(A/N: Sooooooooooooo this is my very first time writing a romance story and I really did my best. The pairing is MarcoxAce and…yeah. Please don't hate on it! If you really don't like it, give me advice that I might to better in the future!

Discalimer: *insert witty disclaimer here, summarizing the fact that I don't own One Piece or Mr. Eliot's beautiful poem*)

It had started as a bet with Izou. He'd lost the bet. That's why he was here, making a fool of himself.

"Oh do come out, Ace! I want to see how you look!" He had to do it. There was no getting out of the payment of a bet lost. His pride wouldn't let him.

…Not that there was much left of his pride after this.

Ace swallowed hard and opened the door slowly, stepping into sight for the first time. He could feel the burning in his cheeks and was certain he was blushing furiously. He stared down at the ground in embarrassment, certain his whole head was glowing bright red. His jaw was clenched and his chest tight from pure awkwardness as he felt Izou's eyes looking him up and down.

"You look great!" He heard Izou's footsteps closing and looked up when Izou stopped just in front of him and put a hand on his shoulder gently. "And the whole "blushing virgin" routine is very appealing to most, you know." Izou's face split into a grin. "Now come on, let me put your makeup on!"

Izou grabbed his wrist and dragged him back into the room, ignoring Ace's flustered stammering, and shut the door behind them. He steered Ace over to a chair placed before a table with a mirror and sat him in the chair after first turning it away from the mirror. He smiled, looking like nothing so much as a high school girl excited for her first prom.

"You're not allowed to look until I'm done, okay?" Izou didn't wait for agreement and jumped right in, pulling out a tube of some kind of paste. "Alright, Ace. Close your eyes." Ace eyed the tube suspiciously.

"What's that stuff?"

"This is eyeshadow primer." Izou rolled his eyes. "Honestly, it's not some kind of deadly poison. Calm down. Just close your eyes and relax." After another moment of hesitation, Ace obeyed. "No no no, silly! Don't squeeze them shut, just hold them closed gently." Ace forced his eyelids to relax slightly and made himself remain calm in the near-silence of the room and his current blindness.

When the little brush touched his inner eyebrow, Ace jumped. He hadn't been expecting it, and Izou hadn't given him any kind of warning. Izou hissed in annoyance as the brushstroke was jostled by Ace's sudden movement.

"Damnit Ace, hold still! I'm not going to kill you, for God's sake!"

"You could have given me a damn warning!" Izou's voice was patronizing.

"Aw, is little Ace afraid of the big bad makeup brush?" His voice went snide. "So sorry, I expected you to act older than a freaking two year old." Ace grit his teeth. Izou, taking his silence as an end to the argument, brushed a few strands of Ace's hair out of the way in preparation of a second attempt. He smirked jokingly at Ace.

"Try not to have a heart-attack this time, okay princess?" Ace's face turned into a snarl as he was about to bark a retort, but Izou cut him off. "Don't move, damnit! Do you want this to take all day?" Ace's face fell into a mere scowl and he crossed his arms across his chest. Izou smirked. "The pouting routine works well too, if you can pull it off. You're going to have the guys drooling over you." That had Ace's face burning again, his jaw locked in embarrassment. Izou smiled to himself in satisfaction. Well that got him to sit still.

The eyeshadow primer went on with no further incident, and a few more well-phrased jabs had Ace too flustered to protest against the eyeshadow and liner too. Everything seemed to be going well, and Izou was quite pleased with his work. But, of course, all good things must come to an end.

"For the love of God, Ace, hold still!"

"Hell no! That thing is designed to take someone's eye out!"

"No it's not! It's just a damn mascara brush!" Izou was holding a fistful of Ace's hair in an attempt to get him to hold his head still, but he was still squirming, shying away from the bristled thing whenever it drew near. After another moment of struggle, Izou released him for a moment. "Alright, if that's how you want to play it." He grumbled under his breath. "Nobody ever said I had to play fair."

Izou opened a drawer on the table, reaching inside and fumbling around, looking for something. Ace regarded him warily from his place on the chair but remained still. Izou had put down the medieval torture device from hell, and Ace felt he was out of immediate danger.

Well…he did until the seastone handcuff closed around his right wrist, the other end fastened to the arm of the chair.

He instantly felt the drain on his abilities, that cold, frightening dousing of something that seemed so natural. He turned his shocked gaze away from the cuff to blink stupidly at Izou for a moment before his face turned to a scowl.

"Damn it Izou! Where the hell did you even get-" Izou smirked down at him victoriously.

"I always go into combat prepared, Ace." He lifted the small, silver-grey key and wiggled it in front of Ace's face. "Now. If you want this, you're going to have to work with me. This means you will not move, you will not fight back, and you will not complain. Am I understood?" Ace scowled up at him.

"Izou you-" Something was stuffed in his mouth, effectively cutting off his speech.

"I said no complaining!" Before Ace could reach up and pull the wad of fabric out of his mouth, Izou grabbed his other wrist, pinned it to the other arm of the chair, and used a second pair of handcuffs to bind that one in place as well. "And no moving!" Ace mumbled something of a likely offensive nature into the cloth of the rag, and Izou stuck a finger right in his face, hard expression in place.

"Portgas D. Ace you can work with me or against me on this, but one way or another it will get done. If you work with me, I promise not to poke you in the eye and/or do anything else of a damaging nature to your person. If you struggle, I can't make that promise. I'm not trying to hurt you, of course, but even I have "accidents"." Izou emphasized the last word and put a warm smile on his face. "So which'll it be?"

