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Come Back Again

Chapter Text

Crocus sat on his deck chair, set by the water outside of his home at the Twin Cape, waiting patiently for some fish to catch the bait when the first piece of broken wood drifted before him on the water. He looked up and sideways, towards the unblocked current descending into the Grand Line from all four Blue Seas. Sure enough, the current was spilling out broken wood, fragments of metal, and other things Crocus didn’t want to pay too close attention to. He raised his gaze higher to avoid focusing on a drifting hand and caught sight of a bright blue spot descending parallel to the water current, straight towards him.

He didn’t move, but kept his eyes on the spot. It soon grew into a bright blue bird that appeared to be made out of fire.

Now why does that seem familiar? Crocus wondered, but before he could think more about it the bird was above the rocks that formed the cape and had transformed into a person.

A boy, a mere teenager, stood before him, looking bedraggled and slightly in shock.

“Are you okay?” Crocus asked, more to break the silence than for any other reason given how obvious the answer was, and he stood up to approach the boy.

 


 

 

The boy, Marco, wasn’t in as a bad of a condition as Crocus had first feared. He wasn’t injured, and, while shocked, he wasn’t emotionally devastated either.

As Marco explained while Crocus fixed him a meal, the ship he had been on had suffered some damage as it entered the Reverse Mountain from West Blue, and it had pretty much disintegrated when it was propelled up at the top of the mountain. Marco, who had a devil fruit power that allowed him to fly, had managed to escape the wreckage before it fell back into the water or against the rocks, but he hadn’t been able to get anyone else out. The ship had been a merchant one, and Marco had just joined the crew at the last island before the Grand Line, earlier that morning, which had spared him the emotional suffering of losing any loved ones, even if he was still affected by the deaths that had just happened.

“What will you do now?” Crocus asked, setting a plate with some fish and rice before Marco. He sat down across the table with his own meal. “I suppose you could always fly back home. That’s one useful power you have there.”

“I… don’t want to go back,” Marco admitted, glancing down at his plate. “I want to travel the Grand Line, that’s why I boarded that ship in the first place.”

“Suit yourself then,” Crocus said with a shrug. “Most ships that enter this sea make at least a quick stop here, you could always wait to find a crew you like. However,” Crocus pointed his fork at Marco, “you’ll have to work while you stay here; this isn’t a hotel.”

Marco smiled in gratitude, the first real expression to cross his face.

“Thank you.”

“Now eat,” Crocus ordered, doing so himself.

He spent most of the meal sneaking glances up at Marco. The kid reminded him of someone, but Crocus couldn’t put his finger on just who it was.

 


 

 

The Twin Cape was an interesting place. It was calm enough, but at the same time the weather was completely unpredictable and whimsical. Marco had heard about the weather in the Grand Line, and yet he had to admit he hadn’t been prepared for this level of instability. If it wasn’t for his powers and the immunity to temperature they provided him, he would probably have frozen to death the one time the temperature had dropped from summer-warmth to cold-enough-to-snow in ten minutes while he was perched on an outcrop halfway up the entrance channel.

Crocus was a pretty nice guy who had many interesting stories to share about the crews that had been through here. Amongst them was the story of the Rumbar Pirates and Laboon, the giant whale that lived at the Cape. Sometimes, Marco almost felt as though he understood Laboon’s suffering and his denial to accept that his friends were gone, which made absolutely no sense because Marco’s parents and friends were all back at his home island. Sure, they hadn’t been happy when Marco had finally decided to act on his desire to go to sea, but he hadn’t lost them either (even if there had been some yelling and threats of disowning him if he set foot on that merchant ship). And yet sometimes Marco felt as if he had lost… someone, he just didn’t know who. It was odd. He missed something, but he didn’t know what it was. It had always been like that, and it had been that feeling that had sent him to sea, despite his parents’ insistence that all he needed to do to get rid of that strange loneliness was to choose a job and find a nice girl to settle with.

That kind of life had never appealed to Marco.

He had told Crocus about this feeling on the third day of his stay, and instead of dismissing it as a youthful yearning that would pass with age, Crocus had told him that the sea called out to some people, and it was fine to heed that call.

Marco found it a bit funny that the first person to just accept how he felt was an old man in a lonely cape who didn’t know the first thing about him.

As for the work Crocus had mentioned, it was nothing hard to do. Mainly, Crocus asked him to keep the place reasonably clean when he went into Laboon to treat his injuries. Because Laboon had been bashing his head against the Red Line for years now, and he was too large to be treated from the outside.

So far, two ships had come into the Grand Line since Marco’s arrival, both of them pirate crews. Neither of them had stuck around even long enough to set foot on the Cape, simply stopping to choose a route before leaving. Marco didn’t mind, he knew from Crocus’ stories that it was only a matter of time before some ship needed repairs after an eventful entrance, and then Marco would have a crew to judge and decide whether he liked it or not.

On the seventh day since Marco’s arrival to the Twin Cape, the Strawhat Pirates entered the Grand Line.

Chapter Text

When Edward Newgate entered the mess hall that morning, he did it to the sound of laughter and cheers.

“Did I miss something?” he asked Izo after picking up his breakfast, sitting on his usual seat.

Izo snorted in amusement.

“Sort of. Remember that article a couple days ago about Ace’s little brother and his crew destroying Enies Lobby?”

Newgate grinned.

“Oh, yes, I do.” He had been kind of impressed by the news. That had been a daring move for a rookie still in Paradise. Ace hadn’t been kidding, that kid was really on the competition to become the Pirate King. Destroying Enies Lobby was certainly a stunt Roger would have pulled off without a second thought. The crew had been cheering on and off to Ace’s little brother for three days. And they missed Ace, really. Newgate would have loved to see his reaction to the news. He remembered the wide grin on Ace’s face when his brother’s first wanted poster had come out; Newgate could only imagine how much prouder he must be after this.

Still, Newgate was very curious about the incident, because the article from a few days ago had been suspiciously vague where it came to concrete information. He suspected the government had a good deal of facts to edit about whatever had truly happened at Enies Lobby before releasing more information for the public to see.

Izo grinned back and turned the newspaper, with a new headline about Enies Lobby, around.

“Wanted posters are out.”

“It’s a pity Ace isn’t here,” Namur said, repeating the words that had been heard a lot these past few days, as he looked at his own copy of the newspaper. “I’d love to see his reaction to this,” he added, pointing at a wanted poster. One with Ace’s little brother grinning in that picture that didn’t fit at all the purpose it had been taken for.

“You think they’ve met?” Haruta asked suddenly. “I mean, I doubt Ace would pass up the chance to meet with his little brother now he’s gone to Paradise. He’s always going on about the kid.”

Newgate glanced around the table and noticed that Jozu was uncharacteristically silent, even for him. He had a piece of paper on his hand —not the newspaper— and was staring at it, ignoring everybody around him.

