(So here's the promised sequel. C: Hopefully the update wasn't TOO painfully slow. I get easily distracted and my other story was calling to me *cough*thatIhaven'tupdatedyet*cough**cough*.

Anonymous (no name): Thank you! I hope you enjoy the continuation. :)

I feel like there was another anonymous review, but for some reason anonymous reviews aren't showing up on the site, so if I missed you I'm sorry. :(

Things I don't own: One Piece (damn shame, that), the Ben Folds' song (I'll probably learn to play it on piano soon, though), or the Mumford and Sons song.

Oh, and before I get spammed, I know that in the Mumford & Sons song it's "detest" not "regret" but I thought regret worked better with the story and it still fits with the semi-rhyme scheme, so I changed it. Don't be hatin'!


Ace listened to the quiet noise of his journal shutting. He kept his eyes closed and remained still. He didn't want to talk to Izou right now, just wanted to be alone. Quiet footsteps followed, then the opening and closing of a door. He waited a moment, then slowly extracted his face from the pillow and stared sightlessly down at it. He felt…numb.

After staring down at the pillow for a long moment, he stood mechanically and looked around his room. Everything was as it normally was; save for the shoes kicked randomly aside and the red dress lying on his floor like a bloodstain. He stared at that dress, unsure whether he wanted to rip it in half or put it on again. He picked it up slowly. It hung pathetically from his grasp, limp and light and unresisting.

Unable to decide, he threw it into the back of his closet, watching it crumple into the back corner. The shoes soon joined it. He'd lost the wig somewhere along his path back to the ship and listlessly wondered if some bird was using it as nest material. He could see it in his mind, two birds swooping and diving playfully, twittering and singing their love-songs to one another. Ace felt the tears biting back at his eyes.

He walked back to his bed and fell woodenly upon it, facedown. He thought about sleeping, but as lifeless and detached as his mind was, he couldn't drift off.

His heart hurt too much.

Ace lost track of time, staring blankly at the wall. He'd run out of tears on his hysterical, sobbing rush back to the ship and subsequent solitary breakdown in his room. He was numb now, spent.

Ace only realized it was morning when the light filtering through his window came in at the right angle and hit his eyes. He decided to move then, slowly pushing himself to a sitting position. Once more he stared out at his room, numb.

After staring out at the blank wall for a few more minutes, he stood and mechanically prepared for the day. Once ready he stood at the door, hesitating.

After a moment of staring at the wooden surface he shook himself and rubbed at his face. He needed to snap out of this. If people saw him like this, they'd ask questions. Questions that had…revealing answers. He had to convince everyone everything was as it normally was. It was hard to get anything past Thatch, but Ace was proficient at dodging questions and lying. He rubbed his face with both hands, then forced a smile and opened the door.

There was no one in the hallway as Ace walked down it towards the galley (his stomach denied him any other destination), but Ace could distantly hear people talking and smelled cooked food so he knew at least some people were up. It was still fairly early, though, and when at port Whitebeard let his sons sleep in more than usual. Ace doubted the entire crew was up, doubted all of them would be until some time after noon. As Ace approached the galley the voices became more distinct and Ace was able to make out two particularly familiar voices.

"Wow, what's with you?" That was Thatch's voice, interested and amused. "You don't look like your usual killjoy self this morning."

"Well…I had the most amazing night last night!" The voice froze Ace's heart in his chest and he stopped, a few feet away from the entrance to the mess hall. Marco's voice was energetic and happy, livelier than normal.

"Wait wait wait…you're telling me you actually got laid last night?! Isn't that, like, the first time in a freaking decade?!"

"No, jackass. And I didn't "get laid". Unlike you my every thought doesn't center around my dick." Thatch only laughed.

"Alright then. So what really has you all smiles and sunshine this morning then?"

"You know how I had to go to that stupid party last night?" Thatch grunted assent. "Well, I thought it was going to suck ass like it always does, but this year-" Thatch spotted Ace outside the door to the mess hall and called out to him.

"Hey, Ace!" Marco looked a little annoyed at being so blatantly cut off. Ace, having been sighted, forced his face into a smile and walked through the door.

