Sparky again, I will jam my foot so far up your-"
"This a bad time?" Thatch said. Where had he come from?
"Taichou!" Phil said. "Uh, er – I was just explaining how Ace needs to work off all the food he eats. Cost-wise… not calorie-wise. Er, well, I suppose that, too…"
Thatch raised an eyebrow. "And why did nobody run this by me first?"
Ace felt stupid that a wee bit of hope had risen in him at that quiet, no-nonsense tone that he'd never heard Thatch use before. Maybe he was off the hook?
"Taichou, sir, he's eating through all our stock and the cost is getting ridiculous. We really need him."
"He's a guest. We don't put our guests to work like either slaves or salarymen."
"Ehem. If I may," Ludo said. He leaned over and whispered something in Thatch's ear.
Thatch burst out in very loud, very nervous laughter. "That much! Oh, holy shit. Yeah, Ace. Sorry, kid, but your ass is stuck in the kitchens. Oh, Jesus. Please, God, tell me you haven't told that amount to Marco yet. He would flip shits. I'm flipping shits. Dear Lord."
Well, thought Ace, that hope went straight to bollocks.
"Hmph," Phil muttered. "I guess you weren't lying when you said you could cook. I take it you use your Logia for this sort of stuff a lot?"
"Here and there," Ace said. He was a little twerked that somehow these people were wrangling his life story out of him. Did they forget that whole little part where they kidnapped him? Yeah. Maybe they were all being nice to get him to lower his guard. Well, that crap wasn't gonna fly.
"Well, we're doing Crème Douce. Know the recipe?" Ace gave him the most sarcastically incredulous face he could muster. "…I'm gonna take that as a no. Okay. Trim and cut up the chicken. However you cut it should be fine as long as you sear it. Get the edges just barely brown and turn down the heat. You're going to throw in everything on that list – " he pointed to a tatty, sauce-stained bit of paper haphazardly pinned to a cabinet door " – and then you're going to let it all boil. Throw in the pasta. Simmer for ten minutes. Stir it like crazy, because if you get pasta stuck to my good pots, I'm going to cook you in them and see if that doesn't work to clean 'em off. If you could steam some broccoli and throw that in about three minutes before the ten minutes are up, you'd be my new favourite person. Got all that?"
Ace blinked rapidly. He probably got all that. He nodded, even though he had some serious concerns. Oh, man. He usually didn't work with recipes. He usually just tossed things in a pan and hoped for the best. Usually, it worked really well for him. His crew used to tell him he had a natural talent as a cook, especially after his Logia rendered him even better at controlling exact temperatures. Running flames over meat to quickly sear the outside sealed all of the juices in, and that made Ace's cooking pretty much the best thing ever. Still, he'd almost never wandered into the terrifying world of pasta. Adding spices in exact amounts was also very foreign.
He peered at the sheet of paper.
Oh, shit. He couldn't read it. Well, that word looked like 'milk'. That other word might be 'butter'. There was something else that looked vaguely like 'oregano', unless that bizarre g was actually a q. The rest was chicken-scratch, written by either a blind man or a doctor. The amounts were also impossible to make out, due largely to the great big stain that splashed across them.
Maybe this could work. After all, he was well-known among his own crew for being able to BS an entire recipe. Maybe he could make crap up and hope for the best like he always did. He had a vague idea of what it was supposed to be like from the few ingredients he could make out. Ace could just screw around with the rest of it until it sounded like something he'd willingly put in his face.
How could this possibly go wrong?
Well, that was that. He'd done what he could and taste-tested it. It should be fine. It probably wasn't too much like what Phil had been going for with the menu, but what the hell. He'd had to go through far too many cabinets just to unearth the spices he needed, but he had triumphed. Ace tried to remember to be bitter that people he didn't like were eating his cooking, but just couldn't manage it. Nothing raised his spirits quite like a fully-stocked spice cabinet and sustained pyrotechnics.
Okay, so he'd put in a shit-ton of Cajun spice and chilli pepper flakes. Nobody was going to notice, right? It would have been bland with just butter, flour, and chicken stock. Nothing wrong with a little kick. He'd tried it himself a couple times throughout the process and it wasn't like he'd over-seasoned or anything.
The pasta was just about done. The ten minutes were almost up, but Ace thought they could use just a little bit longer than the recommended time. He wasn't a fan of pasta al dente. Besides, the softer they were, the more they soaked up the sauce.
"Yo, Ludo? I think we're done here. What do I do now?" he called.
Ludo was towards the back of the kitchen, putting together some pastry-like contraptions for dessert. "Hm? Oh. Hang on; lemme take a look."
Oh, muffins. He was going to check what Ace had done. Whether the result was tasty or not, was he gonna get pissed that Ace didn't follow his illegible recipe? Some people were like that. Ace also had no reason to believe anyone would be lenient. "I-I couldn't read the recipe, so I kind of… well, I-"
Criminey. Ace should've fucking known. Why didn't he think to just ask what was written? Surely Ludo knew what it was supposed to say and could've given him a pointer or two. Ace was just so used to taking care of his own problems.
