Years before he ate the Mera Mera no Mi, Ace was a force of nature. Looking back on it now, he's equal parts amused and nostalgic along with embarrassed because he was an asshole back then. He left Luffy – Luffy, stupid, rubbery idiot ball that is Luffy, his brother that he loves fiercely – to die more times than he can count. And the amount of times he actively helped in the process too with that pipe weapon he carried around with him too. Although he can't be blamed for Luffy's mental state because he was like that when he arrived in Ace's life to turn it all on his head so Ace thinks he's in the clear there. But once things settled into place, once Ace did a lot of thinking and growing for one angry, hurting little boy then things were good. He and Sabo taught Luffy a lot whether anyone would ever recognise it as such. Luffy got strong because he wanted to beat Ace (which he still can't; even the Pirate King needs a protector and Ace is still his big brother) and to keep up with him and Sabo.
He sighs and leans against the railing of his ship, sailing aimlessly because this is all he ever wanted in life. True, Sabo was meant to be with them and he traces the crossed out S of his tattoo and smiles. They're living for Sabo. He's still sure Sabo would have kicked his ass six different ways for the Impel Down and Marineford fiasco and how it took Ace so damn long to realise his self-worth and that he was loved and that he was allowed to live and Ace still has that scar on his chest (his back is covered with his tattoo, months of repair work to fix it and the lines are still warped in places but everyone says that it speaks to how strong he is and how fiercely he loves his family) as a reminder although he's not in danger of ever forgetting.
He grins again and Marco strolls up, Marco who hasn't aged a single day yet, and slings an arm around him. Five years of Luffy as the Pirate King and the seas have never been more peaceful. Over a year since Ace has last seen Luffy and it'll be good to catch up with him and the Straw Hats now.
"You know," Marco says, hopping up to sit on the railing, "sometimes I still have to tell myself I'm awake and that all this is real."
Ace laughs, thumbs his hat back off his head to let it dangle by the string. "That's the one thing I never have to do myself."
"This is the exact same railing we first talked at, you know."
"Everyone's so proud of you Ace."
Ace laughs and gives Marco a light shove. "You're getting sentimental in your old age you stupid pigeon."
But Marco's laughing too as they look out to the tiny dot that marks out the island all the captains have agreed to meet at for Luffy's fifth year anniversary.
"This is all I ever wanted," Ace says and Marco smiles and nods and Ace doesn't have to say more than that. He taps the tattoo again and soon he'll be tackled to the ground with a joyous 'shi shi shi' and rubbery limbs and Sabo will be there too, just the way it was always meant to be.