"Morning!" He approached the two of them, doing his best to act normal. Thatch peered at his face with mild concern.

"Whoa dude, you okay? You look like the south end of a northbound horse." Ace blinked and rubbed his face, racing to come up with an excuse.

"I…I didn't sleep much last night." Thatch could smell a lie on someone, so telling a partial truth was the only way to get anything by him. Ace knew from experience. "The damn city lights keep me up. I really need to get around to rehanging my shades." He'd complained in the past about the brightness of city lights while they were docked, so he knew Thatch would accept that. It worked and Thatch's face pulled into a sympathetic smile.

"That sucks. I don't think we're scheduled to set off until tomorrow, so you can probably snag a nap without too much trouble." Ace nodded and moved to walk past the table they were sitting at.

"I'm going to get some food. Preferably with sugar. Either of you want anything?" Both shook their heads and Ace walked past them, hearing them resume their conversation behind him. He mentally sighed in relief. First hurdle = passed. Ace walked up to where the cooks had laid out a buffet style breakfast consisting of French toast (Ace couldn't even imagine making French toast for this many people), sausage, and breakfast potatoes. Ace piled a plate high, ducking to avoid a spoon aimed at his head accompanied by a shout telling him to save some for the rest of the crew and made his way back to the table Marco and Thatch were sitting at. As he approached he began listening to what they were saying again.

"I'm telling you, you should have seen her dance! I can't believe it was her first time!" Ace sat at the table and began eating. Marco didn't pause in his recounting, and continued energetically. "She was beautiful. Flawless, I tell you!" Ace allowed a tiny smile to come to his face, hidden behind the slice of French toast he was currently inhaling. He's talking about me. A moment later, though, the smile fell.

No. He's talking about Belle.

You ARE Belle, stupid!

No, I'm not!

Yes, you are! The dress and makeup may have been a mask, but a change of name doesn't mean a change of person! He's talking about YOU. Now let yourself smile! Let yourself be happy that you made him this happy!

No I didn't! BELLE did! There may not be a personality difference, but the point is, if Marco knew it was ACE under the dress there's no WAY he'd remember that dance fondly! THAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO. Belle's capable of making Marco happy. Ace isn't.




Ace shook his head a few times, trying to halt the internal argument. It was giving him a headache and didn't make him feel any better. Thatch gave a sidelong smirk at Marco.

"I bet it was some tranny in disguise." Ace's brain froze. After a moment, he forced a smile to come to his face and made himself ask the question.

"Would it really matter, though? I mean, Marco had a great time last night. Does the gender of the person he was with matter all that much? Isn't the person underneath more important?" Ace waited for Marco to reply, dared to hope that Marco would agree with him. Thatch cocked an amused eyebrow at him.

"You trying to tell us something, Ace?" Thatch grinned jokingly. "'Cause if you are, I'm sure Izou could hook you up with some great guys." Ace choked on his drink and barely managed to avoid spewing it all over the table.

"Nothing like that! I'm just making a philosophical point. If you remove the biological factor of a species' need to reproduce and simply examine the individual-"

"Whoa, easy there! That's enough, Darwin. I think we get your point." Ace's mind was elsewhere. …Why did I say that? I mean…it's not like they'd judge me if they knew about my sexuality, right? They're my friends. My best friends. Why did I not tell them the truth? Thatch was waving a hand in front of his face. "Oi, earth to Ace, repeat, earth to Ace, do you copy, over." Ace shook himself and came out of his daze.

"Sorry. Think I was about to faceplant in my breakfast." Thatch laughed and shook his head. Ace forced a smile, then made himself glance at Marco. Marco was looking at him strangely, almost…concernedly. Ace directed his eyes back to his breakfast and began shoveling food again, trying to get out from under Marco's piercing stare.

The subject of discussion changed after that. When Marco didn't continue speaking Thatch took it upon himself to start his own conversation. Ace felt relieved at the change in subject. While it had made him happy to hear how much Marco had enjoyed himself last night, it threw into sharp relief that which Ace was trying not to think about.