“What’s Jozu looking at?”

“Oh, that? It’s one of the wanted posters from the kid’s crew. I’m not sure why, but it’s caught Jozu’s attention,” Izo replied.

“Do you have it?”

“Sure,” Izo said, handing him a stack of posters. “I’m not sure which one it is, but those are all of them.”

At the top of the pile was the grinning picture of one Monkey D. Luffy above a bounty of three hundred million beli, a very respectable sum for a rookie still in Paradise. Roronoa Zoro, with a one hundred and twenty million beli bounty, followed, his picture far more serious and fitting for a wanted criminal. Newgate put that poster aside on top of Luffy’s, looked down again, and froze.

“What sort of pirate wants his crew to be his family?”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Are you trying to get yourself killed? I had it under control, old man!”

“Hey, don’t you dare die on me now old man! Pops!”

“I know it’s the captain who chooses who to accept into the crew and all that, but if you keep bringing kids in I’m going to keep part of the treasure as payment for babysitting.”

“Thatch may be a nuisance and a little shit, but he’s my little shit of a baby brother. I’m not letting him die. I’m coming too.”

“You had to go and blow the entire mountain up, didn’t you? We can’t have you at the same island as Roger, you’re a pair of crazy show-offs.”

“Oi, Pops, look! They sent an entire fleet all for ourselves!”

“You know, next time you assholes get drunk like that, I’m taking pictures. And they’ll go straight to the newspaper.”

“This family is getting too large, maybe we should consider some kind of organization system.”

“P-Pop…s…? Y-You’re okay…”

“Pops?” Izo asked, sounding worried. He leaned closer to him. “Are you okay? Your face went all white.”

Newgate ignored Izo’s question and turned to Jozu instead. Jozu was looking at him now, his face deadly serious and missing as much color as Izo had implied that Newgate’s own face did.

“Tell me I’m not seeing things,” Newgate asked, his voice barely a ghost of what it usually was.

“If you are, so am I,” Jozu replied soberly.

Nodding, Newgate looked at the pile of wanted posters again.

In the picture on the top one, a teenager that couldn’t be older than eighteen was smirking cockily, his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth as if he was thinking what his next move would be. His light hair —blond, it was blond, even if the poor coloring of the picture didn’t show it— was matted with what seemed to be either dust or ash, and a column of smoke blocked out most of the background behind him.

The very same brat whose picture greeted him every morning from his nightstand looked up at him out of a newly-released wanted poster, his face as young as the time he accused Newgate of trying to start a daycare on their ship.

And, above a bounty of one hundred million beli, a name and an epithet confirmed both Newgate’s greatest hope and worst fear.

Marco the Phoenix.

Marco, his first son, who was indeed alive and well again.

Marco, who had decided to become a pirate once more.

And Marco, whom someone was certain enough of having recognized as well to have given him the very same epithet from so many years ago.

“Jozu, I have to go on a trip. You’re in charge of the crew until I come back.”

Chapter Text

“What the hell did just happen?” demanded Izo, whirling on Jozu the moment Pops’ boat disappeared from sight.

Because that was the thing: after saying he was leaving, Pops had paused just long enough to ask Jozu to call ahead and have a coated ship and provisions waiting for him. Then he had grabbed some food and water from the mess hall itself and left before anyone could do more than blink. He hadn’t even taken any of his medication with him.

Jozu stared at Izo for a moment, his gaze an unnerving mix of determination, sadness, and relief, before offering him the wanted poster he had been staring at for most of breakfast.

Izo accepted it, by now aware that this poster had caused the event that had his siblings muttering to each other in confusion.

Marco the Phoenix, one hundred million beli bounty.

It wasn’t bad at all for a kid in Paradise who wasn’t even the captain of the crew, but Izo still didn’t see anything special about the kid.

“Doesn’t he look familiar?” Jozu asked, his voice strangely low. By now, they had the full attention of everybody present.

Izo looked closer at the picture. Now that Jozu mentioned it…

“I think I might have seen his face before. Why?”

“Follow me.”

Nonplussed, Izo walked behind Jozu back into the mess hall, many of their siblings trailing after them, until they stopped before Pops’ stack of wanted posters on the bounties’ wall.

No, not Pops’ stack, Izo realized with a jolt, the one next to it. The stack that hadn’t been updated in over thirty years. The stack belonging to the older brother they had all heard about but so few of the current crew had met. The first mate of the Whitebeard Pirates.

Marco the Phoenix.

Izo’s head snapped down so quickly that his neck hurt. Behind him, he could hear movement as many people reached for the wanted posters strewn all over the mess hall.

“You can’t be serious…”

“The phoenix fruit,” Jozu started as though he hadn’t heard Izo, “is an odd one. Unlike the other fruits, it doesn’t regenerate when the user dies. The user is a phoenix, you see, and as such is reborn along with the fruit. Only that nobody knows when or where, and it’s an entirely new life, devoid of memories. A fresh start. We learned about this by chance, and it became a joke in the crew… until it wasn’t a joke anymore.” The only reason Izo even made out those last words was because he was standing right next to Jozu. He doubted that, despite the silence that had fallen during Jozu’s explanation, anybody else in the mess hall had heard him.

He even doubted that Jozu remembered he wasn’t alone in the room. He was staring intently at the stack of Marco’s wanted posters.

“Well then,” Izo said, successfully drawing Jozu back to the present, “he has a new bounty now, doesn’t he?” He offered Jozu Marco’s wanted poster.

Jozu smiled gratefully and accepted the poster. Izo pretended he hadn’t noticed the sheen of unshed tears in his eyes.

Chapter Text

It had been years since Edward Newgate had felt the need to sail a ship all on his own, but he knew how to do it even through the most treacherous waters of the New World. Marco had made sure that he could, drilling every lesson into his head with sharp haki-imbued kicks if he thought them necessary necessary.

Ironically enough, many of those lessons had taken place under the sea level, in the dangerous path that communicated Paradise and the New World through Fishman Island. Usually, whenever he crossed this part of the sea, Newgate would stop at Fishman Island for a visit with his friends there, but he wouldn’t risk losing that precious time now. He most likely had a few days of margin, but that was a risk he wasn’t willing to take.

Water Seven was one of the route islands in Paradise closest to Sabaody Archipelago, and it was only a matter of days before the Strawhat Pirates reached it. Even if they had to wait a few days once at the archipelago to have their ship coated, Newgate didn’t know how fast their ship was, or how good their navigator was (was it Marco? Did he even know how to navigate this time around?), and thus he didn’t know how much time he had to get there.

While reaching Sabaody wasn’t much of a challenge, entering it was. As proud as Newgate was of his family and their symbols, he didn’t want to attract the marines’ attention. Not here, not to his son. As such, he had to avoid being recognized. He had changed the ship’s sails for unmarked ones, removed the pirate flag from the top of the ship’s mast, put his trademark coat in storage and had thrown a shirt on to cover the tattoo on his back.