Ace mumbled something into the rag, incomprehensible because of the fabric jammed in his mouth, glaring at Izou. Izou smiled sweetly at him. "That's nice, Ace, now let's resume, shall we?"

Ace remained as still as a statue, barely blinking in the time it took Izou to apply the mascara and a bit of foundation and blush, as if he didn't want to break the death-glare he had focused on the man. Izou smiled sweetly down at him and reached towards his mouth, grabbing onto the edge of the edge of the rag.

"I'm going to do your lip makeup now, Ace, so I'm going to take this out. You remember the rules though, right?" Ace didn't move from his frozen position of glaring up at Izou, didn't even twitch.

Izou slowly pulled the gag out, smiling at Ace sweetly.

"There, that's better now, isn't it?" Ace smiled equally sweetly up at him.

"È corrompere l'atmosfera con la respirazione, stronzo." His voice was light and happy. Izou continued smiling down at him.

"I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian. Would you mind translating for me?" Ace continued smiling up at him.

"Oh, it was nothing. Just a comment on how positively jubilant I am to be alive at this very moment." Izou smiled sweetly, tilting his head a bit to the side.

"That's great, Ace. I'd've hated for it to be a complaint, or worse, an insult." Izou reached behind Ace, grabbing something off the table. "Alright, I need to you to open your mouth just a little bit, okay?" Ace hesitated for a moment, but when Izou's smile, as fake as his own, widened slightly he knew it was obey now or face the wrath.

Izou applied the lip liner first, then lipstick, then some kind of gloss. It felt weird to Ace. His lips felt almost…sticky. He wasn't used to it and it kinda weirded him out. When Izou leaned back after finishing the lip-gloss Ace thought he was finally, finally done.

"Hey Izou! You're done now, right? Will you take off these handcuffs now?" Izou was studying him closely, eyes narrowed. Just as the moment began to stretch into the range of "awkward", Izou leaned forward and brushed at Ace's hair with his fingers, eyes still narrowed disapprovingly.

"We have to fix your hair."

"I'm sorry, you what?"

"Your hair. We need to fix your hair." Ace leaned back in his chair.

"Oh hell no, that was never part of the deal!" He pulled against the handcuffs, painfully aware of his inability to escape. Izou's face took on a smile, but it was different than it had been before, not quite as devious, not quite as mocking. It was like this was no longer a method of just making fun of him anymore. He looked right into Ace's face.

"Trust me. Please." Ace paused in his struggling and blinked at Izou. He seemed…sincere. For the first time that day, Izou didn't seem to be mocking him in any way. Ace swallowed, considering him for a moment.


Ace couldn't help staring, completely stunned. Awed, even. He found it hard to believe that he was looking into a mirror right now and reached out, touching the cool glass, his fingertips meeting with those of his reflection.

Izou stood behind him, a sincere, quiet smile on his face. He looked almost…proud. He reached out and brushed a few strands of hair over Ace's shoulder gently.

"What do you think?"

"I…" Ace trailed off, staring in wonder at his reflection. "…Is that even me?"

The dress was red, the fabric dyed so vibrantly it looked like it had been dipped in roses. The sleeves didn't support the dress, but rather hung off his shoulders, brushing against his upper arms. They were made of an elegantly folded fabric, bronze-gold in color. It wasn't ostentatious, not that overbearingly flamboyant, but only accentuated the red, seemed to deepen it. The skirt of the dress was wide, more ballroom-style than anything, but again not overbearingly so. The red fabric gathered itself at his right hip in a beautiful bit of embroidery in gold-bronze thread looking like a bunch of roses, one of the roses almost exploding, embroidered petals floating down to the left on the same piece of fabric. The left side ended lower, maybe a third of the way down Ace's thigh. Once this layer of fabric, similar to silk in texture and appearance, was gone, another red was revealed. It was slightly darker, a bit more purple in the mix than before. Another layer soon emerged from under this one, even darker. The pattern continued, starting with a color plucked from a cardinal's wing and fading down to the last vestiges of twilight on the open sea. The layering didn't look tacky, though, as some dresses with similar layering patterns did. The wide looseness of the ballroom-esque style made it truly awing.

Ace felt like he was wearing a sunset.

About his throat was an elegant, dark gold necklace. The stone set in it was like nothing Ace had ever seen, something between a ruby and an amethyst in color. It was dusk crystallized, almost perfectly matching one of the layers of the skirt. Ace didn't have pierced ears, but Izou was able to find a pair of clip-on earrings that looked beautiful. The color of the metal was identical to that of the necklace, but the stones were a bit lighter. They dangled in delicate drops off their short chains, occasionally brushing against Ace's neck.

Long black curls hung down Ace's back and over his shoulder. They weren't ringlets, but rather larger, styled curls. Ace had been told his mother's hair looked similar, though strawberry blonde, not black. Ace didn't know where Izou had gotten the wig, but it was beautiful and of obviously high quality. The curls fell midway down his back, stopping approximately 5 inches above his waist. They cascaded like a waterfall, fluid, soft, and beautiful.

The hair on the very front left had been gathered up high on his head under the most realistic fake rose Ace had ever seen. The hairpiece was obviously made to go with the dress, made of the same material as the bodice. The outer petals had been delicately embroidered with the golden-bronze thread, making a pattern that looked like the sunset mimicked in the dress, that looked like the fragile veins that would sustain the beautiful flower in life.