He'd lied to Marco. He was still doing it now.

Breakfast concluded shortly thereafter, Ace depositing his dishes in the kitchen before returning to the table to discuss the day. Both Thatch and Marco were planning on going into town that day, but when they asked Ace if he wanted to come along he politely declined, claiming he was going to try to catch up on his sleep before they left port tomorrow morning. Thatch had complained about Ace being boring, but didn't try to pressure him into it as he had in the past. It was Thatch's way of showing he cared, letting him off the hook to rest up and hopefully feel better.

Thatch left, heading off to get ready before heading out. Ace stood to leave as well, not wanting to be alone with Marco. As he walked past him, though, Marco reached out and grabbed his wrist, effectively stopping Ace.

"Hey. You okay?" Ace painted the smile on his face before he turned back around to face Marco.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just didn't sleep well last night." Marco's grip was firm on his wrist and his eyes bored unrelentingly into Ace's. He stood and transferred his grip from Ace's wrist to his shoulder.

"That's bullshit and we both know it." The smile faltered on Ace's face. "I've seen you when you go without sleep. Your eyes have never gotten red like this before." The smile had completely fallen from Ace's face now. Marco was still looking at him seriously, but Ace found himself unable to meet Marco's eyes. "Ace, talk to me! What has you upset?" Marco was looking into his face with real worry, trying to catch Ace's eye, Ace studiously avoiding his attempts at eye-contact. "What had you crying recently?" Ace's head snapped up, his eyes meeting Marco's, widened with surprise. How does he- "That's the only thing that I've ever seen get your eyes red like this. You can tell me, Ace. What's wrong?" Ace stared into Marco's concerned eyes for a moment, then forced himself to break their gaze.

"I'm…fine, Marco. I'm fine."

"No, you're not "fine", Ace! Talk to me, I can help you." Ace shook his head giving a broken, humorless chuckle.

"No you can't, Marco. Not this time." Ace was about to pull away, but paused for a moment. "…I'm…I'm happy for you. I'm glad you had a good time last night. Sorry…Sorry it didn't work out so well for you." Marco was confused by Ace's sudden change of topic.

"Well, you know. Things happen." Marco smiled. "Happy memories can be enough for me." A moment of silence passed between the two.

"…You know, you never answered my question. What do you think? Does gender really matter in a relationship?" Ace waited for Marco's answer. This was the telling moment. Either Ace could truly dare to hope again or else know he was done forever. The moment stretched.

Marco was silent.

Ace turned away, not wanting to accept the truth. "Never mind. Stupid question. Just forget it." Ace pulled his shoulder from Marco's grasp and strode quickly across the mess hall and out into the corridor beyond, weaving his way down hallway after hallway, ensuring he wasn't being followed. Once he was sure he was safely away, he stumbled to a stop, falling back and leaning heavily against a wall. He sank slowly to a sitting position at its base, raising his hands and rubbing his face.

What are you doing, Ace? Ace shook his head. He didn't know. He'd never imagined there would be repercussions like this. Marco had made him hope again last night and that hope was leading Ace to blow things out of proportion. Just because he knows what I look like when I'm upset doesn't mean he's in love with me! His silence was proof enough of that!

He is in love with you.

God fucking damn it NO HE'S NOT. For the last time, I'm NOT Belle, I never HAVE been, and I never COULD be. I'm DONE hoping. Now I KNOW there's not even a REMOTE possibility of us ending up together. But Ace knew he was lying to himself. Marco had made him hope last night. Had made him hope that maybe Ace could get the fairytale ending.

It only made reality harder to accept.

He's in love with Belle. Not Ace. Never Ace. Because Ace doesn't get a happy ending. Ace felt tears coming to his eyes again. He's fallen in love with someone ELSE. Someone I can never be.

Ace didn't know how long he sat there, only that by the time he moved his joints were stiff from long stillness.

Ace wandered aimlessly about the ship. He didn't really know what to do with himself, but he needed to do something. Sitting still any longer wouldn't do him any good.

