Hi guys. So, this is not only my first fanfic, but it's also my first complete story. So critics, be nice please. This is a short 19 page piece from what I imagine to be a much larger story. I am not sure if I should write that story however. If I do, it would be multiple chapters. So, review and let me know how I did and if I should write that story. Thank you!
Oh, I own nothing.
And I edited this. That's why it's reposted.
I heard the door creak as I sat in my bed below the deck of the whitebeard ship. I had been in here all day (and yesterday) and was trying to find a position that wouldn't hurt either my back or my shoulder, but unfortunately I was unsuccessful. Every movement made my back flare up in pain and, when I flinched from the cruel tormenter, my shoulder was jostled; causing enough pain to put me in a feeble position. I knew I could easily get some painkillers from the ship's doctor but I didn't dare. To do so would require that I tell him why I was in pain. I couldn't let him see the scars and the cuts and the bruises I received from captivity. If he saw them he would surely tell him. As far as the crew knew, I was merely starved while in that hellhole. I didn't want their pity. No, that wasn't it. Deep down I knew that I just wanted to curl up and be held. Not by anyone, but by him. I wanted to have the warmth of his arms around me drive away any trace of guilt; to feel safe. But that would mean he would find out that I lied. If he held me there would be no way I could keep it all in. He would never look at me the same again. I should have been stronger, no, I wouldn't think about it. I couldn't let the tears show even in the sanctity and secrecy of my room.
I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn't hear the door creak. I didn't hear the steps that grew steadily louder. I didn't hear the short uneven puffs of air. I didn't notice any of this until I felt a hand touch mine. I yanked it back only to see the hurt in his eyes.
"Ace, what are you doing in here? We had a deal!" Shortly after we had started noticing and accepting our feelings for one another I had set rules. I admit the list was long and I had fully expected him to grow upset and never talk to me again after he had seen my conditions. After all, they basically restricted everything a man wants. Men don't like being restricted. I knew that much. But, to my surprise, he laughed when he saw the list. He patted me on the head and promised. I never understood how a male could have that much patience but I ignored my questions in favor of my feelings. One of the rules I had most adamantly enforced was that he could never enter my room.
Obviously his patience had worn thin. He quickly took a seat next to me on my bed. I noticed a seriousness replace his usual playful and carefree expression. "What happened?" He wasn't the first to ask and I was fully confident that he would not be the last.
I simply replied with the same indifference that I had shown everyone else, despite the fact that I knew he was far from everyone else. "Not much. They wanted information; I pretended I didn't have any. You came shortly after." The lie burned my mouth. It hurt to lie to him and I couldn't look at him when I said this despite the fact that he was sitting right next to me on the bed. I could lie to my pops without a second thought on the matter but I couldn't do it with him.
"Why don't you trust me?" I started to protest when he cut me off. "Don't play bull with me!"
Not the yelling. I could take the pain but anger and yelling would break me; especially if it came from him. I couldn't help but flinch and ignored the pain in my shoulder. I went on instinct and shut down all emotions. I refused to show weakness. I wouldn't let anyone use it against me. I mentally prepared myself for a blow that was sure to come. Men can never control their fists when anger is on the table. I sat there for a minute at least, waiting for the hit. I heard him let out a breath but it didn't seem as harsh this time. Seconds later I felt something on my face. It wasn't a fist and it wasn't a slap. It was a caress. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell." I opened one eye and saw his face near mine. His expression froze my thoughts and halted my defense instincts.
How could I forget! This was Ace. He would never hit me. Guilt washed over me as I realized what he must have seen and felt.
"Don't do that" He pleaded. "Stop doing that to yourself. Just tell me what's wrong. Let me help." Before I could deny that anything was wrong he interrupted me again. This time his voice was soft. "I know something happened. You never were very affectionate but you would at least let me hold your hand. When I reach for it, even if we are alone, you get this look on your face. Fear. Why are you scared of me?" He again reached for my hand and I forced myself not to retract it. Once he grabbed it, he squeezed. Not nearly hard enough to hurt but firm enough to tell me he was there and that he was happy I let him have this moment of affection.
Despite this knowledge, I momentarily wanted to take my hand out of his, but the warmth I felt immobilized it. Helpless, I simply allowed myself to enjoy the feeling I had been denying myself for the last two weeks. I was so absorbed in his hand that I didn't notice his face inching towards mine. I knew what was coming but I couldn't, I just couldn't kiss him.
"No!" I cried out. I couldn't help it then. Tears threatened my eyes. The images, the memories, they wouldn't get out of my head! Before I could react I felt strong arms go around my head and my lower back; just missing the wounds.
"This is what I mean. Before, you would have smacked me. Now this. Now, when I try to kiss you, you duck away and cover your mouth. You've been hiding out in your room for two days! What did they do to you?"
The memories assaulted my head as I recalled them trying to gain information on the whitebeard crew. Information I didn't have because I had mainly isolated myself from the majority of the crew. They had asked how Ace escaped from Impel Down. I'd be damned if I told them how I snuck him out while whitebeards men caused a scene. Instead I decided to reply with a sarcastic retort. This of course eventually got me thrown against a wall, knocking my arm out of its socket. It took me days to get it back in place with my handcuffs on. Even now, I wasn't sure if I had done it correctly. I remembered their harsh words that told me I was worthless; how the crew wasn't looking for me because they simply didn't care. They told me it would stop if I would just turn on the crew and spill their secrets. I, of course, knew none of their secrets due to the fact that I never took the time to get to know anyone other than Thatch, Marco, and Ace. Even if I did, I would never have ratted on the people close to Ace. They decided pain would be the best way to loosen my tongue. Yet despite all their beatings I never told them anything useful. They tried to force me to explain why Ace survived. Why he was alive and healthy, but I continued to refuse. Despite the threats, despite the lashes to my back, they did not get that information from me. I was successful. But then, why did I still feel so worthless. Every time Ace touched me, those words echoed through my head. I knew he wasn't them but I couldn't help but wonder if Ace thought the same. I was terrified at the possibilities of what could happen if he knew the identity of the person responsible for my kidnapping. Would he leave the crew and me to take his revenge? Would he be angry enough at my weakness he would yell at me again? Or, would he be so disgusted that I was captured by him that he would never speak to me again? I was too selfish to let him leave me; even if it would be for the best. These thoughts had plagued my mind since I returned, and they had gotten so bad that for the past two days I couldn't look at him for fear of what he would see. So I hid in my room thinking this would all go away.