Despite all of this, his face was still a very recognizable one, which was why he decided to get the ship straight into the lawless areas and as close to grove thirteen as he could manage. The less he had to move around on foot, the better.

Luck was on his side, because he reached his destination without any incidents, but inside the bar there was only Shakky.

“Well, this is a surprise,” she said with a smile that said it very much wasn’t a surprise to see him. “What can I do for you?” she asked, leaning forward on the counter.

“What’s the strongest drink you have?” Newgate asked, suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of what was about to happen. His nurses were going to kill him. If not for disregarding his medication and heading out before they could notice what he was doing, then for getting completely wasted at some point during this trip.

Maybe Marco could take those pictures now.

“Something that’d most likely blow a normal person’s liver up. This isn’t a reputable bar,” Shakky replied, gesturing at the largest sofa available.

“That sounds perfect,” Newgate said, and he sat down heavily.

Shakky moved behind the bar for a minute before walking out with a decently-sized tankard for Newgate and a standard-sized one for herself. She dragged a chair over and sat down across from him.

“I was right, then?”

Newgate nodded, not at all surprised that Shakky had made the connection, and downed half of his tankard. Whatever it was, it burned all the way down and anchored him to the here and now; it reminded him that, this time, he wasn’t dreaming.

“Where’s Rayleigh?” he asked after a short silence.

Shakky shrugged.

“He’s been away for some six months. I imagine he’ll come back when he has nothing left to bet with.”

Newgate nodded. That wasn’t a surprise either. He wondered if Rayleigh had read the newspaper lately. Probably not.

“So,” Shakky started, “do you want to know the situation at the archipelago?”

“Yes.”

She leaned back on her chair and took a sip of her drink.

“Currently, there are twelve rookies with bounties of or above one hundred million beli on Paradise, and all of them are expected to coincide here in the upcoming days. Only some have arrived so far, and the Strawhat Pirates aren’t amongst them.”

Newgate sagged down, relieved that he had really made it in time.

“Your kid’s chosen an interesting crew to join. Again,” Shakky said with a smile. “I like them, I think I might even become their fan.”

Newgate chuckled.

“Yeah, Marco would never join a lousy pirate crew.”

“He joined you,” Shakky pointed out teasingly, and Newgate laughed.

“That took some time. He tried to kick my ass more than once first.”

“Well, then, what are you going to do now?” Shakky asked, and something in her tone made Newgate pause. It was far too serious for her to be asking if he intended to stay here until Marco arrived.

“Do about what?”

Shakky sighed and shook her head.

“You haven’t looked at a single newspaper since you learned about Marco, have you?”

She stood up without waiting for a response and went behind the bar. There, she rummaged a little before pulling out a newspaper.

When she set it on the table before him, Newgate felt all of his blood drain from his face.

Ace had been captured.

“I need a safe den den mushi.”

Chapter Text

It might seem odd to some, but Marco’s new wanted poster had become a sort of talisman for those who had known him in the past, even more so now that the news of Ace’s capture had come out. Pops had been right in being worried. Shit, Shanks had been right in dropping by to ask Pops to order Ace to come back, even if it turned out that Ace had already been captured by then. But Pops couldn’t simply tell Shanks that he had already done everything he could short of tying Ace up to stop him from going after Teach. Maybe they should have tied Ace up after all.

Anyway, Pops had just called. He had finally made it to Sabaody and learned of Ace’s capture. He was at Shakky’s bar now, which in Vista’s opinion made for a perfect place to gather information on the marines’ movements at Paradise, and his orders had been simple but expected: contact everyone, every single ally they had who was willing to go to war.

Because there would be war, or so Pops had assured Vista.

Pops was certain that it was only a matter of days before the government announced Ace’s execution (Vista wasn’t so sure, because an execution meant a full out war with the Whitebeard Pirates, and that was a dangerous move for the World Government to make, but he trusted Pops’ instincts), and he wanted everybody ready to move. Pops had ordered Vista to have all of their ships coated and ready to cross into Paradise the moment Pops gave the order, and he had outlined a pretty interesting strategy to enter the Marineford bay unhindered.

Shakky had been with Pops, providing all the information she had on the marines’ current movements, and as Vista listened to her words he understood that Pops was right.

War was coming.

Marine officers had been called from all corners of the world, with barely enough exceptions to have all other marine bases functioning, and a large number of marine ships were headed to Marineford right now. There were even rumors saying that the Shichibukai had been summoned.

Izo was calling Fishman Island right now to check this rumor.

Pops would have the ship he had taken with him coated and wait for them at Sabaody.

That was when Vista had asked about Marco. Was he already at Sabaody? No. And what about the Strawhat Pirates? What would happen with them? Because if half the stories Ace had told them were true —forget that, if half the rumors about Enies Lobby were true— then there was no way that Ace’s little brother would stand back and do nothing while the marines attempted to execute Ace. Hell, if Marco was half the reckless little shit he had been as a teenager last time around there was no way that he wouldn’t follow his captain straight into Marineford if necessary.

Vista glanced at the wanted poster then.

Forget any ifs. Marco had already followed his captain into at least one insane and by all means suicidal battle, there was no way he wouldn’t do it again. And Pops had said the Strawhat Pirates were expected at Sabaody any day now. They had to keep them into account.

Vista reached out and brushed his thumb over Marco’s smirking face. He didn’t want to lose his brother so soon after learning that he was back.

Shit, he didn’t want to lose any of his brothers.

The door burst open and Izo entered with a grim expression.

“Jinbe has been arrested for refusing to go to war against us.”

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Truthfully, Silvers Rayleigh despised human auction houses and everything they stood for. However, he had long ago learned that there were some battles one couldn’t fight on their own, no matter how strong they were. So he accepted this dark side of the world as a necessary evil for now and waited for the day when it could be eradicated for good. If Shanks’ words and faith were to be believed, it wouldn’t take too long now.

Besides, today might prove to be interesting. Rayleigh hadn’t missed Whitebeard’s arrival on Sabaody a few days ago, that guy’s presence was just too strong and easy to recognize, but unfortunately by then Rayleigh had already bet his own freedom away. He just hoped Whitebeard would stick around long enough for Rayleigh to steal some money and get away from this place, because he would love the chance to catch up with him.

The auction house was packed by now, and the first few unfortunate souls that had been captured had been already sold into a lifetime of slavery. The mermaid was trembling, terrified, inside the water tank she had been forced into, and Rayleigh was practicing his long-since acquired skill of ignoring the deeper implications of this place when something made him pause.

A new group of people had entered the auction house, a small but decently strong one. Seven beings, he noticed when he paid closer attention. And it was one of them that had drawn his attention despite his best efforts to disconnect from his surroundings.