Ace didn't quite know how he got there, but he found himself seated at the piano bench at the little upright piano they had in the mess hall. One of Ace's fingers had randomly selected and pressed a key, and the note was still ringing out across the air. Ace looked around, expecting someone to tell him to stop, but he saw no one. By now pretty much all of the crew would be out ashore. Whitebeard himself usually stayed to guard the ship while they were at port, giving his children free reign to do as they pleased during their stay. If Ace had to guess, he and Whitebeard were probably the only people on the ship right now.

Ace's fingers stumbled around without any express order from his mind, searching for a specific note to follow the one they'd pressed before. They found it eventually, then stumbled around until they found the next. It took a while, but Ace began to recognize the melody.

It was the waltz from last night.

He'd subconsciously changed it, though, adding his own variations to the melody and putting it into a minor key. His left hand eventually joined in, fumbling around until it discovered a fitting accompaniment. Ace smiled sadly down at his hands, yet didn't have the heart to make them stop.

Marco frowned in annoyance. Damn the nurses and damn their expenses. Hannah (the blond one) had jumped him just before he was about to leave the ship, loading him up with the paperwork of all the money they'd spent on medical supplies. He'd dutifully accepted it and didn't start his grumbling until out of earshot. Hell if he wanted to receive work and a lecture.

Marco dumped the stack of papers on his desk with a mighty thwump. He sat himself down in his desk chair and sorted through the pile, searching for a good place to begin. After locating what he deemed to be an acceptable starting point, Marco reached for his pen. It had been a gift from Ace on his birthday last year. Ace had always been crafty and had somehow gotten a cast of what Marco's grip was like and had made him a custom pen suited specifically to his hand. It was infinitely better than his old one, which made his hand cramp something awful. Marco located the utensil, as natural in his hand as if it were an extension of his body, and moved to begin writing. It was then that he noticed something.

His inkpot was missing.

"Thatch…" Marco ground out the name dangerously, the syllable little more than a snarl. He knew better than to try checking the drawers in his room. Thatch would have hidden it somewhere more creative than that. Hell, he'd probably hidden every inkpot on the ship. Marco was the only one who needed them for official business, so it wouldn't be of great inconvenience to anyone else. Marco stood, his chair sliding back from him almost fearfully. Marco turned away from his desk and walked across the room, reaching the door and throwing it open. It was bad enough that he had to work on a day everyone else had off, yet now Thatch saw fit to make his day even worse.

Marco marched down the hallway grumpily, meaning to check all of Thatch's usual hiding places for things. He was about halfway to Thatch's room, near the kitchens, when he finally noticed it.


Marco's anger dissipated, quickly replaced with curiosity. It was coming from somewhere nearby and Marco followed his ears, eventually coming to a stop outside the mess hall doors. Who's even still on the ship? I would have thought everyone would be out ashore by now. Marco opened the door quietly, slowly, and peeked around it. His eyes widened in surprise.

It was Ace.

Ace was seated at the piano, hands languidly pursuing the piece of music. It was a waltz. It sounded…familiar, yet different. Marco couldn't put his finger on where he'd heard it before.

And then Ace started to sing.

"Yeah I want a different answer,

So I ask you once again.

But the truth's in the silence,

And this time I got it.

It's over.

Thank you for breaking my heart.

Now I know that it's in there

I left it wide open

And asked you to stay,

But you know better." Marco's eyes widened. That's why he's upset? Ace is in love with someone? Marco felt a part of him rear up and protest momentarily. But… Marco shook his head, brows furrowed. Why am I upset about this? Ace is allowed to be in love. Margo gave him a sympathetic look. …It doesn't sound like this one worked out so well, though.

"Guess I thought it wouldn't happen

And I could care until it hurt.

Damn the ironic timing

The clouds and their linings

That open up and pour.

Thank you for breaking my heart

Now I know that it's in there.

What a fool to imagine

That you'd feel the same,

But you know better.

Rain has washed the leaves away

Skeletons and stars

I'm pulling the door to

And closing the blinds

Thank you for breaking my heart

Now I know what it feels like

And it hurts so badly

Tell me this will pass

Soon and I'll know better." The last note faded into silence, the piano's gentle melody soon joining it in nothingness. Marco watched Ace with sad eyes. He wanted to go comfort him, but Marco knew what it felt like, to be rejected by someone. Ace needed some time alone.