"I don't care what they did," His words echoed through my sub conscious. I felt his arms tighten around me and then I couldn't hold it in anymore. Those damn arms. This damn embrace. They were tearing down my walls. I needed those walls dammit! I clutched onto him despite my shoulder and my tears poured out as I wailed into the junction of his shoulder and neck. I had lasted two weeks but now it was all over. He would find out everything.
"I feel so helpless!" I sobbed. I felt his arms go rigid around me. Here it comes I thought to myself.
"Did they…" He seemed to be struggling with the sentence, "do anything…irreversible?"
I shook my head into his arms and clutched tighter; understanding what he meant. "No," I felt his shoulders sag with relief. I briefly wondered if he would be relieved if he realized just how true his suspicions were. Of course they did something irreversible. The cuts on my back would scar and never fade. I knew that wasn't what he meant, but I couldn't help contemplating the double meaning of his words. Then I reflected upon the worry I had not only caused him but the crew as well. I knew at least to an extent the amount of pain I caused him by the fact that he held me as if he couldn't bear the thought of letting go. I'd only made his worries increase these past two weeks no doubt. It was probably eating him up inside that I still refused to tell him who did this. But if I did, he would leave again. There's no way we could save him from Blackbeard a second time. I was so thankful that the almost murderer was nowhere to be seen when I was rescued. His attempted murder of Thatch caused Ace to leave the crew to search for him. He was gone for such a long time, I nearly lost track of it. Thank Kami-sama my capturer only left two bums to guard me on the night of my rescue; two bums who weren't even aware of who they were working for. I had no way of knowing exactly what he had felt like for three and a half weeks. The pain I must have caused him flared up inside me in the form of guilt.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." I kept murmuring. I couldn't stop. The guilt was eating me alive. Yet I could not do the only thing that would relieve it; telling him the truth. Even if I did, he would only be angry at me for keeping it a secret in the first place. Maybe even angry enough to leave! If only I had been strong enough to elude capture. I should have known that the two men were not just mere drunks. I was too naïve and let my guard down in that bar after listening to them talk about their daughters. I even agreed to help walk them out of the bar due to their intoxication. Why I decided to have a drink at a bar in an unfamiliar port was beyond me. I had no one and nothing to blame for my kidnapping other than myself. "It was entirely my fault! It's always my fault." He would have every right to be angry.
"Don't be. Don't ever let me hear you apologize for this again. It is not your fault." Had I said that out loud? Regardless, the emotional comfort I felt from his words masked some of the physical pain. He wasn't going to leave? Relief flooded my body and I could only nod into his shoulder. Things would be ok. Maybe after my secret injuries healed I could tell him about them. And tell him what happened. My hopes of procrastination were dashed as I felt his head drop to rest on my shoulder and cause the once muted pain to flare up full force. I cried out and his head snapped back up. His eyes were wide with something I couldn't comprehend. He reached for my shoulder but I scooted back to avoid him. However, I couldn't avoid my strangled cry as my back hit the head board.
He tried to reach for me again but before I could stop myself I cried out, "Don't touch me!"
Shock registered on his face, then confusion, then another expression I couldn't determine. Was it determination? "I don't care what they did. You shouldn't need me to tell you that." I looked down. He was upset. Upset by my lack of trust in him. Perhaps I could have trusted him; if it weren't for the fear that overshadowed my emotions. In addition to that feeling of fear, I felt shame at disappointing him even though, if I knew all of this beforehand, I still wouldn't have told him anything. I stared at my hands in regret. My wrists were hidden by long sleeves that I had continuously worn after my rescue in order to hide the bruising and abrasions from the hand cuffs. Luckily we had been in a colder climate since departing and no one had noticed any oddity in it. Although I did occasionally notice Ace glancing at my arms with his brows furrowed. Did he know I was deceiving him even then? I felt so disgusted with myself. My thoughts were once again interrupted by his low soothing voice. "Let me help," he repeated. I had no idea what he wanted to help with. There was nothing he could do. "Don't you trust me?" He looked into my eyes and, despite my doubts, I couldn't help but nod.
Of course I trusted him. I wouldn't be in a relationship with him if I didn't. He cracked my walls enough to squeeze himself in despite the vow I had made to myself never to trust a man. He had gotten me to join this crew and sail on a boat mainly full of men; that was no easy feat. Because of him I could talk to Marco and Thatch in a normal conversation; when they weren't drunk of course. Despite Ace's best efforts I refused to be around any man when he was near any amount of liquor; whether he was drunk or not. My lapse in judgment on the night of the kidnapping was the only exception, and it would never happen again.
I thought back to my first day on the ship.
My shoulders still stung from the scar I had received from the burns of Smoker's capture of me. The word traitor burned into my skin. The wrap I had around my shoulders constantly rubbed against it causing even more pain, but I refused to show the world my shame. That I had been able to be captured at all was the peak of it. In the end I had been unable to save anyone and was now despised by the village I had lived in.
"Stop over thinking everything," Ace's whisper in my ear startled me out of my thoughts while sending shiver down my spine.
"Don't do that!" I snapped. Chuckling evilly he asked, "Do what?"
"You know what! Stop startling me!" I replied; irritated at his easy going nature and his determination to get under my skin.
