It was always something. Between their first few weeks in the Grand Line and the special brand of mayhem that seemed to follow their captain everywhere they went, Deuce had barely gotten a moment to record anything that had happened since they'd gone over Reverse Mountain over a month ago. They'd hit two islands in that time and gotten into scrapes on both because apparently Ace had a compulsion to dine and dash in just about every town they stopped to resupply in.
At least this island was uninhabited, which meant the worst that could happen were wild animal attacks or natural disasters, both of which were perfectly possible on the Grand Line and increasingly likely the longer Ace was on land, thanks to his further compulsion to run off the moment he spotted a forest.
But for now he was taking the time to get some writing done while he could. The rest of the crew had their jobs for resupplying, but that probably wouldn't happen until they were satisfied with exploring and stretching their legs. He grabbed his bag, a snack and a canteen, and then made his way out to find somewhere quiet to work. Beyond the beach where they'd anchored to set up camp the night before was a light spread of trees that eventually turned into a denser forest the further inland one went, and he fully expected Ace to go racing into its depths sooner rather than later. He found himself a decent shade tree just past the edge of the beach, still in sight of the Spadille but far enough to not be subjected to whatever hollering the more excitable members of the crew might start, and made himself comfortable, opening his journal to a clean page and getting to work, trying to recall the details of islands and storms and adventures as best he could.
It felt like hardly any time had passed before he was interrupted, but he had filled several pages and finished recounting the first-and less violent-of their two Grand Line island stops so far, so he tried not to be too frustrated when he looked up to see who had approached. Ace looked back at him, silhouetted by the sun like he'd been when they met on Sixis, head tilted in much the same manner as he examined the way Deuce was practically curled up around his journal and pen.
"Yo," he finally said simply, plopping down on the ground beside Deuce and leaning over as if to look at what he was working on. He curled up a little further, pulling the journal a little closer, and Ace pouted for all of a second but didn't protest, instead making a grab for one of the apples Deuce had brought with him and devouring it in record time. "Dontcha wanna come exploring?"
"Figured I'd make use of some quiet time," Deuce replied, relaxing a little when it became clear Ace wasn't going to try peeking at his writing again like some of the rest of the crew did. "I'm surprised you haven't gone racing into the woods already."
He looked up when Ace didn't answer, finding him nodding tiredly and blinking slowly. That answered that, then.
"I'll go later," Ace said, biting back a yawn that had Deuce smiling fondly at him. "Wanted to check on you, the others are running around or getting started on supplying."
Sweet, Deuce sighed, before patting the ground at his side and receiving a raised eyebrow from his captain. "Rest for a while, will you? Looks like you're about to drop. You didn't nap earlier like I told you to, did you?"
Ace looked sheepish, but he smiled, stretching out on his stomach at Deuce's side and folding his arms in front of him to act as a pillow, turning his head to blink up at Deuce with bright dark eyes.
"Tell me what you're writing about?" he asked, clarifying when Deuce hesitated, "You don't have to actually read your writing to me. Just describe it?"
"It's just about our journey," Deuce replied, feeling his ears warming. "You were there for all of it."
"Still wanna hear it from your point of view," Ace said, his voice slurring a little as he yawned again. "Bet you thought different stuff was fun or interesting."
His eyelids fluttered, and Deuce didn't think he'd stay awake for very long even if he started storytelling. But he couldn't bring himself to deny the request either, thumbing through the journal for something that had happened in East Blue, long enough ago that it hopefully wouldn't be too boring to recount to someone who'd been there himself. Ace blinked slowly up at him again and he smiled, setting the journal in his lap and starting to talk.
He was right. Ace didn't stay awake for long, though he'd given Deuce a warm, fond smile when he realized exactly what story Deuce was telling, their early days on Striker after escaping Sixis. Before long he was snoring softly, radiating the same gentle heat Deuce had come to cherish in the mere months they'd known each other. He finally stopped talking once he was sure Ace wouldn't be waking up for a while, instead turning his attention to the careful scrawl of his own handwriting in the journal, describing their first island together after Sixis and Deuce's learning of Ace's own unique brand of chaos.
He wasn't entirely sure when his hand found its way to Ace's back, running careful, soothing circles over the pale yellow fabric of his shirt. He sighed in his sleep, and Deuce smiled, flipping a page and looking over his previous writing, running his hand up and down his captain's back all the while. It wasn't often they had moments like these. Usually Deuce was sleeping in the same room with Ace and all the rest of the crew, or Ace was napping while Deuce was left in charge to make sure they stayed on course and mostly out of trouble. It was nice, just taking some quiet time together like they'd done before they started building the crew and making a name for themselves. Things had gotten increasingly hectic once Ace had gotten a bounty, and while Deuce loved their adventures he appreciated this time to relax just as much.
They stayed there for a long time, Deuce wasn't sure how long exactly, but he could see the rest of the crew getting started on resupplying, Bree and Saber and Banshee setting out to hunt and forage. Skull and Mihal appeared on the Spadille's deck, the professor gesturing in their direction, and Deuce caught sight of Kotatsu bracing his front paws on the railing, looking at them as if contemplating joining Ace in his nap before seeming to decide on a sunnier spot on the ship's warm wooden deck.
"At least they're letting you rest," Deuce mused, finding his fingers carding through Ace's dark waves, the man nearly purring in his sleep. His hair was soft and smooth, and Deuce's nails scratched at his scalp gently. He turned his head into Deuce's touch, and he could feel himself smiling, soft and sappy and likely embarrassing if Ace had been awake. "Didn't know you'd like something like this so much. Guess you're more like Kotatsu than we thought."
"Imma take that as a compliment," Ace slurred, keeping his eyes closed and missing the way Deuce startled. He did whine plaintively when Deuce pulled his hand back before peeking one grey eye open. "That was nice, come back."
Deuce snorted and narrowed his eyes, but he caved almost immediately when Ace kicked the puppy dog eyes up a notch. He didn't really have it in him to deny Ace anyway, and he let his fingers sink back into Ace's hair, rubbing at the base of his skull gently and laughing again when his captain sighed happily.
"I missed doin' stuff like this," Ace commented quietly, and Deuce glanced down at him in surprise, catching sight of the content little smile on his face.
"Like what?" he questioned softly, his short nails dragging against Ace's skin, and his captain shivered, something Deuce hadn't seen him do since he'd eaten the Flame-Flame Fruit on Sixis.
"Just the two of us hangin' out," Ace replied, voice soft and warm, and Deuce felt himself warming as well. "We should do this more often."
"Whenever you want," Deuce said easily, and Ace opened his eyes to beam up at him brightly, reaching up to take Deuce's hand in his and rolling over so he was lying on his back, leaning his head against Deuce's knee. He slotted their fingers together easily, casually, like holding hands was something they'd always done and would continue to do, and Deuce could feel the calluses on his palm and fingers, so different from Deuce's hands even though they were slowly roughening from ship labor and fighting.
"Thanks," Ace said quietly, his beaming grin softening into a gentle smile.
"For what?" Deuce asked, instinctively holding his hand a little tighter, rubbing little circles into the back of Ace's hand with his thumb, like he'd done on Ace's back earlier.
"Stickin' with me after Sixis. Building the Spades with me. Bein' my friend," he said, shrugging as if to lighten the weight of what he was saying, but Deuce could see in his eyes how much he meant it.
"Thank you for taking me with you," was all Deuce could say in response, but it felt like enough. He drew their linked hands closer to his chest, and it looked like some color rose high in Ace's cheeks and his eyes widened, it was hard to tell in the shade of the tree. But he smiled again and squeezed Deuce's hand back, and that was more than enough for now.