Ludo grabbed a pair of tongs and snatched a piece of chicken out of the mixture, popping it in his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully, face screwing up as he gazed into the depths of the massive stock pot.
"What's in this?" Okay, he didn't sound too pissed. That was a good sign, right?
"Chicken, dipped in egg yolk and fried, egg noodles, salsa, three types of cheese, taco seasoning, cream of chicken base, and minced tomatoes?" Ace said.
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
"Telling you." Ace wiped his hands on his pants. He hadn't sweated in a long time.
Ludo stared at him with narrowed eyes for a long time. "This…" Ace braced himself for the reprimand he knew had to be coming, "…is some of the most delicious shit I've ever eaten. Write this down somewhere so the rest of the boys know how to do it. Also, good job not setting the kitchen on fire."
Well, that was dizzying. Ace couldn't help the dazed grin that bloomed on his face. He did good! A real chef said so! He glowed with the praise, fighting down the smile so Ludo wouldn't think his opinion meant something to Ace or anything. It wasn't like Ace craved anyone's approval. Not even a little bit. Nope.
That night, instead of eating in his little corner of the deck, he ate in the mess hall with everyone else. He still stayed in the corner, more out of habit than anything else. He wanted to hear people's reactions to the food, especially since they didn't know who made it. Okay, so Ace was a little bit of a compliment whore. He'd been having a rough time of it lately, so who could blame him?
People were so busy shovelling food into their mouths, though, that there wasn't much commentary on the quality of the food. Ace somewhat expected that. Once the stock pot's contents were demolished, there was considerable demand for more of it, and really, that was what he'd been waiting for. He didn't bother hiding the massive smile and the well of pride, mentally high-fiving himself.
Somewhere are dessert, when people were eating a little more slowly, conversations blossomed. Someone leaned over and struck up conversation with one of the nurses whose name Ace didn't know.
"So, how's Oyaji? He feeling any better?"
The nurse gave a slight smile around her unidentified pastry. "He seems so, yeah. The bleeding stopped, far as we can tell. Internal bleeding is always so hard to identify, though, so he's got to be careful for a few more days at least."
Ace froze. Oh shit.
Any irritant could start it back up.
What was one irritant?
What was in the dinner?
Well, this was going to be awkward to explain. Or maybe he could get away with never explaining it. There was one thing he thought might help, and maybe if he took care of it before it got to be a problem… Maybe nobody would ever find out that Ace screwed up a little.
It didn't really occur to him that maybe some internal bleeding was exactly what he wanted for Whitebeard.
He darted into the kitchen. Thankfully, all the chefs had gone into the mess hall to eat.
Where was the damn icebox?
He found the stupid thing and rooted through it immediately. He could have cried when he found exactly what he was looking for. Then he remembered seeing some of that other thing in one of the cabinets back when he'd been looking for the cheese… Aha! Bingo. A little simmered water (not boiling, not quite, in the interests of keeping from scalding anyone's digestive tract) and maybe Ace could seriously pull this off.
It didn't occur to him until he was standing outside Whitebeard's cabin door with a mug of herbal tea and a plate of fresh pineapple and blueberries that explaining his sudden desire to wait on Whitebeard hand and foot would be awkward. Maybe he could just…
The door opened in such a way that Whitebeard would know of an intruder long before they could confirm his presence. It was set up like that on purpose to foil any potential assassins or attackers, but in this case, it would help Ace. Whitebeard never had to see his face; just his arm putting the food into room. This plan was gold.
He went ahead and did it. He put the plate of fruit and the steaming mug down without Whitebeard ever seeing him. God, he was so smart.
He froze. In careful falsetto, he said, "No… I'm… well, I'm not Ace."
"Ace, your name is tattooed on your arm. I know it's you, boy."
"Uhhh… No, it's not. Just… eat your damn fruit and drink your damn herbal tea!" Why he was still doing the falsetto thing when he was obviously busted, Ace had no idea. "They're anti-inflammatories. Just do it."
And with that, he hauled ass.
Whitebeard just chuckled from the bed.
"My boy," he said to the open air, "you are out of your tiny little mind."
(A/N): So... been a while, huh? It hasn't been a complete year, but... yeah. Okay. I wrote the first 1500 words of this a long time ago for Shiary, and then water got on my laptop and shorted out my poor baby. Rest in peace. I thought I'd lost all of my files, but they backed up what I had on my hard drive, because the water had just damaged my laptop's ability to function, not the data already stored. For some reason, though, I still thought that this chapter had been decimated, and wasn't looking forward to writing it all over again when I was convinced that the first 1500 words had gone terribly.
Imagine my surprise and shame when I find the file completely intact. Yeah. So I finished it up and wrote the other 1000 words. Also, believe it or not, I have a plan for next chapter. Maybe I can finally finish this story up instead of leaving you poor bastards hanging for another almost-year. *sobs*
In other news, are any of you guys Supernatural fans? If you haven't seen it yet, but really like the brotherly dynamic I feature heavily in this story, I would suggest watching it. It's a little scary in the first two seasons, but it's really good. Sam is basically everything I ever wanted Ace to be when he grew up.