"Careful," he warned with a smirk, "that sharp attitude might scare me away,"
"Please, after chasing me around like a lovesick puppy for three weeks, I highly doubt my words will get you to finally leave me alone." I playfully mocked him, uncertainty edged in my words. Had I gone too far? I wasn't used to joking around with men. What if he didn't take it the way I meant for him too? What if he got angry?
"True, true," he replied. I inwardly sighed in relief.
These pirates had lodged themselves in the village's port three weeks ago stating that they had to wait for their logpose to reset. Somehow Ace and I had met and we became close, though I was extremely wary of him at first. I'm not sure how but in those two weeks we had become something. I didn't want to put a name on it. Then, Smoker came. He spotted me with Ace and tried to use me as bait. He despised me for some reason and, while I was his hostage, insulted me; saying that I was a traitor who was turning my back on the village just for some pirate. When I, rather rudely, corrected him, he burned the words traitor onto my shoulder blades. Long story short, Ace came to my rescue and here we are. After begging me for hours I finally agreed to join the White Beard crew.
So, here I was, nervous by my recent discovery of the fact that the only women I saw were wearing nurse's outfits. I started to turn around, cursing Ace for whatever sick fantasy he expected me to cater to, when he grabbed my wrist and whispered, "Trust me,"
Those same words he whispered now. Despite my cold exterior, despite my trust issues, despite my occasional selfishness and tendency to, as he put it, 'over think things', he stuck with me and continued to say, "I love you," Even if I haven't said it back yet.
Now he was carrying me to bathroom that adjoined to my room. Confusion clotted my face as I wondered how the hell he would help me with a restroom. "Trust, remember?" he murmured into my hair. He set me down on the sink and tried to step in between my legs to get closer to me but I pushed him off and closed them tight while turning to the side. I didn't know what he had planned but I would never allow such an intimate gesture despite my attraction towards him. Thank Kami-sama, Ace didn't seem perturbed in the least and instead stood to the side of my legs instead. I had to turn my waist to face him; causing my side to pulse in pain. He didn't seem to notice. Slowly, he took hold of my hand and started to lift up my sleeves with such a look of concentration I had to look away. I felt his hands pause when the red sleeve revealed a hastily and crudely made bandage. He lifted my other sleeve and saw an identically crappy bandage. He didn't comment on the obvious blood that stained them. Instead, he started to unwrap the bandages. I heard his intake of air as he saw the damage I had caused; the lack of skin in some parts thanks to my constant struggling against the restraints.
"Why is it this bad," he asked. Of course he knew that a normal handcuff would only leave raw skin. Of course he knew that this was too much damage for only being held captive for a week and a half. His hand gently grasped my chin and lifted it up to his face. Slowly I brought my eyes to meet his. I couldn't even think of a decent lie, and my will to do so had died the moment he asked for my trust. "Tell me" he pleaded.
"You know how I can't stand being restrained?" Of course he did. It was the first private thing I told him about after he had whined to me for days about my secrecy. Before he could respond I kept going. "I couldn't stop struggling. I went into some kind of frenzy. I didn't care about the pain I just wanted the handcuffs off. After the first week, I realized there was no escaping and somehow managed to stop," I had said enough. I didn't need to become a sap and tell him how I pictured his hands stopping mine from their self harm. How my imagining of his voice helped me work myself out of my minds path to destruction. How the thought of his rescue of me was the only thing that stopped me from going mad. No, he didn't need to know those things.
Slowly, he bent down to the cabinet below the sink and grabbed a box. I couldn't believe it. It was a first aid box. For two weeks I had been slaving away; looking for anything to use as makeshift first aid when, all along, there had been a pristine set right under my nose! He opened the box and took out a roll of bandages. I snuck a peek inside and nearly gasped. I couldn't see the size at first because Ace's back was blocking my view but now I could get a good look at it. It was huge! It was separated into two slightly smaller boxes and Ace pulled the first box out. Inside of that box were stacks of bandages. So… many… rolls. He grabbed one and set it on the counter. He then proceeded to open the second box and pull out a cream without looking too closely inside of the box. I couldn't understand how he did that. The box was a jumbled mess of creams and he seemed to know his way around it so well. Almost as if… it was his! "Ace, how did that box get in my bathroom?" I tried to stay calm. I tried not to show the hurt I was feeling at the realization that he had disregarded the rules that I had enacted for my own protection; the rules that allowed me to feel safe. Did he care so little that he would break them at will? I had forgiven him for earlier because of his worry but exactly how many times had he come into my room? I felt my face darken and tried to disallow it before he noticed. Obviously I had failed.
"Just let me explain, okay?" I stayed silent as my way of confirmation. "Not long after your joined the crew I noticed how clumsy you were. That time when you fell down the stairs scared the crud out of me. The fact that you didn't care that your arm was bleeding onto the floor shook me up. I grabbed my old first aid box and put it in your room because it was closer to the deck in case you hurt yourself again." Oh. Of course his motives were pure. This was Ace. He was never anything less than kind towards me and I freak out over this. I felt as though the ship should swallow me whole. Why couldn't I give Ace what he wanted the most; my complete trust. He was always so kind and perfect and… again my thoughts were interrupted as he gingerly took one of my hands and just held it; waiting for something. He just stayed like that until the minutes ran together and I had to ask him why he had stopped. "You're too tense," was his response. "You're thinking about something bad again. I can tell. I don't know what's eating you up, and I'm not going to force you to tell me, though I really wish you would, but you can't keep tearing yourself up about what happened." He guided my wrists to the sink and turned the water on so that it was only a small sliver cascading into the basin below. Although cool in temperature, the water burned and I tried to yank my hands away, but his grip was too firm. I ended up tearing more skin; causing my wrists to bleed once again. I took this opportunity to take a closer look at my wrists. I didn't have any other bandages so I just kept them on after I had applied them. They were now a greenish color. They couldn't be infected, could they? One glance at Ace and I knew they were. He stared as though he couldn't believe his eyes. "When was the last time you changed these?" I was far too embarrassed to answer and instead hung my head in shame. "I didn't hear that," he continued oblivious to the fact that I had willingly not answered.
