Chapter 4: Acceptance
It had taken two weeks.
And he had never felt more alive when those two weeks were up.
Finally, the curse that Fate had given him was up. Time had finally allowed him to move on, to die. It was refreshing, it was like finding something you never knew you were missing. He would get one more life span, and then it would all be over. A new phoenix would be chosen to enter and guide this world, and he would finally be laid to rest once it did.
He didn’t really remember the two weeks in which he died. All there were was a darkness that enveloped him, coursing through his veins as it renewed his body, his very soul. It breathed in life within every cell, his nerves on heighten senses and adrenaline pushing through his limbs. It felt like he was in a bath of fire, one that soothed away his worries and pains, one that healed the scars on his skin and made him a new person who had never went through such hardships and battles. A weight lifted from his shoulders, allowing him to breathe and his doubts seemed to melt away, a smile working its way on his face even without his knowledge.
It felt like he was home.
Distantly he heard a bell being rung, calling him over and over again with barely any stops in between. He felt something stir in his mind, something that was telling him to open his eyes and wake up to the world because he had one more job to do before surrendering himself to the fire that made him feel so alive. But he couldn’t open his eyes because then this feeling would leave him and he was afraid he would never see it again. He wanted to stay curled up in the darkened fire, being comforted by the flames that licked at his skin.
He didn’t want to leave.
Still, the bell called him, now on the eight ring. He felt the fire, the fire that had always been with him, move ad shift, conveying the message that it did not want to leave him as much as he did, but it needed him to wake up because it wasn’t time yet. Soon, it seemed to whisper. Soon you can come back. And then the fire exploded behind his eyelids into reds and oranges and yellows, and suddenly everything came back into the focus and all he could think of was Ace. He could only picture Ace and nothing else and there was a desperate need to get back to the brunette, to hold him tight and promise never to leave his side again because Ace couldn’t imagine a life without him as much as he could imagine a life without Ace.
He had to leave.
He had to get to Ace.
He had to go home.
The sixteenth ringing of a bell called him, and his eyes opened.
He did not recognize the place, there was no signs of civilization around him to speak of and only the flora and fauna occupied the island. He searched for food first and found a small cave big enough to house him while he got his head together.
His chest, his pride, was still there in the purple ink and without a scar on it. It still stood out against his tan skin, his muscles still seemed define. While his clothes were burnt, his pack that he kept in his pocket at all time was not damaged, nor was his anklet. He would have to go shopping for new clothes at this rate because he couldn’t show his face to his family without them worrying he was about to die at the slightest movement.
So he would bide his time, he checked his abilities, his memories, finding that even though he had died he was still the same even if he was no longer immortal. He had found out in an incident about two days after waking up here and found he no longer healed like before, but it was now his fire that healed him. He was ashamed to say that he almost died that day simply because he had gotten use to nothing being able to kill him. It would be the ultimate blunder then, being killed after you had come back from the dead.
It was about a week or so after he woke up that he got what he needed and headed towards the rumored destination of the Whitebeard Pirates.
He was going home.
It was harder than normal to find them as they weren’t on an island, but rather on the ocean where there was no magnetic current leading him to them. It was really annoying because then it took even longer to find them. But he finally did, landing on the railing right before dawn when no one was up and the time where most watchers were too busy changing posts to notice anything out of the ordinary. And there he waited for the others to arrive, his black cloak around him and his hood up, wondering if they would still welcome him even after he had taken so long to get back.
It had been two or three weeks since they lost their first division commander, their first mate, and no one was taking it well. Whitebeard tried to keep it together, and he did to some extent, but no one was willing to take up the absent spot of the first mate, hoping beyond hope that he would return even though it was impossible to come back from the dead.
The commanders ran their divisions well for the most part, the workload being managed in a suitable manner. But then problems would come up, responsibilities they weren’t use to and would have usually gone to Marco for help with. And then halfway to his room they would remember he was no longer there.
It was heartbreaking, their older brother who they had always relied on, was no longer there.
But the person who took it the hardest was the youngest brother.
He kept up with his duties as the second commander, and did whatever was needed of him, but that light that shown so brightly was no longer there. The smile that lit up the night sky and lifted their sorrows never showed itself, and when he didn’t have duties to do, he would hold up in his, their room and sit there for hours, not really paying attention to anything. And late at night, when his memories were the strongest and his presence felt so real as if he was really there, he would cry. He wrapped himself in their covers, pressed one of his jackets to his face, his scent all around him and tears would leak through closed eyelids. His eyes got darker as the days passed from lack of sleep, and the more miserable he got when he looked at the sky because the sky had belonged to Marco and no one will be able to feel that freedom again because no one held as much spirit as Marco. No one knew as much as Marco, no one had felt freer than him and no one ever would because the sky belonged to Marco and Marco alone. And Marco belonged to the sky, where he forever would.