The rose was styled to look like it was breaking apart like the one in the embroidery on the dress, and Izou had fastened a few additional petals in his hair, flowing down his back as if falling from the rose.

As much as Ace had struggled and protested, Izou had done a beautiful job of the makeup. It was simple, nothing extravagant, but, with the help of the necklace and earrings, helped draw the eye up from the beauty of the dress to the face.

His lips were deep red, slightly darker than the bodice of the dress, but barely. Gingerly applied blush made his high cheekbones look aristocratic, yet soft. The makeup about his eyes made them look bigger than normal, the mascara giving him long, full black lashes. The eye shadow was subtly applied, an indescribable smoky red-purple-bronze. It was applied sparingly and attracted attention to Ace's dusky grey eyes as opposed to distracting it from them. Izou, with much, much protesting from Ace (he'd actually had to gag him again, then fix his lip makeup), had "fixed" Ace's eyebrows, plucking with a vengeance. He'd had to go back and repair the eye makeup later, but claimed it was worth it. As much as Ace had fought against him on it, he had to agree. They looked more elegant than before, arching gracefully, thin and deliberate.

The shoes he was wearing were small heels, and Ace had some difficulty walking in them. They weren't anything extreme, though, and he could manage. He'd be lucky if he didn't slip once or twice, though, and had indeed already stumbled on his walk over to the full-length mirror.

Ace was completely stunned by his own reflection.

"Izou…where did you even get this?" Ace's voice was quiet. He looked like he had just stepped out of an Italian romantic-era opera. Like someone from Carmen. Like Carmen herself, even. Izou smiled at him quietly in the mirror, placing his hands gently on Ace's shoulders.

"I made it myself." Ace couldn't help the look of complete shock that came to his face.

"You made this?" The smile widened and Izou gave a tiny nod.

"Yeah. I'd been working on it for almost a year now. I just finished the hairpiece yesterday." The smile on Izou's face widened. "It's my masterpiece."

"I…I don't feel like I should be-" Izou flapped a hand at him.

"Nonsense. Dresses are made to be worn. And before you ask why I'm not the one wearing it, look at the hairpiece again." Ace turned his gaze up to the reflection of the hairpiece. "Look at the embroidery." Ace studied it in detail, looking closer than he had before. He began to notice a specific pattern, something he hadn't seen before. Ace's eyes widened.

"You didn't."

"I did." The embroidery on the petals wasn't formed based on the dress and wasn't based on the veins of a rose.

It was shaped like fire.


"I cheated at cards yesterday." Ace blinked and looked at him. Izou was half-smirking. "I knew this wasn't really your thing and I'd need to pressure you into it somehow. I barely met my deadline with this project and believe me it took many late nights to get it done in time, but I pulled it off and…" Izou trailed off, looking the dress up and down. The smile returned to his face and he looked into Ace's eyes. "…it looks much better on."

"…But…a whole year, Izou? Why? And you knew you'd have to trick me into this, that I wouldn't just put it on willingly, so why make it for me?" Izou looked into Ace's face via the mirror. He grinned.

"Birthday gift." Ace blanched at him.

"Wha-? My birthday isn't for another 2 months!"

"Well this is kinda a special gift. It's really two gifts in one. Your side of it may be two months early, but the other side isn't."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Follow me and find out." Ace's eyes widened and after a moment he was able to stammer a response.

"You mean go out there? Dressed like this?" Ace's face burned bright red again. He shook his head from side to side. "Uh-uh. No way. Nada. Not happening." Izou grabbed his wrist and spun, pulling Ace with him. Ace, unsteady on the shoes as he was, had no choice. It was either follow along or fall on his face.

"Come on, Ace! This dress is art! Art I tell you! It's meant to be seen by all, and all are meant to be smitten by it! And besides," Izou smiled in triumph over his shoulder. "The price you agreed to yesterday before you lost was one whole day. You wouldn't want to back out now, would you?" Ace snarled at Izou.

"Damn you, Izou! That's low!" Izou shrugged.

"The way I see it, I'm being merciful. It took way longer than it should have to get you ready because you were being such a pansy about the makeup, so I should technically get half of tomorrow too, but I'm being a good, charitable soul and letting you only do this tonight, so suck it up, buttercup! And also," Izou smiled mockingly at Ace. "We can't very well let a pretty damsel like you go wandering off by herself. Who knows what unseemly ruffians walk the streets at this hour." Ace's face was still beet red.

"No, Izou, please, please, you don't understand, if I'm seen like thi-" Izou waved at him dismissively.

"Nobody will even recognize you Ace, have some fun!" Izou opened the door to his cabin and pulled the stumbling, stammering, blushing Ace through it.

"Izou, this dress is made for a ball. You can't honestly to expect me to go gallivanting around town dressed like this! I can barely walk in these shoes!" Izou grinned over his shoulder at him.

"Oh you're going to be doing much more than walking, Ace." Izou was excited. He'd been planning this for months. Ace thought he didn't know about Ace's crush on a certain crewmate of theirs, but Izou knew. His grin widened.

"You're going to be dancing."

The event was something official held on one of the largest of the Whitebeard-claimed territories every year. The party was highly formal, officials of the local government and even members of the island's royal family attending. As such, it was important for the Whitebeard pirates to make an appearance, guardians and benefactors of the island as they were.

All in all, there were many things Marco would rather be doing on his birthday.