"Never," I answered for the first time.
"That would explain why there was enough dried blood to hide the discoloration," he murmured to himself. He moved my hands from the water and carefully patted them dry. Then he applied some cream directly onto my wrist and started to gently spread it by rubbing circles. It felt as though he was rubbing the pain away. I restrained myself from flinching as best I could, but when he brushed over a gap in skin I couldn't help but jump. His hands stilled. My hand was now split into two parts; the part that felt as though it was on fire with pain, and the part that had no pain due to the cream.
The awkwardness was too much too bear. "I'm sorry," I tried, but one look at his face told me I had said the wrong thing. I wasn't scared this time. His face was more agitated than it was angry.
"What are you sorry for," he asked quietly.
For flinching, for making you worry about me, for getting you into this mess in the first place by getting captured. "It didn't hurt that bad," I tried, "I over reacted again." I tried to smile but it turned out to be more of a grimace; revealing my lie.
"What do you mean, again?"
"Well, like when I got back. I should've just told you, but I was too stubborn and tried to fix it myself."
"More like too prideful," he replied, but instead of being insulting, his tone was playful. Quickly picking up on this I struggled to reciprocate.
"Pride is much better than ego. Have you measured your head lately? I could use it as a beach ball." I know you're never supposed to laugh at your own jokes but I had finally succeeded in a semi-good comeback and was excited.
"Almost done," he said.
"Huh," was my brilliant comeback for this round. I looked down and noticed that he had finished applying the cream and had put some sort of wet wipe around my hands.
"Disinfectant," he answered my unasked question. He gently peeled it off and started wrapping my hand in the bandages. Unlike my previous bandages these were nice and evenly spaced. Plus, as an added bonus, they weren't found on the floor.
I couldn't stop my next question and asked him how he became so good at first aid. He explained that when he first started using his devil's fruit abilities he couldn't control them very well. More often than not, he would burn himself in the process. He had to learn how to treat the burns on his own since he was traveling alone at the time.
I tried to distract him with more questions but he saw right through me. "Not happening." He responded when I asked him about his hat. He looked into my eyes and asked where else I was injured. "I need you to tell me. No more secrets. Just trust." He said slowly and deliberately. Again with the trust thing; he was always so big on that. I contemplated lying to him. How could I not. If he saw them all then I didn't even want to think of what could happen. But I knew that he would eventually find out anyways. And, even though it went against every precaution I had ever set up in order to protect myself, I did trust him. He promised to make something better and I believed him. I knew he could make the pain go away as well. He always was good at that.
Using the tiniest motion I could, I nodded my head. "Where?" he asked, "tell me everywhere it hurts."
What! I couldn't do it. I couldn't verbally tell him. It was bad enough that he knew there was more but now I had to say it out loud all at once. I thought I would have had more time to tell him. I couldn't do it! He was asking way too much of me. I lowered my eyes again and tried to tell him anyways but it just came out all mumbled. He stopped me by putting a finger to my lips. "Too much?" he asked. I nodded furiously, "Ok, then tell me one," I felt a rush of gratitude so strong it made me go weak.
I lay my head on his shoulder and sighed. Ace started stroking the back of my neck. He obviously thought I had sighed for another reason. I knew I couldn't hide them forever and, in a way, Ace was right. I would rather he found out by my willingness to tell him than if he just had to find out for himself. Not realizing the large amount of time that had passed, I whispered, "My foot."
I felt him shake and, for a moment, feared that he was angry and I had to remind myself that this was Ace. He's not like that. I took the time to pay attention; only to realize that he was shaking with laughter. I was mortified! He was laughing at my injury! It had taken so much to tell him and he simply laughed at me. Before he knew what was happening I jumped off, landing on my left foot, and started to attempt to hobble off. I hadn't used my injured right foot all day so the pain was worse than I expected and I lost my balance and started to tip over. Before my face could hit the ground, however, I felt an arm surround me. Catching me in just the right spot so as not to further cause me pain. Ace slowly and carefully sat me on the floor and looked me straight in the eye. At least he attempted to. I refused to look at him. He who could laugh at something like that. I had every intention of crawling my way out of the bathroom the moment his arms let go of me. Screw my pride! I listened for his laughter to fuel my rage. I was surprised at the absence of it. Chancing a look I discovered that his face possessed that rare seriousness again. "Was there a point in trying to hobble away?" He asked with that oh so innocent face. As if he didn't know.
"You were laughing at me!" I snapped at him; attempting to control my temper.
"No. I was laughing at the fact that you are still the same. Actually, I'm relieved. After you got back you were so quiet and timid. It was similar to when I first met you. The only difference is that you avoided me as well this time. You jumped at everything. You sniffed your food and took the tiniest bites as though you were checking to see if it was drugged. You jumped at every sound; even laughter. You even flinched away when Marco tried to hug you. I knew you were stingy about hugging before, but Marco? When you first came aboard you didn't like him, but later on you were inseparable. I remember when you hugged him so hard you two fell overboard."
I remembered it too. I had been on the ship for two months and it was an average day with nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that Marco had just gotten back from a mission.
I was walking with Ace while discussing his lack of a shirt.
"What, are you not attracted to my amazing muscles?" He smirked, thinking I had no rebuttal.
"I will admit they are alluring, but when faced with over exposure they lose their appeal." I took great satisfaction in watching his smirk fall straight off his face. I decided to go for the kill. "Who knows," I continued nonchalantly, "that might be the reason I don't like hugging you. I mean, you sweat so much, and it's really quite gross to be in direct contact with the source." I had to hide my smirk as he sputtered out a comeback.