Marco withdrew quietly from the door, turning and walking down the hall. All his previous anger was gone. Inside was that deep loneliness that had accompanied him for so long. He could sympathize with Ace, knew what it was to be turned away, shunned, rejected. He'd developed relationships in the past, but never anything long-lasting. Melancholy seemed to have marked him for her own, and every time Marco found someone he could truly see himself loving for the rest of his life they either turned him away or, in some cases, died. It was very rare that he'd ever encounter someone like that, though. Indeed, it had been years since he'd last fallen in love.

Well…before Belle.

The thought brought a smile to his face and he couldn't help remembering her beauty, her unpretentious honesty, her grace and acceptance, and her smile that seemed to make the whole world a better place. She'd been radiant, pulling Marco out of his darkness and making him believe there was someone out there he'd be willing to share his life with and who'd be willing to share theirs in return.

Marco sighed and shook his head. He needed to stop this. As much as it pained him to admit it, they'd be leaving tomorrow and it could be years until he saw her again, if he ever did see her again. He forced himself to focus on what he was doing and realized with mild surprise that he was in Thatch's room, rummaging around in his drawers.

Oh. Inkpot. Right. Marco concluded his search, coming up with nothing, and turned to leave the room.

"…Keep this. In the hope…In the hope that you'll always remember tonight with fondness." Belle's words echoed in Marco's head and he subconsciously reached down into his pocket, feeling the smooth, silky material of the hairpiece under his fingers. He treasured the flower and the memories that accompanied it and knew he always would. He pulled it out and pressed it to his face, inhaling deeply.

It still smelled like her.

It was impossible to describe how exactly she smelled. There was definitely a flowery scent there, like roses, but it was accompanied by something mellower, like white tea or mist. Beneath all of it was an even subtler scent, something barely noticeable on its own but that gave the overall smell greater depth.

Cinnamon. Cinnamon and just a touch of wood smoke.

He gently replaced the flower in his pocket, small smile curving his lips. He opened the door and exited Thatch's room.

After checking the majority of the ship and coming up with nothing, Marco was running out of ideas of where to look. He'd checked Thatch's room, all of the hiding places in the kitchens, the shipwright's workshop, the medical supply closet, the food supply closet, the storage halls…he was going crazy. How in the world could someone manage to hide every single inkpot on the god damned ship in such a way that Marco couldn't find even one?

Marco shoved open Ace's door, already knowing he wasn't in there as he'd seen him on the deck moments ago. As usual, Ace's room was just the slightest bit messy. It wasn't…unappealingly so, just enough to give the room a friendly, lived-in feel.

Marco crossed the room to Ace's desk first, meaning to search the drawers. He paused, though, catching sight of an open book on Ace's desk. It was simple, bound in worn brown leather. It was open to a page about a third of the way through the thing, and only a small portion of the page was occupied with writing. Marco, recognizing the journal for what it was, looked away. Ace deserved his privacy.

Marco searched the drawers of Ace's desk first and came up with nothing. Well, of course there was stuff in Ace's drawers, just now what Marco was looking for. Marco moved on shortly, searching (childish as it may seem) under Ace's bed. Thatch had hidden shit there before. Again finding nothing, Marco grumblingly turned to the closet.

Opening the door and rummaging around, Marco didn't find anything he didn't expect to find. Clean clothes either folded or hanging, a pile of laundry that needed washing in a hamper in the right corner, and one random, apparently displaced sock on the floor. Marco was about to shut the door and try to think of somewhere else to look when something caught his eye.

Red. Red like blood, red like sunset, red like a cardinal's wing.

Red like roses.

Marco stared at that red, mind uncomprehending. Slowly, hesitantly, Marco reached down and touched it. It was soft and smooth, like silk. Marco's hand closed around the fabric and he pulled it out, bringing it further into his view. He stood from his crouched position, bringing it with him. As he stood it unfolded, revealing itself for what it really was.