A smirk pulled at Rayleigh’s lips.

It had been years since he had sensed that particular presence, and yet some presences were impossible to forget no matter how much time passed. Oh, Rayleigh had known he would be back at some point, Whitebeard had shared that story one day he had gotten particularly drunk, but Rayleigh hadn’t expected he would ever meet him again.

Marco the Phoenix was at the spectators’ area of the human auction house, and Rayleigh was suddenly convinced that things wouldn’t go as expected. Marco was nowhere near as strong as he had been by the end (in fact, Rayleigh would bet the money he was about to steal that Marco was at around the same level that he had been the first time they had met), but he had never been, nor would he ever be, the sort of person to walk into an auction house out of interest or curiosity. Which meant he had another reason to be here.

And it sure as hell wasn’t a coincidence that Whitebeard was at Sabaody for the first time in years at the same time that Marco was.

“Well,” Rayleigh muttered to himself, “it seems I missed something important.”

“What are you going on about, old man?” the giant sitting next to him asked.

Rayleigh’s smirk grew.

“Oh, nothing, just that things are about to get really interesting,” he said, and took a long drink from his flask.

 


 

 

Mere minutes afterwards, chaos broke outside.

The moment all the guards rushed out of the prison area, Rayleigh freed himself and the giant, took some money from one of the nearby offices, and they walked into the auction area itself.

It was mayhem out there. Rayleigh knocked out a Tenryuubito who had been about to shoot the mermaid prisoner, noticed Hachi’s presence (and he was injured pretty badly, damn it), knocked every enemy out and finally identified the source of the chaos.

The Strawhat Pirates.

And, by the looks of it, Marco was actually part of the crew. Rayleigh wanted to burst out laughing, he wanted to talk to Marco, he wanted to talk to Monkey D. Luffy, but there wasn’t time for any of that. Instead, he freed the mermaid and urged the Strawhat Pirates and the other pirates present at the auction house to get out of there.

It was an exhilarating experience. It had been years since Rayleigh had been in a good, old-fashioned brawl with the marines, and while he didn’t take an active part in it, he did enjoy himself a lot.

Unfortunately, the fact that three Tenryuubito had been knocked out during the mess meant that an admiral was on his way to Sabaody, and they didn’t have much time to talk. While Rayleigh told the Strawhats exactly who he was after they got Hachi safely back to Shakky’s bar, there wasn’t time for much more, so he set out to start coating their ship. He would keep his focus on the crew, though, because while Shanks would be understandably mad if anything happened to Luffy, Whitebeard would kill Rayleigh if something happened to Marco.

Chapter Text

As enjoyable as Shakky’s company was, there was only so much time that Newgate could spend cooped up in a building, especially while he was organizing an attack and rescue operation. Shakky helped him disguise his appearance to a greater extent —she assured him that nobody glanced twice at hooded people in the lawless areas of Sabaody— and Newgate decided to leave his far too well known bisento behind. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t beat the crap out of anyone around here easily. Sans Rayleigh, who would pose a challenge as usual, but it had been a long time since they had been enemies.

Newgate wandered around, managed to get a look at some of the promising rookies currently at Sabaody, and kept in constant contact with his children to set everything up. All of their allies had assembled by now, and they had started coating their ships already. It was a matter of days, two at most according to Haruta’s estimations, before their fleet was ready to descend towards Fishman Island. He kept his attention out for Rayleigh’s presence —who was at the lawless areas but didn’t seem to be moving much— but for now he hadn’t decided to go meet him, and he also looked out for Marco.

Marco, that was a complicated issue.

Despite his rush to get to the archipelago and his eagerness to find him, Newgate didn’t have the slightest idea of how to approach Marco. How did you tell a kid that in a past life he had been your beloved son and first mate and you would like to have him in your life again? And, what was more, how did you tell him this without making it look as if you wanted to drag him away from his current crew? Because Marco was very loyal, and if he had been willing to risk his life the way he had at Enies Lobby Newgate had no doubt that he truly loved his current crew. Newgate didn’t want to take Marco away from people he loved, and he knew that Marco wouldn’t let him. If Marco was even half as stubborn as he had been before, he wouldn’t care at all about Newgate’s status as the strongest man in the world.

Newgate had just put away the two den den mushi when a news coo approached him. That was odd, because today’s newspaper had already been delivered this morning, and he didn’t hesitate before buying a copy.

His blood froze.

Ace had been officially sentenced to a public execution in ten days’ time.

Newgate pulled the den den mushis out again and called the Moby Dick. He didn’t know if they had received the news already, but this announcement set a more defined outline for their actions.

He spent the next twenty minutes on the line, and when he finally climbed down from the hidden spot halfway up a mangrove that he had found for his conversations with his children, he found the archipelago in chaos.

People were running all over the place in a full-out panic, their words mixing in a way that made it impossible for Newgate to discern anything they were yelling. Whatever had happened, it was big, and after spotting the third pirate crew in so many minutes running in a frenzy towards the harbor, Newgate decided enough was enough and grabbed the closest person by the arm.

“What’s going on?”

“W-What?” The man blinked, staring at Newgate as though he couldn’t believe his question for a moment before shaking himself back to the present. “What’s going on?! Strawhat Luffy punched a Tenryuubito, that’s what’s going on!” the man yelled, and he tried to free himself from Newgate’s hold to no avail.

Newgate’s first impulse was to laugh —that was definitely something he could expect from the crazy little brother Ace liked to talk so much about— but his more practical side took over before he could. An attack on a Tenryuubito meant that a marine admiral would be sent to deal with the perpetrators. With the Strawhat Pirates. With Marco.

Marine Headquarters was practically next door and all the admirals were bound to be there due to the preparations for the upcoming war.

“Where?” Newgate demanded, and whatever his tone was like, it made the man he was holding pale.

“G-Grove one,” the man stammered out.

Newgate let go of him and took off in that direction, pushing as quickly as he could through the throng of people trying to get as far from that grove as they could.

He scanned the area with his haki, as far and as carefully as he could manage, but the panic emanating from every direction made it hard to locate individual presences. It was a miracle he hadn’t sensed the chaos before, but Newgate’s own worry over Ace must have overridden it.

Newgate threw caution to the wind and decided to cross through part of the hotel area of Sabaody, because that path would take him to grove one faster than winding solely through the lawless areas. He didn’t sense Marco’s presence as he approached, though, even as the crowds started to thin, not until he was crossing grove five and realized that Marco wasn’t in grove one anymore. No, he was at another area, precisely the one that had been Newgate’s headquarters here for the first few days, and he was in the company of none other than Rayleigh and Shakky.

Newgate couldn’t hold back a laugh. It figured that Marco had managed to meet Rayleigh in the middle of this mess.

Relieved to know that Marco had some reliable backup with him, Newgate kept on his way to grove one, intent on catching the first marine he found to learn who, exactly, the marines had sent to deal with the Strawhat Pirates.