The ballroom was huge and made of white stone. Gold leaf decorated the ornamentation, and from the ceiling dangled enormous crystal chandeliers. A grand marble staircase led up to a second level, a balcony that ran all around the perimeter of the ballroom. The floor was marble here as well, but long, red carpet had been laid down the center of the balcony, forming an aisle of sorts.

Small tables had been placed along the further edge of the balcony, chairs accompanying them. Partygoers could come here to rest after dancing on the mirror-like surface of the marble floor below. Candles placed on each table and filling candelabras on the walls provided a somewhat gentler illumination than the brilliance of the chandeliers shining on the ballroom floor below.

Marco was leaning disinterestedly against the railing, looking out at the people below. He'd always found this kind of social event boring, and getting dressed up for such occasions was a pain. There was never anyone interesting that actually had something of value to say, only people trying to gain political points by befriending him as the first division commander of the Whitebeard Pirates. Sure the women's dresses – and occasionally the women wearing them – could be beautiful, and watching them whirl as specks of color on the ballroom floor was entrancing, but most of them were just empty-headed daughters of some land-owning aristocrat. Half the time when he encountered such girls they were completely disinterested in his existence. The other half the time they fell in love with him. Either way, everything he said to them was a waste of breath, in one ear then right out the other.

Marco sighed. He still had to endure another three hours of this at least. That was one of the problems with his job, he mused. He always had to be a public face and attend events like these.

He watched the couples spin on the floor below him, the women's dresses droplets of color next to the men's dark tuxedos. He could hear the waltz music playing in the background and recognized the piece, but didn't bother listening closely enough to recall its title.

The part had started about half an hour ago, but people were still filtering in from outside. Marco thought for a moment that he saw Izou among the wave of most recently arrived guests, but not a moment later the figure had vanished into the crowd, effectively quitting Marco's sight. Marco sighed and leaned back. He'd have liked if Izou had come upstairs. That way he might at least have someone worth talking with to try to make this a little less boring. Ah well.

God damnit Izou! Help me! Ace had entered the ballroom only a moment ago and had already begun turning heads. He looked around the room, searching for his thoroughly vanished companion, and saw only awed faces pointed in his direction. He felt his face flush, and instantly moved away from the doors and off to one side of the room, trying to escape too much notice.

Almost as soon as he arrived at the wall, however, a man of about 30 years of age approached him, dressed in a smart black tux that looked brand new. He stopped in front of Ace, half-smirk on his face.

"Good evening, my lady. Would you give me the honor of a dance?" Ace felt the blush on his face intensity further. He could never remember ever being anywhere close to this embarrassed in his entire life. Ace forced a polite smile.

"I-I'm terribly sorry, sir, but I'm not really a dancer…" The man smiled at him, clearly recognizing the dismissal.

"A pity. Well, I wish you a very nice evening." He gave a small, polite bow and left. Ace took a deep breath, relieved. I am going to murder Izou for this. He could see the men staring at him, could see the jealousy in the women's eyes. Ace wanted to shrink in on himself and melt into the floor.

"Hey there, pretty." Oh God not again. Ace turned his eyes up off the floor and saw a young man, about 22 years old if Ace had to guess. He wore a cocky smirk, amorous, lustful eyes looking Ace up and down. "You shouldn't be over here all alone in the corner. Please, permit me to be your companion this evening." Just leave. Please, dear God, just let him leave. The man's eyes looked into Ace's own and Ace could clearly tell the man had intentions beyond just dancing with him. "Pretty girls like you shouldn't have to come to this kind of event alone." Oh no. Oh God no.

He moved suddenly, coming to stand right in front of Ace. Ace automatically tried to take a step back from the man's proximity, but found himself pressed up against the wall. The man's face was inches from his own, his forearm leaned against the wall next to Ace's head, blocking Ace from the rest of the room. He was wearing a sultry half-smile, eyes burning into Ace's own. Ace pressed back against the wall as far as he could, face burning with embarrassment.

"I heard you tell that other guy you don't dance, so how about we do something a little more fun, huh?" The man's other hand traced down his throat to his collarbone. "Well? What do you say, pretty?" Ace's mind started functioning again. The man was closing in now, and hell if Ace was going to let himself be kissed and practically molested by this cocky nobleman's son.

He pushed against the man's chest, shoving his wandering hands away. The dress had a padded chest (Izou had done a good job of making it look realistic, too), and the man's hand had almost been on Ace's "breast". He knew it wasn't really his, but he still felt outrage and embarrassment at the man's blatant disrespect. He shoved the man away, almost pushing him into a waiter serving red wine, and spun, speed-walking as fast as he could away from the man.

His face was bright red and he was completely mortified. He hadn't known he was capable of moving this fast in these shoes, but he was power-walking across the floor, heading for the stairs. He felt the men's eyes following him and his pace increased even more. Get the hell away from me you pervy bastards! Ace practically threw himself up the staircase, clutching the railing in order to avoid taking a dive because of the shoes.

Once upstairs, he practically threw himself around the corner and down the balcony a ways, stopping about a third of the way down and leaning back against one of the pillars that supported the ceiling of the hallway-balcony, back to the ballroom. He took a few deep breaths and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the cool stone surface behind him. He tried to calm his frazzled nerves, tried to slow his erratic heart and force the blush off his face, the embarrassment out of his chest.