And while he was up in the sky, Ace couldn’t follow because he was stuck on the ground.
It was three weeks after the war when a commotion happened on deck, the commanders being called as well as the captain for the problem and the other crewmates behind them because they didn’t know how to deal with the threat of an enemy that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
And there, on the far side of the railing, was a figure that crouched on the white wood with black hiding him with a newspaper in his hand, the newspaper from almost a week ago. When Luffy rang the Ox Bell at Marineford. It hung loosely in his grip, and though they couldn’t see his face or any of his features, they could tell he was looking at them.
“Who are you?” Oyaji demanded, his voice leaving no room for defying him. It didn’t seem to faze the man though.
“Sorry old man, but it seems like Fate has already chosen who will find it.” His voice, while familiar, was out of their grasp to make a connection to this person in front of them and who they had might possibly have known. He stared at the newspaper for a moment longer before he let the paper go, the pages flowing in the wind, disappearing with a sigh from his lips.
“Who are you?” he repeated, curiosity in his gaze.
“Didn’t I tell you old man? When an new era starts, a phoenix is reborn.” It was a simple statement, nothing to reveal his identity yet it answered their question without giving anything up. Because the words on the battlefield almost a month ago rang in their heads, their first division commander telling that damned red dog that he wouldn’t be following them into the next era.
“Marco…” it was almost in disbelief, no, it was disbelief. Because here, in front of them, was the man that they thought was dead for almost a month, sitting here as if he wasn’t gone or hadn’t died. But still they were afraid. What if this was some cruel joke from Fate that was sent to play with them? They would kill the person if it turned out to be false.
The next moment dispelled all doubt though. With a raise of his hand he tore off his hood and let his coat hang open. And there he was, the same blonde hair, the sky blue eyes, the tanned features, and a lopsided grin in place. His chest still bore the mark of Whitebeard, as if the injury that killed him never happened and this past month was just a nightmare that they haven’t been able to wake up until now from.
Because the person who stood in front of them was Marco, their brother.
“Sorry I’ve been gone so long.”
And then Ace, who has snapped out of shock faster than the others, rushes forward and tackles the blonde onto the deck, his arms wrapping around him and never letting go because even if it is just a dream he doesn’t want to wake up because Marco is here and alive and real. Ace holds him tight because the very thought of letting go is unbearable and he doesn’t think he could because it would mean he was okay with letting go and he’s not. He never will be.
Ace feels arms wrap around him, comforting him, letting him know that he is there and alive and not going anywhere. And for the first time in three weeks he cries into Marco’s shoulder because he was so scared and didn’t know what to do and will never know what to do and never to leave him again because it was so lonely and he felt as if he had died inside because Marco was no longer there. And he answers in his lingering touches, promises unspoken, that will never be broken, that he won’t leave and will always be there for him. It’s a promise that he isn’t going anywhere without him and will stand by his side for the rest of their life. It’s a declaration of the words that he never got to say to Ace before then, a silent I love you that made Ace choke because he could literally feel the raw love that the blonde held for him and it made him breathless.
It was all okay now. Marco was here, everything would be fine.
A party is held, Ace never leaving Marco side with his arms wrapped around the blonde’s waist, said blonde with an arm thrown over the fire’s shoulder. They can see the changes within the blonde. They’re small, almost unnoticeable, but still there.
The lingering darkness behind his eyes are gone, the pressure that was on his shoulders has been lifted, and his smile so much brighter. It was as if Marco had been dead inside until then and until recently he was just beginning to live his life. It made them happy, Marco was finally free from the chains that kept his captured. He was free to fly and never come down until he wanted to. He was finally allowed to live.
After everyone was passed out with only Marco and Ace left sober, they retreated to the back of the deck, arms wrapped around one another as they embraced. Ace left kisses on his neck, his hands trailing down his body to prove that he was real and not going anywhere. He wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a dream and when he woke up the next morning it would be a harsh wake up call to find out this was all a dream and it would leave him with wounds that wouldn’t heal. And Marco allowed him to trace every muscle, let his hands wander because he knew the feeling of possibly never being able to see the other again, knew the terrifying thought of this all being a dream. So he allowed him to be dragged into their room, nothing changed in the time he was gone until now.
This is a lemonish scene. It does not go into detail - mainly emotions.