As he saw the whole thing, the dress fell from his shock-loosened fingers.

Marco's mind wasn't functioning. Wh…What? What is this? What is this doing here? He pulled the rose from his pocket with a shaking and compared it to the dress. He seriously doubted there was another dress anywhere in the world like the one Belle had been wearing last night, but he needed to confirm that this really was the same dress.

The fabrics matched perfectly.

Marco reached out a hand, almost believing that this simply couldn't be real, that it wasn't possible. What was Belle's dress doing in Ace's closet? Marco started.

"No, you're not "fine", Ace! Talk to me, I can help you." Ace shook his head giving a broken, humorless chuckle.

"No you can't, Marco. Not this time." Marco's eyes were wide.

"I bet it was some tranny in disguise."

"Would it really matter, though? I mean, Marco had a great time last night. Does the gender of the person he was with matter all that much? Isn't the person underneath more important?" Ace cast Marco a fleeting, anxious glance. Marco couldn't believe this.

"Yeah I want a different answer

So I ask you once again

But the truth's in the silence

And this time I got it

It's over." Marco truly couldn't believe what was becoming more and more apparent.

"Thank you for breaking my heart

Now I know that it's in there

What a fool to imagine

That you'd feel the same

But you know better." Marco shook his head and ran over to Ace's desk, seeking confirmation for what he was coming to understand. Ace's clear handwriting was as legible as ever, the words glaring at him from off the page.

You lean in for your last kiss.

Who in this world could ask me to resist?

Your hands cold as they find my neck

Oh this love that I've found I regret.

Marco stared at the words in dumbfounded silence. At the top of the page his brain registered the date, October sixth. He hesitated one final moment, then flipped back to the previous page.

October 5th

Marco's eyes took in the drawing, the crushed rose, the dying vine curled around the black lamppost, its oily yellow light the only illumination.

Twelve o'clock.

Along the reaches of the street… The poem went on, Marco only briefly scanning it. The page was more brittle than it should have been, almost like it had been wet and then dried. It clicked in Marco's brain.

It wasn't just water. It was tears.

"Because I've been terribly, terribly selfish, Marco."

"You're not a monster, Marco. I don't want you to ever call yourself that again."

"I'm so sorry, Marco. I never meant to hurt you. Please know that."

Tears began forming in her eyes. "I never was Beauty. I always have been and always will be the Beast. The Beast that you'll never love."

Marco stumbled back, sitting on the edge of Ace's bed. He stared at his hands, mind running over everything he'd discovered, trying to come across some error in his logic, something to disprove the truth that was all around him.

Marco sat there in silence, unaware of the passage of time. He was too deep in thought, too deep in shock. Ace was Belle. Bell had practically outright said that she loved him. That meant Ace had said it.

Ace loved him.

Marco couldn't even begin to comprehend that fact. Something in him stirred, though. The same part of him that had felt that instant, violent pang of jealousy when he'd deduced Ace was in love based on his song.

That part of him had gotten larger.

A memory, something from a long time ago, struck Marco.

"You are you. It doesn't matter who your parents are or what you've done in the past." Marco crouched down and squeezed Ace's shoulder. "You're a good person, Ace. I know you are. Nothing else matters. Not your name, not your blood, not your past. Nothing matters besides who you are as a human being. And you're a good human being, Ace." The words played themselves out in Marco's mind. He'd meant every word he'd said then. So now the question stood.

Was he going to hold Ace to a double standard?

He'd said nothing mattered besides the person Ace was underneath everything else. Was gender included in that? Marco had never considered himself gay and had never had any kind of intimate relationship with a man. Other memories surfaced. A bright smile that Marco wanted no more than to keep there forever, that lit up a whole room, a graceful form looping and twirling in his arms, compassion and acceptance beyond what Marco usually found in others…

He'd said he was in love. He'd explicitly said it to himself.

More memories bombarded him. A trickster's grin, a sleepy, barely-cognizant "good morning" as Ace brought him coffee at 4 in the morning when he had watch, the genuine smile that had been on Ace's face every time he'd brought said coffee despite the early hour, the caring, thoughtful side of Ace that noticed Marco's winces as he used his old pen and had spent weeks custom making him a new one…

Marco came to his final conclusion, shocked that it had taken him this long.