Marco stared at the woman next to him. He'd seen her coming down the hallway, but hadn't expected her to stop practically right next to him. From his vantage point he had seen her shove that man away from her and then come flying up here, clearly trying to escape the attention she was receiving from the men downstairs. She look flustered, like she was trying to keep herself from completely shaking apart. Marco stood and approached her, keeping a respectful distance and trying to look into her face.

"Excuse me, miss-" The woman kept her eyes closed, not even moving as she cut him off.

"No I will not dance with you. Nor will I kiss you. Nor will I let you take me away to do something more "fun." Kindly go fuck yourself, good sir." Marco gave an amused smirk. She was clearly done with all the formalities an occasion like this asked for.

"I wasn't going to ask for any of those things. I was just wondering if you were alright. You look a bit flushed." She exhaled.

"Let's see you get practically molested and do better." Her mouth pulled into an angry frown and she mumbled the next words under her breath, more to herself than him. "Damn nobility thinking the world is theirs and they can just do whatever they want." Marco couldn't help but agree with her. She took one more deep breath, lowering her head, and smiled.

"I appreciate your concern, sir, but I'm fi-" Her eyes caught on his face for the first time and her expression morphed into one of complete shock.

Mortification wasn't even close to describing how Ace felt right now. Oh God oh God oh God I didn't know Marco was here! Does he recognize me? Oh God, what must he think of me now? Ace stared up at Marco with wide eyes, blushing furiously. Marco smiled jokingly down at him.

"Am I really that handsome, yoi?" Yes. Ace mentally shot that voice in his head. His mouth moved for a moment without producing noise before he was finally able to stammer out a response.

"I-…I've just never met a Whitebeard Pirate before, least of all you, the first division commander. I've…heard a lot about you." Marco arched an eyebrow.

"Oh really?" So he doesn't recognize me then? He would've called me out by now if he thought it was me. Ace heaved a mental sigh of relief. If Marco had known it was him…well, there would be no recovering from it. Either Marco would tell Thatch and Thatch would tease him mercilessly about it for the rest of eternity or Marco himself would tease him about it for the rest of eternity. And he cared what Marco thought of him.

As often as he had told himself that it was immoral, bad, wrong on so many levels, he couldn't help what he felt for Marco. It had started as admiration, but from there it had changed and grown, and Ace was mature enough to recognize his feelings for what they were.

He loved Marco.

He'd kept it a secret, of course. Marco didn't swing that way, and with the way their crew was it was practically incest. Ace knew that what he felt was wrong, that he should try to forget his feelings, but he couldn't. He'd tried. But Marco hadn't exactly made it easy for him what with his gentle smiles, warm, sleepy eyes, and forgiving, supportive nature. Once he recognized that his emotions weren't going away, Ace did the only thing he could.

He shut them away.

He resigned himself to being friends with Marco. Having a less intimate relationship with him was better than having no relationship at all. Ace was enough of an adult to realize that believing that one day he'd end up with Marco was simply unrealistic. Marco would never consent to something like that, and Ace would never force him to do something he was unwilling to do.

He'd given up on ever being with Marco, but that didn't mean he didn't smile more when Marco was around.

"Well of course! Everyone's heard of Phoenix Marco, the First Division Commander! You're essentially Whitebeard's first mate, right?" Marco was having the same effect on him now as he always did. Ace's chest was tight with nervous, giddy excitement and a bright smile found its way naturally onto his face. "I've heard all kinds of stories about you!"

Marco smiled at the woman before him. She looks much prettier when she's smiling. Marco couldn't help but smile with her. "And what do they say about me? These stories you've heard? I'd hate for you to get the wrong impression of me." Ace smiled up at him warmly.

"Well…they say all kinds of things! They say you've been with Whitebeard since back before Roger died, they say that your abilities let you heal instantly from literally any wound, and I've heard you're the only Zoan type who can partially transform." Ace blushed and looked down. "There's a whole lot more to admire about you, but I'm probably being boring." When Marco's hand fell gently on his shoulder Ace looked up into his face. Marco was smiling kindly down at him, a smile he didn't show to many people.

It was a genuine smile.

Ace didn't know what it was about Marco, but there was always something…sad about him. Something Ace couldn't ever quite put his finger on. It seemed to lessen whenever he spoke with Whitebeard or Thatch or any of his other really close friends, but Ace had never seen it completely go away.

"It's nice to get compliments from such a pretty lady." A tiny pause. "Come sit with me, would you?" Ace blushed and nodded. Marco gestured to a nearby table and the two sat down opposite each other. Marco was still smiling at Ace, an almost pensive look on his face. "You know, it's interesting. Most civilians either look at me as a monster for my devil fruit ability and my profession or are completely terrified of me, again because of my devil fruit and profession. You're one of the first I've met who's not." Ace's face went serious.

"I don't think it's fair for people to make snap judgments like that. If they knew anything about you they'd see that you're not like that. The stupid marines preach the stereotype of pirates being bloodthirsty murderers and abominations, deserving nothing but punishment for their actions, but if you want to know my opinion I think you're a hundred times better than any marine I've ever met." Ace looked seriously into Marco's eyes. "You're not a monster, Marco. I don't want you to ever call yourself that again." Marco blinked in surprise, then let his eyes close, a smile coming to his face.

"Thank you. That…That means a lot." Ace smiled back at him and a moment of comfortable silence passed. Marco was the next to speak.

"So, who are you? We never really had introductions. Do you live on the island?" Marco looked him up and down, smiling. "Something tells me you're not from around here." Ace giggled.

"What gave it away?" Marco looked into his face, blue eyes burning into Ace's grey ones.