Chapter Text

Marco was panting, holding himself up against the bark of a mangrove. Whatever that Kuma lookalike had been, fighting him had pushed Marco’s endurance enough that he was actually tired from the battle, and he was the only member of the crew who wasn’t sporting any noticeable injury.

Which wasn’t good at all, because now they had some weirdo with a broadaxe and a second Kuma lookalike to worry about.

What the hell is going on here?

These guys weren’t Kuma, they didn’t have that odd devil fruit power from Thriller Bark for the crew to worry about, but they were no weaklings either.

“We have to run!” Luffy yelled, clearly as aware as everyone else that they couldn’t win this fight. Their only chance to survive for three days was to hide.

“I’m going with Zoro,” Marco said before anyone else could divide them in groups.

“I don’t need looking after!” Zoro yelled at him, but Marco ignored him. Everybody who had been conscious at Thriller Bark —and Marco was still berating himself for having been trapped under that fucking mountain of rubble— had noticed that Zoro still hadn’t recovered from the wounds from back then.

“Okay! Sanji and I will take the other groups!” Luffy yelled, and they all dashed off in different directions.

Usopp and Brook came with them, and Marco exchanged a look with Brook, aware that Brook had witnessed the events from Thriller Bark as well.

“Everyone, meet back at the Sunny in three days!” Luffy yelled, and Marco was glad that Rayleigh would move the Sunny elsewhere, otherwise the marines could ambush them at the ship.

If they even managed to escape this grove.

Marco had a moment to curse under his breath when he realized that the Kuma lookalike had gone for Sanji’s group and the axe guy had gone after Luffy’s before something tickled at his senses. He turned his head just in time to see Zoro being pierced by a beam of light.

“What the—? Who the hell are you?!” Usopp yelled.

“Who the fuck are you?” Marco demanded at the same time of the person standing before them. As the smoke from the attack cleared, he could see it was a very tall man wearing a marine coat on his shoulders.

Another one, fuck.

And then Robin yelled that the man was an admiral. Kizaru.

“Usopp, Brook, get Zoro out of here!” Marco shouted, dropping into a fighting stance. He had no chance in hell against an admiral, but he should be able to buy the others some time.

“What?! Don’t be an idiot!” Usopp yelled at him.

“It’s useless,” Kizaru said in an irritatingly singsong voice that grated on Marco’s nerves, “It’s too late for him. A bounty of one hundred and twenty million beli, Pirate Hunter Zoro…” Kizaru started, raising his leg. Light gathered on his foot, a clear preparation for another beam. “He must have been really—“

“Get Zoro!” Marco repeated, charging forward as blue flames erupted all over his body.

Kizaru must not have been expecting someone to rush straight into his attack, for he staggered back just a little bit. Marco’s fire grew, absorbing the attack that sent a shock of pain through his whole body despite his regenerating ability, and it took him a moment to steady himself on his feet again.

Despite their earlier complaints, Usopp and Brook followed his order and took advantage of the momentary distraction to grab Zoro and run in the opposite direction.

“Weeell,” Kizaru spoke, “that’s an interesting power you have there. Very fitting, Marco the Phoenix.”

Marco smirked with a confidence he didn’t feel.

“Yeah, tough luck for you, I guess.”

“Is it though? I wonder if you can handle a stronger attack,” Kizaru said, raising his leg again, and Marco felt goose bumps rise all over his skin. There was something off, something really off, about the light gathering on Kizaru’s foot now.

Marco braced himself, and this time transformed completely. He wasn’t moving, he couldn’t move and let this guy through.

At the precise moment that Kizaru shot, Marco found himself pushed back and then Rayleigh was there, standing over him with his own foot raised. Kizaru’s attack was deflected to one side, away from the battlefield.

How…? Marco thought, his body going back to his human form.

Kizaru recognized Rayleigh, of course he did, and Rayleigh didn’t sound as though a wave of pain had just shaken his entire body when he replied.

Marco stood there, staring in confusion as Kizaru and Rayleigh pretty much bantered as old acquaintances (then again they probably were, weren’t they? Kizaru must have been a marine for a long time if he was an admiral) until Luffy yelled for him to run.

Marco turned and did exactly that, heeding Luffy’s order that their main priority now was to get away from here. Luffy was right, there was no way in hell they could win this. Even with Rayleigh holding Kizaru back, they still had two other ridiculously powerful enemies to worry about.

They were severely outclassed here.

And it soon became clear that getting away wouldn’t be so easy. Axe guy sent the Kuma lookalike after Zoro, but Sanji went to stop him before Marco could. Besides, now Sanji was closer to Zoro anyway, and Luffy was fighting axe guy alone —or, more accurately, attempting to flee from him— so that was where Marco went. He transformed fully, flew as fast as he could, half-transformed his body back to human, and dropped a kick on axe guy’s head. Or, at least, that was what he tried to do. Somehow, despite being so focused on Luffy and despite Marco’s speed (which had increased noticeably during the Enies Lobby mess), axe guy reacted in time to block Marco’s leg with his forearm, and it felt like kicking a steel beam. If not for his regenerative powers, Marco might have broken his leg.

Jumping back, Marco landed next to Luffy.

“What the fuck is wrong with this guy?”

“No idea, but it’s like being hit by Gramps!” Luffy said, and that wasn’t good, given who Luffy’s grandfather was.

“SANJI!” Chopper yelled, and Marco turned in time to see Sanji slam against Usopp and Zoro.

Fucking shit!

And then Chopper was off, pulling out a rumble ball. His third one. Marco hadn’t been at the Justice Tower at Enies Lobby at the time, he had flown straight to the bridge to intercept Spandam and Robin, but he had heard the story of how Chopper had lost control and transformed into a giant rampaging monster.

“Robin!” Marco yelled, pausing for a moment as Luffy launched another attack at axe guy. “Go over there, I got Luffy’s back!” Because, Marco realized, Robin’s attacks and brain would be of more help with the cyborg than in this battle.

She glanced at him for a moment before nodding and running after Chopper. Marco saw Robin’s arms pull the others out of the path of Chopper’s rampage before he turned back to his own fight.

Luffy crashed to the ground after one of axe guy’s hits, and Marco jumped forward, this time to kick him with a talon instead of his human foot. Axe guy blocked him, an annoyed expression on his face, and Marco didn’t move fast enough to dodge his punch. It didn’t leave a mark, but it hurt where the fist hit despite the fire’s appearance. It was nowhere near as bad as Kizaru’s attack, but it was painful all the same. Not even the CP9 had managed to cause him pain back at Water Seven.

Marco staggered as he landed on his feet, panting more heavily than before.

What the hell is wrong with these guys?

“Wait, PX-1,” a voice cut through the battle, one that Marco remembered well.