"Well…you're...you have…you are…" Something caught my eye and I ignored his mumbling in favor of staring at the figure climbing aboard the boat. It couldn't be him. He wasn't due to return for another week. But, it was. There was no mistaking the hair that looked like a cluster of bananas upon an otherwise bald head. Completely forgetting about Ace, I ran towards the figure before the already forming crowd could block my path.
"Marco!" I cried as I darted towards him at full speed. Without slowing down I collided with him head on in a hug. Something was wrong. I did not feel the usual force pushing back against me, but instead felt myself tipping. Marco was right at the edge of the ship and we fell over! Marco couldn't swim! I grabbed him before he could drown and swam in place while waiting for the crew to toss down some ropes. I had to drag his dead weight body up the ladder and over the railing of the ship. I knew he would be fine. After all, he is the first division commander. I on the other hand, was cold and sopping wet and decided to go back to my room and change.
Yet Ace had other plans. While walking down the hallways towards my room he grabbed me around the waist and, before I could push him off, whispered, "You look sexy when you're wet."
I felt the heat rise to my cheeks and ducked out of his grip sputtering, "You…you...you're so…so…I mean…you just…like…"
He interrupted my ramblings by stating, "Hmmmm. Looks like you are affected by my perfect torso." As if there was a connection. He walked away. Before he went above deck he looked over his shoulder and added, "I knew I was right."
"There you go again," Ace crashed his way through my thoughts, "you just sat there for seven minutes staring off into space. You don't realize this but when you think you take a long time. Then you give one worded answers. You are always so cryptic." A pause, "I kind of missed it though." He finished with a relieved smile.
"Yeah. Now, which foot?" He asked while continuing to smile to himself. I couldn't resist. I smiled a little as well.
"The right one," He gently grabbed my leg and placed it in his lap. He pulled the leg of my sweatpants up just enough so that he could only see the ankle. He knew I didn't like to show a lot of skin. I smiled at his thoughtfulness. It was times like these that I reflected on my luck.
"You're doing it again. Honestly if you keep thinking and spacing out so much I'm going to have to get your attention with a kiss." A pause as he focused on my foot again, "It's not too bad. It's probably just a sprain." He was right, of course. He gently grasped my ankle and squeezed different areas, probing for something. He kept searching until I felt a stab of pain. "Found it," he muttered under his breath.
"Found what?" I asked.
"Where it's sprained. You can't just wrap a whole foot and expect it to hold steady."
"Oh," never mind the fact that I would have done exactly that had I possessed enough bandages. After he found 'the spot' he quickly and efficiently finished his, 'wrapping' as I liked to call it, and sat there staring at me expectantly. I knew he was expecting me to tell him another area and I contemplated telling him about my back. But Ace looked happier and I didn't want to upset him. I was having fun with him. Something I had not done since I got back. I would do anything to keep this going. I decided to tell him about my side instead. After all, it was probably only a bruise. He could easily take care of it and we could enjoy this blissful atmosphere for a while longer. Blissful, what a nice word. I would have to make sure I use it again somewhere.
Something warm pressed again my lips. Thinking it was Ace's finger I focused my gaze only to realize it was his lips. My first kiss with Ace was in a bathroom! I jumped back and hit my back against the wall. I closed my eyes from the pain and tried not to scream. A gargled moan escaped from my lips instead; effectively cutting off my choice. I could practically see the pleasant atmosphere changing. Had my good intentions gone to waste? "Ace, I was going to tell you. I promise." I began, but he cut me off.
"I know," he said. I looked on his face for any sign of mistrust and found none. "Let me see your back." I froze. How was I supposed to show him my back without taking my shirt off? He couldn't possibly expect me to do so. "It's the only way to get a good look." He sighed before locking his eyes with mine, "I swear to you, I won't try anything. I'll be quick. I wouldn't ask you to do this but I have a feeling It's as bad as your wrists. I'm right, aren't I?" I could only nod.
I scooted around so that my back was facing him; mindful of my wrists and foot. They still hurt, though the pain was infinitely less intense. My left arm couldn't move well because of my shoulder so after I turned around, I tried to take my red turtleneck off single handedly. Embarrassed at my failure and at the overall situation I slumped. I longed for the pleasant atmosphere we had just shared. I soon remembered that Ace was watching me. I had to at least put up a front. With a trembling hand, I tried again.
I really didn't want to do this. Ace had rarely seen so much of my skin; only once when I swam in the ship's pool did he see and I wacked him afterwards for 'peeking'.
My hand was shaking so badly that I couldn't get a grip on the shirt. Dammit! I didn't dare look at Ace to see if he was still watching. I was too afraid to know the answer. I continued with my futile attempts until his hand stilled mine. He left his hand there and placed his chin on my unhurt shoulder. "I can wait," was all he said "take your time."
"Can't," was all I could muster, "shoulder," He softly grunted in confirmation before pulling his head off of me, keeping it close. He gently pulled the stretchy fabric of the neck hole over my shoulder. He must've already known about my shoulder from before. He was just waiting for me to tell him. He poked it and, although it was gentle, it still caused me to flinch.
"Sorry," he whispered in my ear. It still caused shivers to run down my arms. "Hey, do you like this shirt?" He asked.
"Not in particular," It was a red sweater and, although one could never tell, was probably bloodstained at the sleeves and the back. Oh God! My back! He would see it. I had to prepare him first. I had to stop h…
"Good. Then trust me again." He said as he moved his head off of my shoulder.
I heard a ripping sound before I could protest and felt a breeze on my back. My top was now covered in only my sports bra; baring my vertical and partially diagonal lines of broken flesh. There were no marks from the lashes under my sports bra. The thick fabric had prevented damage where my shirt had not. I heard a sharp intake of breath. This was the moment I had been dreading; the moment when he leaves for one reason or another. I heard Ace get up. I was right. Of course I was. He was leaving. They always leave in the end. Tears I hadn't realized I still possessed brimmed and silently fell from my eyes. Did he hate me now? Whatever he felt towards me the crew was bound to follow. Even though I had been reluctant at first, this boat had become my home. Would I have to leave?