"Beautiful roses like you don't grow on this island." Ace blushed and smiled. After a moment, he spoke.

"Well… My name is…" Ace's mind darted around in a panic, searching for a name. Marco's recent compliment came to Ace's mind, and a name from a book instantly popped into Ace's mouth. He smiled warmly at Marco. "My name's Belle." Marco chuckled quietly.

"You certainly look like you stepped out of Beauty and the Beast." Ace blinked in surprise.

"Wait, you've read it?" Marco smiled.

"Sure. It's a classic." He raised an eyebrow. "You seem surprised."

"I just…never pictured you as the romantic type." Marco scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

"Well…that kind of relationship has never really worked out for me, so sometimes it's nice to picture a fairytale ending, even if it's only fictional." Ace's smile dropped and his eyes fell to the table. Memories of all the times he'd daydreamed about his own fairytale ending replayed themselves before his eyes.

"I know what you mean." Marco looked at him in surprise, taking in his sad expression. He didn't like seeing it on his face, instinctively wanted to wipe it away, replace it with that bright, contagious smile from before. He stood suddenly, coming around the table to stand next to Ace, extending his hand towards him with a smile.

"Come dance with me!" Ace looked up at him in shock, then blushed and looked away.

"You're…not going to believe this, but I actually don't know how." Marco persisted, not retracting his hand.

"That's alright, I'll teach you. Waltzing isn't that hard. The music practically does it for you. Come on! It'll be fun!" Ace looked up into Marco's face, into his eyes. He saw something there he hadn't expected to see at all. Marco seemed…almost anxious. Like he was looking for something in Ace's expression.

The realization hit Ace hard. He…He's trying to make me happy. He's worrying about me. Ace stared up at Marco for another moment, then couldn't suppress the truly joyous smile that took over his face as he accepted Marco's hand. He cares. Ace's heart sped up as his hand touched Marco's and Marco grasped it firmly. Ace's heart felt like it was about to explode out of his chest. He really cares.

Ace felt like he was floating on his own cloud nine as Marco led him around the balcony and down the stairs. When they reached the ballroom floor, he led the two of them over to a more secluded area, not crowded with people like the majority of the room. He stopped the two of them, turning to face Ace, releasing his hand for an instant in order to reposition it. He clasped it again, this time in a different hold, and addressed Ace.

"Put your left hand on my shoulder." Ace obeyed and Marco placed his warm hand on Ace's waist. An excited tingling ran up Ace's spine at the contact, and he couldn't help the blush that colored his cheeks. Marco only smiled at him.

"Waltzing isn't all that hard. The basic step takes four measures to complete and we just go in a box. The music will be in three-four time with an enunciated beat at the beginning of each measure. On that beat you'll take a step." Ace nodded in comprehension. Marco had always been a good teacher, and it seemed ballroom dancing was no exception.

"We're going to practice a bit first without the music. The first step has me moving forward starting with my left foot, then a second step with my right, concluding the movement by bringing the left foot next to the right. You're going to mirror my movements, okay?" Marco smirked jokingly at him. "You have to let me lead you, okay? You seem like the very independent type, but if you don't let me lead this won't work as well. Alright, we'll go slow the first few times and I'll count the beats out loud. Follow my lead. I promise I won't go too fast for you." Ace nodded, already looking down at their feet in anticipation. "One, two three, one, two three…" Marco counted out two measures before he began to move, slow enough that Ace could see his left foot coming and moved his right one back accordingly. On the second beat, Marco moved his right foot even further back and turned them slightly. The third beat had his left foot back by his right.

They repeated the process another three times, coming to stop back where they had begun after forming a complete box and making a full rotation to the left. Ace looked up from their feet and grinned at Marco. Marco smiled back at him, relieved to see that smile back where it belonged.

"That was very good for your first time! Congratulations! You have a real natural talent for this." His voice took on a more scolding tone. "But you have to let me lead. I promise I know what I'm doing, so just let my movements dictate yours, not the other way around, okay?" Ace looked into his face and nodded eagerly. The smile resumed its place on Marco's face. "Good. Well then, are you ready to try again?"

"Yeah! We can go a little faster this time, I think." Marco nodded assent and again counted out two measures before moving.

Ace tried hard to heed Marco's advice, and once he caught onto the rhythm and knew what to expect motion-wise, he found he could, actually, relax while doing this. He'd been tense before, nervous and unsure, but as the tension left his shoulders and back he saw Marco smile out of the corner of his eye.

"That's it. You've got it now." On the next downbeat, Ace felt Marco's hand gently pull his own and instantly allowed himself to move in that direction, allowing Marco to lead him. Marco led him to spin out, and then back in, perfectly resuming their former positions. "There you go! Perfect!" Ace allowed a pleased smile to come to his face and smiled triumphantly up at Marco.

"We did it!" Marco pulled the two of them to a gentle stop, smiling at Ace challengingly.

"Ready to do it for real now?" Ace blinked, considered the question, the nodded with a confident smile. Marco nodded in return and smiled back.

"A new song is about to start. Do you want me to count or do you think you can pick up on the beat?"

"I…think I'll be okay without."

The waltz began, its lilting melody not taking long to establish itself. At first Ace's steps were awkward and a little forced.

"S-Sorry, I-"

"Don't. Just relax. Listen to the music." Ace swallowed and nodded. He made himself stop paying attention to the dance itself and allowed his eyes to close, listening to the gently cascading melody. Its rhythm sung through him, pulling the tightness out of his shoulders, putting a warm, genuine smile on his face, guiding him and lifting him, floating him above anything earthly to something higher, something beautiful.