Another one? He wondered, turning to see a third Kuma standing across the second one, Usopp’s group trapped in the middle.

“Fuck…”

And then, before anyone could do more than panic or stare, this third Kuma made Zoro disappear.

What…?

Marco realized that this was the real Kuma, the paws on his palms proved as much, and the marines weren’t glad to see him here.

“Oi, what did you do to Zoro?! Where is he?!” Luffy yelled, trying and failing to stand up.

At axe guy’s explanation —Zoro would be flying for three days? But his wounds were too severe! And what was that about how he could be anywhere in the world?— Marco tensed, looking around.

“Luffy…” Marco started, watching as Sanji attempted to stand up.

“I know.” The Kuma lookalike tried to attack, only for the real Kuma to make him disappear as well. Luffy dragged himself to his knees. “Guys, run! Get out of here! We’ll think about what to do later!”

Axe guy seemed to shake himself out of whatever anger he felt at Kuma’s actions, but for once Marco was faster. He transformed and grabbed Luffy with his talons. If nothing else, at least the guy didn’t seem to be able to fly.

“Brook!” Usopp yelled, and Marco looked back at the group. In the time it had taken him to get Luffy away from axe guy, Brook had vanished.

“Brook!” Luffy yelled as well. “Damn it! Marco, put me down! We gotta help!”

Sure as hell they had to. There would be nobody left to flee at this rate. Marco aimed for the closest cleared space where he could set Luffy down without injuring him further —because Luffy couldn’t take much more damage at this point. As Marco descended, Sanji attempted to kick Kuma, and while he wasn’t successful, at least he wasn’t sent away either.

Marco set Luffy down, and in those few seconds Kuma made Usopp disappear.

Marco rushed forward, and so did Sanji. Sanji got there first, and then he wasn’t there anymore. Marco managed to dodge Kuma’s hand and land a kick that by all accounts didn’t seem to hurt Kuma at all.

He expected to disappear, but instead it was Kuma who was no longer there.

Marco looked around and saw Kuma had appeared next to Rayleigh and Kizaru, but whatever was being said was beyond him.

And then Luffy charged at Kuma, but Kuma disappeared again, this time to show up right before Franky and Nami. Marco transformed, knowing he would get there faster flying, but all he managed to do was catch Luffy —who had tried to attack Kuma and got pushed away— before he could crash anywhere. Marco was shoved back from the impact, but he hit something that wasn’t hard-packed earth or rough tree bark.

Franky was gone.

“Well, this is quite the mess you have going on here.”

The battlefield, if it could be called that at this point, froze, and Marco turned his head to see just who had caught them.

“W-Whitebeard?!” axe guy exclaimed, even more shocked than when Rayleigh had appeared.

Because the man currently holding both Marco and Luffy in his hands was none other than Whitebeard himself.

Whitebeard looked around, and his eyes soon fell on Rayleigh and Kizaru.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Rayleigh? I see you’re busy.”

Rayleigh shrugged.

“I got my hands a bit full, as you can see.”

“Anything I can help you with?”

Marco wasn’t sure, but he thought Rayleigh’s eyes darted around quickly for a moment before meeting Whitebeard’s again.

“You could keep those two safe.”

Marco could feel Whitebeard shrug.

And then, as if they had just snapped out of a strange bubble of calmness, things were back on. Kuma moved, for some reason disregarding the fact that Whitebeard could crush him easily, and charged at Nami.

“NAMI!” Luffy and Marco yelled, both of them lunging forward, but for some reason Whitebeard didn’t release them.

“Let go, you old geezer!” Luffy yelled, trying to get past Whitebeard’s large fingers. Marco attempted to transform and jump into the air, but Whitebeard’s large fingers clamped down on his wings, holding him in place.

And then Nami was gone.

Kuma appeared before Robin next, but Chopper charged at him, as if wanting to protect her despite his seemingly mindless state. It was useless, because Kuma just vanished both of them and Marco could do nothing but watch helplessly. Luffy was still trying to free himself, even going so far as to attempt a Gear Third he didn’t have the energy left to pull off.

Silence fell on the grove.

Chapter Text

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, old geezer?!” Ace’s little brother —Luffy, best to start thinking of him by his name— yelled, still trapped by Newgate’s hands. “WE COULD’VE HELPED THEM!”

“Really? How?” Newgate asked, and he didn’t mean it in a cruel or mocking manner. Both Marco and Luffy were exhausted, clearly on the verge of passing out had they not been so worked up by everything that had just happened. “You can’t even stand on your own.”

“Maybe. But you could have helped them,” Marco said, his voice cold, and it was like a stab to the heart. This was the first time Marco had spoken to him in thirty years, and his words were an accusation.

And the worst part was that Marco was right. Newgate could have saved those three, if only Rayleigh hadn’t made it clear that he shouldn’t intervene. Which begged the question of why Rayleigh had done it in the first place.

Newgate looked at Rayleigh.

The marines and Kuma were gone now, after Kizaru had admitted that if Newgate was to intervene they were too outclassed to capture the remaining Strawhat Pirates, and Newgate could sense their presences groves away from their position.

“It’s something Kuma said,” Rayleigh replied, and both Marco and Luffy turned to look at him. “He said that he was a member of the Revolutionary Army, and that he wanted to help your crew get away from the island,” he addressed this last part to Marco and Luffy.

“The Revolutionary Army?” Marco asked, surprised.

“Why’s that familiar?” Luffy asked, tilting his head to the side.

Marco sighed in that long-suffering way that Newgate had missed for so long. He didn’t bother to hide his smile; neither Marco nor Luffy were looking at him.

“Don’t you remember what your grandfather said? Your dad’s the leader of the Revolutionary Army,” Marco said.

Newgate blinked, caught completely off guard. Dragon was Luffy’s father? And Garp’s son? Newgate would laugh about the hilarity of the second one later, but for now he was too busy being astonished by the fact that, somehow, Ace and Luffy had found each other and become brothers.

Talk about fate.

“You mean the bear guy was helping us?” Luffy asked, surprised.

“Maybe,” Marco replied. “What he did was odd, if you think about it. And the axe guy looked about ready to go fight him instead of us.”

And then, to Newgate’s surprise, Luffy laughed.

“That means they’re okay?” he asked in such a relieved way that his mood was contagious.

“They should be,” Rayleigh replied. “I had the impression he was sincere about wanting to help you. That’s why I agreed.”

“Okay! That’s good, they’ll come back then!”

A pensive look crossed Rayleigh’s face then, and Newgate knew he was debating on something.

“Anyway, we should go back to Shakky’s. The marines won’t come after you now that they know we’re here, but they’ll be around for a few hours still,” Rayleigh said at last.

“What about the Sunny?” Marco asked suddenly.

“Don’t worry about it. Duval and his men are guarding it.”

“Okay. Put us down, old guy,” Luffy half-asked, looking up at Newgate.