Something cold and wet touched my back; causing me to gasp. Tears were forgotten as I heard Ace murmur things like, "It's filthy," and, "…so lucky it's not infected." All I could think was he stayed! I made to turn around and hug him out of joy, but his hand was firmly planted on my unhurt shoulder; prohibiting any movement of that kind. Ace's soothing voice wafted through my ears, "I promise I'll hug you as soon as I'm done."
He gently dabbed at my back with what I recognized as a wet wash cloth. This continued on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, I decided to ask him what was wrong. "The dirt and blood isn't coming off. Give me a second." Ace got up and left. The doubts returned, though not at full force. He had to be coming back. Right? Soon, I heard him shuffling back into the bathroom. I turned around to see what he was doing. He was laying a pillow on the floor!
"Strange, you don't usually have time to prepare before you suddenly fall asleep," I joked; attempting to bring back that pleasant and light atmosphere we had shared. Perhaps it was too late for that.
"It's not for me,"
"Oh?" I said; caught off guard and slightly confused. What could I need a pillow for?
"Lie on your stomach and put you head here," he said; gesturing towards the pillow. I did so and waited as he got up. I heard water running and continued to wait. The water kept running so I chanced a glance at the sink and saw him soaking something in it. He came back and laid a wet towel over my back. "I'm going to try and soak it so that it will come off easier." After his explanation was made, he sat back and did nothing until he finally asked, "Why didn't you clean it?"
"I couldn't," so far so good. Just tell him everything; at least for this. "I tried but couldn't reach my back because of my shoulder and wrists. I tried to just stand under the shower and let it rinse off but it would just burn." That was plenty of truth. Truth equals trust. I discarded the memories of tears falling from the intense agony of miniscule water pellets penetrating my back; digging into my cuts. I gave up on this method for cleanliness after the third try. After stopping with the showers I tried bathing. Unfortunately, this ship doesn't offer cold water for the baths; the warm water, though not nearly as bad, was too painful for me too bear. I soon gave up on the idea altogether. I took baths of course. I just didn't touch my back. I assumed that the filth would fade off over time. Obviously I was wrong.
I felt a familiar warmth press against my cheek this time and slightly smiled. When Ace pulled back I glanced at him and quipped, "Can't keep your lips off me, can you?"
"I guess not," he chuckled. We lapsed into a comfortable silence until he slowly started to peel the wet towel off. Wincing as the towel's fibers brushed against my cuts, I clenched my fists to hide my pain. I continued to do so until I noticed a hand in front of mine. I latched onto it without a second thought. Upon realizing what I had done, I attempted to let go, but the owner refused; squeezing my hand as if to say I've finally got you. I won't let you leave me again. "Can't keep my hands off you either" He whispered, his voice becoming husky.
Once again I started shivering; partly because of his warm breath on my ear and partly because the towel was now completely removed. The air on my back and lack of clothing of my arms caused goose bumps to arise.
Gently, he started dabbing again at my back with the wet towel. "Is it coming off?" I asked.
"Yeah, it's not hurting, is it?" Of course it hurt. It hurt like hell. It took a lot not to whimper at the pain. He didn't need to know that though. This was just a wet towel and, knowing him, he would be thorough and come back with some kind of bacteria wipe. That was when the real pain would begin. If he knew he would feel terrible. He must have felt bad enough when I was ignoring him. He didn't need to feel worse. I could spare him this little bit of guilt.
"Not at all," I replied.
"Liar," how did he know? Was I really that easy to read? Or was it just him? At least he didn't seem upset. I couldn't keep hurting him like this. He deserved… "You're so lucky I can't reach your lips right now. This time it was about one minute." He, again, whispered into my ear. "Alright, give me a sec,"
Again he got up and rinsed the towel. This time he came back with a bottle. I thought that it must be the anti-septic. This was going to hurt like hell. I tensed my back to prepare for the stinging pain the liquid would undoubtedly bring. I watched as he tilted the bottle over and clenched my eyes shut as it began to pour out. I felt it touch my back right where one of the deepest cuts was. Yet, there was no pain. In fact, the pain I had previously felt disappeared. "Did you already forget that the cream was a painkiller?" he asked.
Embarrassed at the truth in his words I mumbled an excuse. "It's a different bottle."
"That one was for abrasions; specifically ones that were infected. This one is for open wounds and can be used to help stop bleeding."
"Don't know why you're not the ship's doctor,"
"Well, I'm glad I'm not since you refused to see him." He said lightly, though I detected some bitterness in it.
"Save it, I'm sure you had your reasons."
"I did, but that's not what you want to hear. Look, I know I should trust the entire crew, I know they are my nakama and have been for a while, I know I should have at least told you but, I… I couldn't."
"Why not," he asked frustration clear in his voice which had grown harsh.
"Cause I was scared!" I blurted before I could stop myself. If Ace's knee hadn't been in front of my hand I would have moved it to cover my mouth.
At my words any trace of agitation was wiped off of his features. His eyebrows furrowed as he asked, "What was there to be afraid of?"
"You. Your reaction. I didn't want you to get mad or leave! I… I like you. I like you too much to be able to watch you leave." I couldn't look at his face as I said this. I finally told him how I felt… sort of.
I felt him rest his forehead along the hairline above my ear. "I love you too," he understood what I was trying to say. I smiled to myself despite the growing pain on my back. He hadn't finished applying the cream.
"Oh," he sat up and poured more onto my back and began spreading it. He applied more of it along the grooves of the cuts. His hands felt so nice. Since I had gotten back I had tried my best to avoid any contact to my back. Now that the pain was gone, his hands felt divine; almost as though he was giving me a massage. Too soon and he was finished. I was no longer worried about the disinfectant wipes because I remembered that they hadn't hurt my wrists previously. That, added to the fact that after weeks I finally felt reprieve from the most painful of my injuries, caused a sort of elation. I would even describe it as sort of blissful. In fact, the chill no longer felt so bad.