Marco smiled at the woman before him in awe. She was incredible. An angel. An angel descended from heaven, an angel of music and light. The warmth of her smile seemed to fill the whole room, bringing joy to all, and her dancing was incomparable. She looped and twirled perfectly in time with the music and Marco, following his every cue, fully trusting him and the music to lead her down the correct path. He smiled and began slowly moving them, twirling them away from their secluded corner.

After too short a time, Ace could feel the glorious soaring of the melody softly coming to an end. It glided down back from heaven and set him gently back on the ground, releasing him from its euphoric splendor. He exhaled deeply and slowly opened his eyes, coming back to reality.

He heard…clapping.

Ace blinked his eyes, instantly coming back to full cognizance. He realized he was in a deep dip, Marco's arms wrapped around him securely, in perfect form, keeping him from falling.

Ace looked around and saw the guests had all exited the dance floor, leaving the space open for the two of them. They were in the center, and all about the perimeter of the room stood people clapping as if for a performance. Their faces all held awe, like they had seen something truly remarkable.

"You did beautifully." The deep voice turned Ace's attention back to his partner. Marco's tone made Ace's heart pound in his chest, and as he looked into Marco's face, it was carrying a smile he'd never seen before, and something in his eyes made Ace feel special, made Ace feel wanted. He'd never seen Marco look at anyone like this. There was none of that ever-present sadness in Marco's face right now.

Marco stared down at the woman in his arms. To him she was perfect and beautiful and compassionate, elegant in action and speech, and had spoken more kindness and given more joy than Marco had received in a long time. He admired her. Respected her.

He loved her.

Slowly he pulled her out of the dip, not wanting the moment to end but knowing she'd probably want a breather after this. He may have dragged out the process a little, pulling her closer to him than was strictly speaking necessary, but she didn't protest, either not aware of the difference or choosing to accept it.

Pulling her out of the dip had them back in their original waltz positions, and the people around the dance floor were still clapping energetically. She was panting lightly in Marco's arms, her chest rising and falling attractively, and she was giving him that radiant, beautiful smile. They remained there for a moment, perfectly content in each others' arms, but recognized the moment was ending and silently released one another.

Ace's heart was full to bursting. Never before in his life had he ever felt this way. He felt complete where he never even knew he was incomplete. The dance, even if Marco didn't know of its significance for him, was something Ace would always remember, would always cherish. It meant the world to him.

He stepped slowly back from Marco, recognizing their time to be over. He'd had his taste of heaven, but now it was time to come back to reality. He smiled at Marco and pulled away, separating their clasped hands last.

He turned and walked away.

People were beginning to crowd around him now, and awed comments about the dance flowed by, completely unheeded by Ace. He was feeling lightheaded, and with all these people around it was too stuffy, Ace couldn't get enough oxygen. He pushed his way through the crowd, pretty much ignoring the world around him save for his destination. He finally reached the elegant and no doubt pricy French glass door and stepped through it, out into the near-dark beyond.

The garden was cool, the night air sweet relief from the confines of the ballroom. Ace was standing on a kind of terrace, the large paved area stretching out quite a ways before ending with a neat border of grass, geometrically shaped hedges occupying the grounds beyond. Systematically along the paths through the garden there were lampposts, their gas-based flame illuminating the paved places with splashes of yellow-gold light. Ace wasn't interested in the garden, though.

Ace tipped his head back and looked up at the sky.

The stars were brilliant. There was no describing them. The semi-castle the event was held at was quite removed from settlements, and the only light polluting the inky blackness of the sky came from the building behind him and the somewhat distant lampposts.

Ace traced several constellations among the stars he saw. He followed the stars of Pegasus, outlining the angelic wings and proud form of the mythical horse high above him. He listed off all the others he could find in his mind, feeling his breathing begin to slow. Taurus, Cetus, Capricornus, Pices, Sagitarius, Herculese…

Quiet footsteps approached him from behind, drawing him out of his vigil with the starry mythological cast. The drew up behind him, stopping maybe two feet away. A small smile came to Ace's face and he closed his eyes.

"Twelve o'clock.

Along the reaches of the street

Held in a lunar synthesis,

Whispering lunar incantations

Dissolve the floors of memory

And all its clear relations

Its divisions and precisions,

Every street lamp that I pass

Beats like the fatalistic drum,

And through the spaces of the dark

Midnight shakes the memory

As a madman shakes a dead geranium." The pause lasted only a moment before a different voice continued.

"Half-past one,

The street lamp sputtered,

The street lamp muttered,

The street lamp said, "Regard that woman

Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door

Which opens on her like a grin.

You see the border of her dress is torn and stained with sand,

And you see the corner of her eye

Twists like a crooked pin." Ace smiled at the voice's perfect recitation. After a brief pause, the voice continued. "Don't you think that's just a little dark for a party?"

"Nonsense. Eliot fits with everything." Silence passed for a moment.

"Why did you leave me alone?" Ace could hear that sadness was back in Marco's voice, the sadness he could never seem to get rid of.

"…Because I had to."

"Why?" Ace grit his teeth and clenched his right hand into a fist. It wasn't anger, though, that prompted the action. It was grief. And regret.