Ace wrapped his arms around Marco’s neck, his lips desperate for the contact he hadn’t had in months. He gave in easily, being just as desperate if not more so for the contact. Ace wanted him to take control, wanted to feel as if nothing had changed in the time they were away from one another. His hands traced every crease in his body, every line as they kissed. Marco tugged at their clothes, his shirt the first to come off followed by them kicking off their shoes. Tongues pushed their way into mouths, teeth clicking together in the attempt to get even closer.
Soon they were tangle within one another, Ace’s legs wrapped around Marco’s waist, pushing their cores together because that’s what they needed more than anything. They needed to feel the other surrounding him, filling him, so they know that this isn’t just a dream that will turn to sorrows the next morning. They needed the physical connection they both craved, the feeling of that they had never left and the scars that had been imprinted on their hearts to heal.
Marco carried him over to their bed, caressing his body, leaving kisses everywhere and not letting a single part of him untouched. It went on like this for what could have been for minutes or hours, but then Ace felt a burning need in him that told the flame user he couldn’t wait any longer and needed the phoenix in him, needed to feel him in every way because he was so desperate that he would lose him if they didn’t. Marco complied easily, feeling the same instinct take hold of him as he kissed the flame user, making sure he couldn’t think of anything but him as he shifted their hips to align. And before Marco could slowly push their hips together, Ace slammed down on him, making them both cry out from the sudden movement.
Ace couldn’t have waited though, couldn’t have let him take his time because he needed him and needed him now. He felt Marco fill him, felt his whole being accept the blonde wholly and pressed against him further, needing the contact more than anything in the world. After a few brief seconds Marco started to move, hitting the perfect spot over and over again even as he continued to kiss Ace like it was the last moments on Earth. Ace clawed at his back, relishing in the fact that he could lay mark to him in such a way that no one else could.
Hours later, when they were exhausted and had made love for so long, they just laid there, listening to one another’s heartbeat and breathing, Marco still in Ace and had no protest of staying. Their arms and legs tangled together, making it hard to tell where one began and ended. They laid there for hours, breathing in one another’s scent and sweat, making it permanent in their minds for they never wanted to lose this feeling of wholeness ever again.
And then Ace pressed his face in the crook of Marco’s shoulder and neck, and cried with relief. Marco tangled his hand into Ace’s black locks, trying to comfort him in the only way he knew how by pressing him closer to the older man. It helped, because soon after he was able to speak proper sentences and not just blabber like he was trying to do a moment ago. He still kept his face his Marco’s neck, his arms around his shoulders even as Marco repositioned them so his own arms were wrapped around Ace’ back to hold him closer.
“Why? Why did you do something so stupid? Why…why did you die?” he said through his heartbroken sobs that utterly broke his heart. “Why did you die…for me? Why didn’t you just let him get to me instead?” But Marco wasn’t going to let Ace doubt his worth, wasn’t going allow him to think he should have been the one to punch through instead. Because if Ace had been punched through, he would have been forever lost. Marco had a chance to come back, however small, but Ace didn’t.
“Ace, look at me,” Marco commanded, Ace’s face turning to him in response. “It wouldn’t have mattered if I had been punched through or not-” Ace tried to break through, but Marco pushed on. Ace had to understand it was hopeless for him since the beginning. “I was dying Ace, my time had run out. If I hadn’t taken that punch, I would have died on the way to escape because my body wasn’t strong enough to hold out. And even if that wasn’t the case, I don’t regret anything I did. Ace, I wouldn’t have survived your death, I would have tried ten times harder to find a way to end my life and leave the crew if you had died. I did it, and would do it again, in a heartbeat because I love you.”
Marco doesn’t want to ruin the look in Ace’s eyes, doesn’t want that light to be clouded by anything but he has to warn him, has to get right to the situation because Ace will wonder what the answer is but never ask himself because he’s afraid of the answer he might get.
“Ace, if I die this time around, if I am killed and do not heal, I won’t return. If that does not happen, and the era ends before that, I will go with it. Three weeks ago was my burning day, the day when a phoenix dies. It took me so long to be reborn because no one had taken the steps to start a new era until Luffy rang the Ox Bell sixteen times. The only reason I even came back when the bell reached me was because I thought of you. There is no other reason I’m back, so don’t you dare think of doing something stupid because I’ll be right behind you.”
But the light is still in Ace’s eyes, it’s brighter and seems to be happier than he had ever seen it. He’s smiling and looking so relieved that it’s hard to take his eyes off of him, and then their kissing again and he knows everything will be alright, because Ace is here and Ace means that everything is okay because they’re together and that’s all that matters.
And beyond the world, beyond the concept of time and reality, a woman watches down at them. Everything has finally gone to Fate’s plans, and nothing was derailed this time. The woman smiles, happy with the way things have finally gone.
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