He'd thought he'd loved Belle, but that wasn't quite right. He recognized now that even when he thought he'd been happy with Belle, it hadn't been through any original quality of hers, but only through the qualities of her that reminded him of Ace.

He loved Ace.

I need to talk to him. Tell him that I know about last night. Marco was excited now. Excited that he'd finally come to a conclusion, a conclusion that had been waiting for him for so very, very long but had gone unnoticed. He walked briskly to the door, but paused, hand on the handle.

"Thank you for breaking my heart

Now I know that it's in there

What a fool to imagine

That you'd feel the same

But you know better." The words sung themselves in Marco's mind and he considered them anxiously. …Did Ace give up? Does he not care anymore? Has he turned away? Marco threw open the door and rushed out into the hallway. That can't be. Not now. Not when I've finally gotten my act together! He was practically sprinting his way to the deck. He wasn't about to let this most recently discovered love fall through, not when he felt so damn sure about this one, so damn right.

Ace stared up at the sky from his position up in the crow's nest. The clouds ambled past leisurely and It really was a beautiful day. The nice weather did nothing to cheer him up, though, yet he continued to stare at the clouds, hoping to sink deep enough into a reverie to escape the heartbreak, even if it was only for a little while.

An inhuman screech cut off his zoning out and the sound had him sitting bolt upright and looking around for the source. His eyes roved over the deck quickly, and honed in on the source of the noise.

It was a cat. Almost a kitten, really.

A kitten that happened to be cornered by a large and rather unfriendly looking dog.

The cat had been backed up into a corner and was left with nowhere to run. The dog was snarling down at it over four parallel scratches on its nose, clearly from the almost-kitten's claws. Ace decided then and there to intervene. He'd never really liked dogs, not since a wolf had bitten a chunk out of his arm when he was 10.

Ace jumped to the deck and jogged up to the dog and cornered cat. They both seemed to hear him approach and the dog turned to look at him, the cat sizing him up over the dog's shoulder. Ace addressed the dog.

"You. Scram. Now." The dog snarled menacingly at him, clearly unwilling to back off its cornered prey. Ace glared at it. "Bad move, buster."

Ace dove at the dog, too fast for it to react. He grabbed it, rolled, and presently chucked it over the side of the ship. It gave a yip of surprise as it was sent tumbling into the cold water below. Ace gave a satisfied smile and moved into a more comfortable position, sitting on the bow of the ship, leaning back against the railing.

The cat was close by, staring at him with an expression of surprise and mild awe. A moment of silence passed between the two, then Ace reached out with a smile, meaning to pet the little creature.

The cat hissed at him and moved back, stopping a good 4 feet away from him, sitting down imperiously, and staring at him down the length of its nose. Ace looked back at the cat.

"You're not very nice, are you kitty?" Ace gave a sad smile and drew his knees up to his chest, his momentarily forgotten heartache returning. "That's okay. I'm not very nice either." The cat seemed less distant and almost curious. It seemed to sense his sad, lonely mood and looked almost like it felt sympathetic. "I think I used to be nice, but now all I am is selfish." Ace let his eyes fall closed. "I'm such a jerk. I never even thought about the repercussions. I just acted." He sighed deeply.

The cat stood and took a hesitant step toward him. It paused, front paw barely touching the ground, staring up at him with those green eyes. It meowed. When Ace made no response it walked closer, coming to stop just beside him and laying down in typical meatloaf-cat fashion. It purred quietly. Ace opened his eyes long enough to look down at the cat, then closed them again with a sad, sardonic chuckle.

"Look. Even you're a better person than I am." He sighed. "And I'm even more of a jerk than I previously thought I was. I mean, look at all that I gained last night, all that I'd never even begun to deserve yet received anyway, making my best friend foot the emotional bill and I have the nerve to be depressed? He gave me more than I ever dreamed I'd get. I should be grateful and happy, but I'm not. I lied to my best friend and now I'm just disregarding everything he gave me." Ace bowed his head, resting his forehead on his knees so his face was no longer visible.