"Because I've been terribly, terribly selfish, Marco." A moment of silence passed, then the footsteps resumed. Ace expected them to fade away with distance, but instead they grew nearer still. Ace's eyes widened and his heart stopped as Marco drew up right behind him, wrapping both arms gently about his waist, pulling him softly against his chest. He leaned his face against Ace's hair.

"I don't think you're aware of all the joy you've brought me tonight." Ace could barely breathe. His heart was hammering in his chest and he could feel the telltale heat of a blush on his cheeks. Ace felt tears bite at his eyes. Here he was being selfish again, wanting to stay in Marco's arms, wanting to let him go on hoping, believing that this girl, this Belle could be a companion to him in a way Ace never could.

Because Belle had been able to drive the loneliness from Marco's eyes like Ace never had.

Ace leaned his head against Marco's, trying to keep the tears from actually falling. It was a long time before either spoke again.

It was Ace who broke the silence.

"It'll be dawn soon. Look, the horizon's already turning grey." Marco grabbed one of his wrists then and spun him like he had when they danced. He stopped with Ace facing him, their faces inches apart. Marco studied Ace's eyes for a moment, then a smile spread on his face.

"Your eyes are the only grey dawn I'll ever need again."

He kissed him.

The moment Marco's lips touched his, Ace's heart practically exploded out of his chest. He'd never experienced anything like he was feeling right now, he was something that surpassed happiness, joy that didn't belong in such an imperfect world.

Marco's hands found their way to Ace's neck, his fingers cold from the long exposure to the night air. They wrapped around the back of his neck and tangled into his hair as Marco drew him nearer still.

Ace knew he should push Marco away, knew he should stop this, knew it was wrong. He knew it wasn't fair of him to lie to Marco like this, to trick him into making Ace happy by doing something that would likely bring him grief. He knew all these things, knew how Marco would react if he found out the truth, knew that it would probably ruin their friendship forever.

But Ace was selfish.

He didn't push back, he didn't pull away. He knew very well this may be his only chance at ever being truly happy, and as much harm as he thought it could do, Ace let himself be selfish.

As Marco kissed him, holding him against his chest, fingers tangled in Ace's hair, something happened. Something within Ace stirred, something he'd shut away a long time ago.

Marco pulled away slowly and Ace leaned head forward, resting his forehead against Marco's shoulder. Tears quivered in Ace's eyes, barely restrained. His heart hurt it was so full. Full with more joy than Ace could contain. Ace took in a ragged breath.

"You don't know how cruel you're being, do you?" Ace shut his eyes as two tears escaped, leaking onto Marco's dress coat. "Damn you Marco, you've made me hope again." A moment of silence passed as Ace got his emotions back under control. After a long moment Ace pulled back, wiping the tears from under his eyes and smiling up at Marco. He took a quiet step back, but grabbed onto both of Marco's hands with his own, holding them in front of him. He swallowed thickly and addressed the man he loved.

"I'm so sorry, Marco. I never meant to hurt you. Please know that." He released his hands for a moment and reached up into his hair, gently pulling loose the beautiful fake rose Izou had made. He studied it for a moment, studied the delicate gold embroidery in a subtle flame pattern, studied the way it reflected the weak light of the lampposts.

He pressed it into Marco's palm and smiled up at him.

"Keep this. In the hope…In the hope that you'll always remember tonight with fondness."

"Belle-" Ace shook his head, tears pricking at his eyes at the truth all around him that he didn't want to accept.

"I never was Beauty. I always have been and always will be the Beast. The Beast that you'll never love." Ace pulled away, taking a few steps back. Tears were beginning to fall freely from his eyes and he couldn't bear to look at Marco, at the man he loved, at the man who'd fallen in love with someone else. A sob escaped Ace's throat. "Goodbye, Marco."

Ace turned and sprinted away.

"Ace…?" Izou knocked on the boy's door, waiting for a response. He heard no movement within. "Ace I'm coming in." No response. Izou opened the door slowly, peeking his head around the door. He sighed.

The red dress lay on the floor, crumpled there helplessly like a dead rose. Ace was sitting on his bed, wrapped in a blanket, face buried in a pillow. His breathing was too regular for him to be awake.

It was clear Ace had been crying.

Ace's notebook was on a nightstand next to his bed, opened to a recently filled page. The poem was written in beautiful, elegant calligraphy and Ace had drawn a beautiful image next to it. It was a lamppost, it's top surrounded by a globule of oily yellow light. Curled around its base was a tiny rose vine, but the only flower that had been there lay crushed and broken on the cobblestones next to the lamppost as if a careless person had smashed it with their boot. The vine was still attached to it, still struggling for life, but the green had already begun to fade from a lot of the leaves and even a little bit from the vine itself. Izou looked at his brother sadly.

"I'm so sorry, Ace. I never meant for this to happen." Izou slowly closed the book, shutting the pages over the tearstained lamppost and poem.

Twelve o'clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And though in the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, "Regard that woman
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You can see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin."

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in the factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street-lamp said,
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."
So the hand of the child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
"Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smooths the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars."

The lamp said,
"Four o'clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."

The last twist of the knife.

(A/N: ...Well...? Did you like it? At least part of it?

...I'm considering writing a second chapter. Let me know what you guys think.

The poem quoted multiple times is Rhapsody on a Windy Night by T.S. Eliot. It's one of my all-time favorite poems.

Soooooo...yeah. I don't really have anything else to say, except to IMPLORE all of you wonderful readers out there to review! if I get enough requests for it, I'll probably write a second chapter with a happier ending! So review! Please?)