Newgate held back a chuckle. Not only was Luffy recklessly rude, but Marco shook his head in a way that indicated this was very much the norm with Luffy, and Rayleigh laughed.

“No way. You two will fall on your faces if you try to walk.” That was Newgate’s response, but the truth was that he didn’t want to let go of Marco so soon. He had his son sitting safely on his hand, and he wanted to keep him there for as long as possible.

Chapter Text

When Rayleigh returned to the bar not even half an hour after he had left, he wasn’t alone. Whitebeard was with him, and so were Luffy and Marco, but there was no trace of any other member of the Strawhat Pirates. Shakky had been worried about the Strawhats’ chances of escaping an admiral, and it was clear now that something had gone very wrong.

Rayleigh walked in first, followed by Whitebeard, who had to crouch down really low to pass through the doorway. He was holding Luffy and Marco, and the two looked far worse than they had when they left.

“Luffy! Marco!” Camie exclaimed, moving closer to the door on the couch. “Are you okay? Where are the others?”

Luffy glanced aside, an angry expression crossing his face for a moment, but it was Marco who replied.

“We’re not sure.”

Whitebeard glanced around the bar, from Hachi still covered in bandages on the bed to Camie’s mermaid tail. He then nodded to himself, no doubt connecting them to the incident with the Tenryuubito. Funnily enough, it was then that they realized just who Whitebeard was, because Camie and Pappug let out surprised shrieks while Hachi made an attempt to sit up that ended with him groaning in pain.

Rayleigh laughed.

“No need to react like that, he’s just an old friend.” He turned to Whitebeard. “You should drop the kids on the couch. I’m pretty sure they’re hungry after that fight.”

Luffy perked up visibly at the mention of food, and Whitebeard shook his head in amusement. He did put them down, though, Luffy next to Camie and Marco next to Luffy. Unsurprisingly, Whitebeard took a seat on Marco’s other side. Shakky turned around to hide a smile, moving to look for whatever food was left after Luffy’s other two visits today. She knew Whitebeard couldn’t have told Marco the truth in as little time as had passed, and she wondered how much Marco would notice before they had a chance to talk.

“So, what happened?” she asked.

 


 

 

“…I see,” Shakky said finally. She was inclined to believe in Rayleigh’s assessment of Kuma’s intentions, but it was a troublesome situation all the same. Who knew how long it would take for some of the Strawhat Pirates to return to Sabaody, and then there was the issue of how clearly outclassed they had been in that fight. She glanced at Rayleigh. She had noticed his pensive looks more than once. “What’s on your mind?”

Rayleigh closed his eyes for a moment and smiled.

“You know me too well.” Opening his eyes again, he focused on Luffy and Marco, who were done eating (Luffy had polished off most of the food, but he had left some for Marco, who’d only had to punch him twice). “Tell me, after what just happened, do you believe that you are ready to face the New World?”

Luffy tensed, and Marco frowned.

“We’ll have to, won’t we?”

Rayleigh glanced at Whitebeard before focusing on Marco and Luffy again.

“Maybe not. I am not sure how this could be done right now, but I have a proposal.”

 


 

 

There was silence once Rayleigh was done explaining his idea. Luffy and Marco exchanged a look.

“Exactly how many of those Kuma lookalikes are out there?” Marco asked.

“I’m not sure,” Shakky replied. She had been surprised to hear that Kizaru had brought Pacifistas with him (though she wasn’t surprised to learn the government had waited until they were ready to announce Ace’s execution). “But I don’t think they are your biggest worry. Any pirate crew worth their salt out in the New World would be able to take one of them out with no trouble. In fact,” she smiled and looked at Whitebeard, “I’m sure Whitebeard here could take all of them out easily.”

“WHAT?!” Luffy yelled, jumping to his feet. “You’re Whitebeard?! Ace’s captain?!”

Shakky blinked, surprised that Luffy hadn’t known. Not recognizing Rayleigh was one thing, he had been in hiding for over twenty years and believed dead by many, but Whitebeard? Rayleigh burst out laughing, Whitebeard raised his eyebrows, and Marco rolled his eyes.

“So you really hadn’t noticed,” Marco said with a complete lack of surprise.

Shakky chuckled. That was one interesting little crew.

“But how do we tell the others?” Luffy asked, going back to the previous topic as if nothing odd had happened.

“That’s what I haven’t figured out,” Rayleigh said, and looked at Whitebeard. “Any ideas?”

Whitebeard shrugged.

“Beats me. I guess you brats don’t have den den mushis, do you?”

Marco shook his head.

Chapter Text

Marco noticed Whitebeard tense next to him, and Rayleigh glanced to the door.

“Well, looks like we might get some answers,” Rayleigh said out of nowhere, and stood up. Whitebeard did, too, and they walked to the door. Curious, Marco followed them, Shakky moving at a more sedate pace. Luffy jumped to his feet and bounced to the door.

“What’s—?” he heard Camie start to ask, but Luffy’s voice drowned whatever she was saying.

“OI! Where’s my crew?”

Luffy demanded, shooting forward. Whitebeard reached out to stop him, and Marco hurried up, certain of who he would find outside the bar.

Bartholomew Kuma stood there, his expression as stoic as Marco had ever seen since encountering him at Thriller Bark.

“Your crewmembers are alive,” Kuma said simply.

“I know that! Bring them back!” Luffy demanded, struggling against Whitebeard’s hold on him.

“I can’t do that,” Kuma said.

“Then why are you here?” Rayleigh asked.

“I came to give a proper explanation of my actions earlier.”

“You won’t try to send the kids away, will you?” Whitebeard asked, and Marco thought his tone was a little too hostile for the circumstances.

“There is no point, the marines won’t be able to arrest them now.”

Wait, send?

“Oi!” Marco said suddenly, drawing everyone’s attention to himself. “You said you can’t bring the others back, but can you send them something?”

Kuma stared at him for a moment before nodding slowly.

Rayleigh grinned.

“Good thinking.”

 


 

 

Unsurprisingly, once he was assured that Kuma really worked for his father and had come to save their crew, Luffy had decided that he didn’t care about the details. Marco didn’t, either, if he was honest, not when he had something more important to do.

“That’s not fair,” Luffy whined for the… whatever time it was already. “I’m the captain, I should be the one writing that.”

“Yeah, well, they’re supposed to be able to read them. Just draw the flags at the bottom, will you?”

“I already did,” Luffy said, holding up the five letters he had been working on. Between Marco’s handwriting and Luffy’s horrid rendering of their flag, nobody could doubt that they had really been the ones to write the letters. Luffy had even added some comments of his own, and Marco decided he didn’t want to know what they said.

Marco placed the letter to Zoro in front of Luffy. It was the longest one, but given how much of a hothead Zoro was, he would need a good deal of reassurances to rest and recover from all the injuries he had been pretending weren’t bothering him since Thriller Bark. Not to mention Kizaru’s attack. Marco couldn’t imagine how much damage that had done if one of those beams had hurt even him.