"…I wish I wasn't this way. I wish I wasn't selfish and ungrateful." Ace felt the tears once more rising to his eyes. "I'm so selfish. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Here I am wishing I could be Belle, wishing I had the means to steal even more joy from the man I love. But I can't. It's time to let the delusion die." A sob forced its way up Ace's throat and the first tear rolled down his face.

"Wearing that mask felt so nice. For once I could let myself say all the things I always wished I could, tell Marco how much he means to me, tell him how amazing I think he is. I think I'd like to glue that mask on. Never take it off again. Belle and Marco could have been happy together. Belle and Marco could have had the fairytale ending. But not Ace and Marco." Ace's eyes closed softly, more tears funning down his face. His next words were little more than a whisper. "…Not Ace and Marco."

"Why not?" Ace's eyes shot open and his head flew up from its previous position, angling instantly towards the source of his voice.

"M-Marco!" Ace scrambled to his feet, hastily wiping the tears from his face. He could feel his heart freezing in his chest. Oh dear God, how much of that did he hear? Ace could feel his world coming crashing down around him. Any minute now Marco would reject him, tell him to piss off and never come near him again. He'd be disgusted over what had happened last night and disgusted with Ace for making it happen. Sure Ace would see Marco again, they were in the same crew after all, but Marco would avoid him and any contact they had would be cold. Ace could all too clearly see his future racing towards him. There was no getting out of this one, depending on what Marco had heard. "…How long have you been there?"

"Long enough." Ace felt his heart shatter at the words. He'd heard all of it. Or at least enough to deduce the obvious conclusion. Ace bit his lip and bowed his head, looking away, trying not to let his heartbreak show on his face.

"I…" The syllable shook and Ace swallowed hard, trying to force the painful lump out of his throat. "J…Just forget about it. I'm…sorry. I'll never…I'll never mention it again." Ace grit his teeth and waited, waited for what he was sure Marco was about to say, waited for the pain in his chest that he knew would never, never go completely away.

The moment stretched, Ace waiting for the inevitable heartbreak,

"You didn't answer my question." Ace looked up at him in confusion.

"What?" Marco's face was dead serious.

"I said you didn't answer my question."

"…What question?" Marco's eyes were staring into his own, searching for answers.

"Well, you said something a moment ago that I don't agree with. I want you to tell me why you said it." He moved suddenly, too fast for Ace to react. He was directly in front of him in an instant, left hand around Ace's neck, fingers threaded in his hair. His right hand brushed some stray strands from Ace's face and his half-lidded blue eyes stared into Ace's widened grey ones.

Their faces were so close Ace could feel Marco's breath on his cheeks.

Ace was certain his heart had stopped beating. He didn't dare breathe, didn't dare move, did nothing but stare up into Marco's remarkably blue eyes. A small smile came to Marco's face and his voice dropped to a whisper that left Ace tingling. "So tell me…" Marco's right arm dropped to Ace's waist and pulled him closer, their bodies flush against each other.

"…Why don't you think Ace and Marco can have the fairytale ending?"

(A/N: And that's a wrap. Liked this ending better than the last one? But I kinda left you high and dry at the end there, didn't I? It's not like you don't know where this is going, though. ;)

For those of you interested, the song Ace sung is called Thank You for Breaking My Heart by Ben Folds Five. The little piece of verse in Ace's journal comes from the Mumford and Sons song Liar. They're both awesome songs. You should look them up. MOVING ON.

…I'm contemplating writing a semi-sequel to this story (an entirely separate fic). It'd be a heck of a lot darker than this fic (why oh why can I not seem to write anything happy?!) and centered around the events regarding a certain fuck up named Marshall D. Teach. The pairing would still be MarcoxAce and there would most ASSUREDLY be a different conclusion than Marineford. Anyone interested in reading it if I do decide to write it? Let me know! I don't want to write something there won't be an audience for. Well…See you when I see you, I guess! Please review! You'd really make me happy!