Unfortunately, while he was rubbing my back, he brushed against my side. The sound of my gasp drew his attention towards it and he again ran his hand over it, though, this time he was much gentler. Regardless, my reaction was the same. He leaned back for a while doing what I only assumed was thinking. What was he thinking about? After a while longer he gently grasped my unhurt shoulder and placed a hand on my lower abdomen. I gritted my teeth against the mostly uncomfortable feeling of his hand. Slowly, he guided me into a sitting position. Then, he scooped me right off the floor and set me on the counter top.
He took a closer look at my side occasionally brushing against it and constantly observing it closely. "It's cracked," he declared with finality after his observations had concluded. He then proceeded to re-examine my shoulder which had been forgotten after the discovery of other more pressing injuries. He used the same process as before. This time he asked me, "Did you dislocate your shoulder?"
"You tried to pop it back into place, didn't you?"
"You did it wrong. Hold still, this is gonna hurt." I heard a popping sound and a click before the pain registered. I doubled over and grabbed the hurting limb as I bit back a scream. Apparently, a scream wasn't the only thing I bit back as I tasted blood not long after. A strong hand clawed my own off of my shoulder and replaced it with a hot damp rag which soothed it slightly. I must have missed the sound of running water. "How did you go so long without going to the doctor or even one of the nurses? Couldn't you feel that something was off?"
"I knew something was off but I didn't know what so I just left it like I always do,"
"I'm guessing it was the same with the ribs. Did you even consider the possibility that they were broken?"
"No, I didn't even know it was the ribs. I just knew I had a dark bruise on my side and that it hurt."
"Knowing you, you wouldn't have told anyone even if you knew," Ace muttered under his breath.
I stayed silent as this fact was probably completely true. Though, it still hurt to hear Ace say it out loud. Ace's glance at me must have caused him to realize this for he leaned in and again put his forehead against my own. "Is there anything else I should know about before I finish wrapping you up like a mummy?" He asked jokingly but I could sense his doubt of whether I would tell him the truth or not.
"No," was all I said.
He grabbed another roll of gauze and wrapped one layer around my stomach; securing it with safety pins. Then he began to firmly continue to wrap it around my waist, over my sides and…sports bra, and over my shoulder. He wrapped a diagonal row from under the uninjured arm to the shoulder multiple times and then slightly wrapped my arm. This formed a sort of one sleeved t-shirt look. He then fastened that with a single safety pin. Once finished, he stared at me.
"What is it?" I asked.
"You know who did this to you." This was a fact, not a question and I looked past him to stare at the wall; hoping he would drop this discussion where it was. He didn't. "I won't force you to tell me, but I have to know why you won't tell me."
"I… I just can't,"
"Because I don't want you to go after him again!" My eyes widened and I covered my mouth. No! No! I could not have just done that! No! Now he'll leave for sure. What am I going to do? What if he doesn't make it back this time? I can't watch him leave again. Tears fell from my eyes at the thought of losing him again.
Ace was oblivious to my distress as he was in his own head pondering what I said; searching for any clues until he found it. The word 'again'. His eyes widened and he whispered in disbelief, "No, Blackbeard?" He turned to me to ask some unknown question but stopped before he could utter the second word when he noticed the salty water dripping down my cheeks. "Don't cry!" he said in alarm. "Don't worry; I'll make sure he doesn't get away with this."
No. No. "No!" I cried. I jumped off the counter and latched my good arm around him. "Don't go!" Not again. "What… what if you don't come back this time?" I asked. My arm continued to hug him not only to keep him from leaving but also to support myself as my legs had gone slack from the pain that had flared in my ribs due to my sudden movement. Ace picked me up, but instead of moving me back to the counter he carried me out the door, into my room, and onto my bed. He placed me in front of him so that we were sitting and facing each other on the bed. He then laced the fingers of one of his hands with mine. The other attempted to wipe away the waterworks on my face.
"You don't know that I'll be defeated again." He tried to reason. It was true, I didn't know, but I didn't know if he would be victorious either.
"You were last time. You nearly died."
"I've gotten stronger since then. Now, I have another reason for wanting him gone."
"Getting stronger and being strong enough are two different things. For all you know he's become stronger as well."
"So what if he has. I'll still defeat him. I can't let him get away with this."
"That's exactly what you told me last time before you left. You don't even know if you'll be able to find him again. Just leave it be. Please!" Ace started to say something but paused. He stood up and started to pace; looking for another reason to convince me.
"What if he comes after you again?"
"You don't know that."
"If he does then you'll be there, like you always are. Whether I wanted you there or not, you've always been there. You've always protected me and stood by me." You had never left my side, until you left to kill him.
Ace stopped and turned to me. "You're wrong" he said, "I wasn't there. I didn't protect you. What if I'm away again for some reason and he comes back. "
Unable to respond to that, I counter back with, "And what if you die while fighting him? Where does that leave me? I'll be alone with no one to trust."
"You have Marco and Thatch. You have Jozu. You have Pops and the whole crew. You can trust all of them. They all care about you. They'll be there for you."
"They're not you!" I yelled. My tears had slowed to an almost non-existent trickle, but they began to increase again. Ace had nothing to counter that with. He leaned against the wall and remained silent. "They're not you," I repeated, more to myself than to him. I dropped my face into my hands. He was going to leave. No matter what I said I wouldn't be able to stop him. He had too many reasons to go after him. He was overconfident and would underestimate Blackbeard and be defeated again.
I felt the bed dip on my right while his arm wrapped itself around my shoulders and pulled me towards him. "I promise I'll come back,' he whispered.
"You'll still be gone. I'll still have to wait for you. I'll still have to get up every day and wonder how you are. I'll have to constantly tell myself to stop being selfish and to trust that you'll come back. Do you have any idea how I'll feel while I sit at lunch wondering if you've had enough to eat; wondering where you're sleeping that night? It's not just me. The others will worry too."
"The others are strong enough to put that to the back of their minds. They'll be ok and they'll be there to cheer you up while I'm gone. They'll keep you so busy that you'll forget to miss me."
"They can't do that for the rest of my life. That's exactly what they'll have to do if you die. Ace, there's no point in getting revenge for someone who doesn't want you to."
"Why don't you want him to pay? Don't you want him to regret what he did to you?"
"It's not worth losing you again,"
"I came back. You never lost me."
"Yes I did. You were gone for so long it… it felt as though I had. Having no contact with you was worse than… than anything he did."
Ace seemed to deflate as he let out a breath. "How could you possibly benefit from him roaming free out there?"
"I'll benefit by having you right here." I said while burying my head into his chest.
Ace seemed to be thinking things over. After a long period of silence, he sighed. "You honestly want me to not go after him. Are you sure you won't change your mind?"
"Then I guess I have no choice," he said with a wan smile.
"So, you're not going?"
"No. I'm going to stay right here. I'm never going to leave your side even if you beg me to."
"Yes," he said; completely serious now. Relieved with his agreement, my eyelids began to droop. I could not prevent a yawn from escaping my mouth as I curled into him either. Chuckling he whispered, "You do realize we've been in here all day, right?"
"So, who knows what everyone else is saying. I mean, I'm in a room with you, alone. Who knows what kind of things we could be doing. I'm sure their imaginations have run wild by now."
"You already knew that," he said while scooting so that he was lying down with me under the covers.
"So, that can only mean that you…"
I didn't hear the rest because I was slowly drifting into the first peaceful slumber I'd had in weeks.
That slumber felt as though it ended right as it started due to a persistent tapping on my face. I opened my eyes to see a finger belonging to Ace causing my state of non-sleeping. I noticed my unhurt arm was around his torso with my hand resting on his stomach. I unsuccessfully tried to repress the blood that forced its way to my face.
He grinned, or maybe it was a smirk. I wasn't sure. "Guess what we're doing today,"
I was still half-asleep and voiced out loud my hopes, "Are we going to stay in bed and sleep the day away?" I asked.
"Nope, we're going on deck." I shot up into an upright position, only to keel over in pain. The pain in my ribs had not lessened any despite the care that had been given to them. Through the pain I could feel Ace's hand on my neck; rubbing smooth circles into the skin. "Take slow shallow breaths. That's it. Just keep breathing. The pain will fade." He was right. After a few minutes of agony, the pain did begin to fade. Soon it disappeared completely and my breathing returned to normal. I wanted to sit back up, but I was worried that any movement would cause the pain to flare up once again. Ace's hand continued to rub my neck in a … blissful … way. He placed his other hand on my shoulder and cautiously helped me into a sitting position.
Once I was sitting upright I began my counter argument. "Ace, I can't go up there,"
What was I to tell him? I had lied to my crew and told them that I was uninjured. "I…I wasn't exactly truthful with them. I don't want them to find out about my deceit."
"They won't be discovering anything they didn't already know. You aren't the best actor in the world. You never showed any pain but it was really obvious that you were lying when you couldn't look us in the eye and tell us. We just stopped asking because of your stubbornness. Honestly, the plan between Marco, Thatch, Jozu, and I was to let it be until you came and asked for help on your own. But I couldn't let you stay in here any longer and I got too impatient. What I'm trying to say is that they already know."
"Then… this whole time they knew?" Things began to make sense now. The glances I had caught people giving me were not ones of distain and disgust, but ones of worry. Although I no longer had a reason to hide, I still did not want to go up there and face them. "It doesn't matter. I can't face them like this." I hung my head.
"They're your friends. You shouldn't have to hide from them. You should trust them,"
"Then trust me,"
That was a cheap shot. After a long pause of consideration, I nodded my head. "Ok,"
"Come on. Let's get you presentable." Confusion flitted across my face; then mortification. I was still shirtless! I looked away and tried to cover my bare stomach. "Ooh. Now she's shy," Ace teased. I had no comeback to that. "Hold on. Don't move. I'll get it." Ace walked right up to my closet and picked the first shirt he saw. This shirt happened to be a normal black t-shirt. He came and sat back down next to me. "Alright, let's put your good arm though first."
I looked at the short sleeves of the shirt; then at my wrists. "Ace, I can't wear that,"
Ace raised an eyebrow. "Why not," he asked in genuine confusion.
"The sleeves. I need long sleeves."
"We passed into one of the warmer climates of the grand line yesterday. You don't need to wear long sleeves anymore,"
This was really hard. "It's not for the temperature. It's… to hide my… wrists."
Perplexed for a moment, Ace's face soon took on what was becoming a more familiar and serious expression. "No."
"No," he said with finality, "I'm not going to let you hide anymore."
"You can't keep hiding from the crew. They won't hate you. They won't take advantage of your injuries either. You're safe here." He held his hand palm up for me. Defeated, I placed the hand of my good arm into his and he guided it through the sleeve. He grasped my other hand and carefully pulled it through the other. He lifted the hem of the bottom of the shirt over my head and pulled it down over my head. "Alright, let's go,"
He helped me stand up, but I pushed him off after stating that I needed to try and walk on my own. His mouth in a grim line; he stepped back as I tried. Although he gave me plenty of space, he was still near enough to catch me should I topple over. I slowly limped my way to the door and Ace opened it. He then led me through the corridor to the flight of stairs that would take me to the deck. At the foot of the stairs I stopped. I could not put that much pressure on my foot and, if I tried to one footedly jump up them, the motion would cause pain in my ribs again. Unsure of what to do, I stood there contemplating my next move until Aces arms wrapped around my sternum and helped hoist me up the first step. He continued this pattern until we were almost to the surface. I could hear voices and began to grow nervous. "Trust me," Ace said once again.
"I do," I answered truthfully. Right before we made it to the top I told him, "I love you."