Once the letters were all written, Marco took them and walked up to Kuma. It might be a little reckless on his part to interrupt a conversation between a Yonko, the Dark King, and a Shichibukai, but Marco’s usually negligible self-preservation instinct had decided to go take a nap back at the auction house.

“Okay, so this one’s for Zoro,” he said, handing Kuma the right letter. “I don’t suppose you can make it hit him on the head, can you? He’ll probably try to do something stupid as soon as he lands.”

For some reason, that made Whitebeard laugh.

One by one, Kuma sent all the letters after the members of the crew. It would take the guys three days to read them, as the letters would arrive not long after they had landed, but Kuma said the letters would fall on the person, and not the place where said person originally landed, so at least Marco was assured that they would receive them.

Kuma didn’t take long to leave after that, and his parting words were disconcerting to say the least.

“This is the last time I’ll see any of you. I won’t be really there at the war.”

“What war?” Luffy asked after the door to the bar had closed.

Chapter Text

Rayleigh watched Luffy freeze when Shakky said that Portgas D. Ace, Whitebeard’s Second Division Commander, had been sentenced to be executed in ten days. Well, it seemed that Rayleigh had truly missed a lot of information during his latest gambling spree. He would make sure to keep up with the news from now on, even after selling himself off.

“Ace is…?” Luffy started, but trailed off. Then, for some reason, he turned on Whitebeard. “That can’t happen!”

“Of course not,” Whitebeard said. “I’ve already started preparations; I won’t let the marines execute Ace.”

Luffy nodded.

“I’m coming,” he said gravely.

Rayleigh raised an eyebrow, surprised by that declaration, and glanced at Shakky. She shook her head, clearly as much at a loss as he was.

“No. This is beyond your level.”

“I don’t care! I’m not staying back while Ace is in trouble!”

“Your entire crew just lost against a single admiral, you can’t expect to fight the marines’ strongest,” Whitebeard said, curiously reasonable. Rayleigh would expect Whitebeard to be bothered by anyone who made him waste his time when one of his children was in danger, but for some reason he seemed more understanding than anything else.

Rayleigh was clearly missing something here.

“I don’t care! I’ll save Ace!”

“You won’t change his mind. We’ll go whether you want us to or not,” Marco said, cutting whatever response Whitebeard had been about to deliver.

Whitebeard looked at Marco, and Rayleigh knew he didn’t imagine the terror that flashed in Whitebeard’s eyes for just a moment. Finally, he sighed.

“Stubborn little brats. You’d better not get in the way.”

You don’t get in the way,” Luffy shot back.

Whitebeard chuckled, sounding amused despite himself, and sat down on the couch heavily enough to make it creak.

“What did I miss here?” Rayleigh asked once the argument was settled.

“This brat,” Whitebeard said, pointing at Luffy, “is Ace’s little brother. And he’s just as stubborn as Ace.”

Oh, that explains it.

“What’s your plan?” Marco asked. Rayleigh held back a fond smile. He had heard that question in that same voice before, many years ago. It brought back memories.

Judging by the way Whitebeard looked at Marco, Rayleigh wasn’t the only one remembering old times.

“We’ve assembled all of our allies, and our ships are mostly coated by now. A day, maybe two, and they’ll be ready to cross through Fishman Island. We’ll attack Marineford and stop the execution before it can happen.”

“What?!” Luffy yelled, and he lunged forward. “You want to wait?!” For a moment, he looked ready to disregard all common sense and punch Whitebeard.

“I don’t want to wait, but it’s the best option.”

“Is it?” Marco asked, and he didn’t wait for an answer. “I know Impel Down is supposed to be impenetrable and all of that, but wouldn’t it make more sense to assault the prison than to wait until the very day of the execution?”

“And risk the guards killing Ace before we can get all the way down there? That’s too dangerous,” Whitebeard argued.

“It doesn’t seem more dangerous than waiting until Ace is up at the scaffold surrounded by the marines’ strongest. They could decide to kill him ahead of schedule if it looks like you’re winning.”

Whitebeard stared at Marco, and Marco held his gaze steadily. Rayleigh knew that, had anyone else questioned his plan, Whitebeard wouldn’t have even considered their words. But this was Marco, and even if Marco himself didn’t know it, Whitebeard was incapable of dismissing anything he said without giving it proper thought.

“Then what do you propose we do, brat?”

“Think about it. I don’t know the details, not really, but if your crew still isn’t ready to cross through Fishman Island, why don’t you take the time to think about both possibilities and see which one works better?”

Whitebeard stayed silent, his eyes still on Marco, and while he would seem mostly serious and foreboding to the untrained eye, Rayleigh could see the longing on his face. Rayleigh knew that look, it was the same one that crossed his own face whenever he wondered how things would have been like had Roger been there at a certain moment.

Right now, Rayleigh couldn’t help thinking that Whitebeard was a lucky bastard.

“I’ll go make a few calls,” Whitebeard said finally. He stood up. “You two don’t go anywhere; this place is still full of marines.”

Whitebeard glanced at Rayleigh, waited for his nod, and left.

“You should rest,” Rayleigh told Marco and Luffy. “Whatever he decides to do about Ace —and whatever you two decide to do— won’t be immediate. Right now you have a battle to recover from. You won’t be taking on any marine strongholds in that state.”

Chapter Text

Marco helped Shakky carry a mountain of blankets and pillows to the room where the bed Hachi was resting on at the bar now had been. Luffy was silent next to him, something that would be odd under different circumstances.

This was Enies Lobby all over again, only that this time they didn’t have the rest of the crew with them and their enemies weren’t just an elite group of assassins and a few thousand average soldiers (Marco bit back a mirthless chuckle: who would’ve told him yesterday that he’d think assaulting Enies Lobby had been easy?). And yet, Marco knew one thing for certain: if Luffy decided that he didn’t like Whitebeard’s plan, Marco would go with him. They had the Sunny and Nami’s maps, and Marco had been curious enough about the ship to join Franky and Usopp a few times to learn about its many features.

“Hey, Shakky,” Marco asked once he had dumped the bedding on the floor, “do you mind if I borrow the newspaper?”

“Are you trying to learn about the marines’ movements?” she asked, amused, and yet Marco was sure she wasn’t mocking him. Not even indulging him.

“Yeah.”

“I have some information on them aside from what’s on the papers, if you want a look at it too,” she offered, and chuckled when Marco only blinked. “Information is power, Marco, and you can learn a lot of things if you know where to look.”

 


 

 

When Marco returned to the guest room with the folders that Shakky had lent him, he found Luffy had turned the bedding into a blanket fortress and was curled inside it.

Marco sat down next to Luffy’s head and smacked him with the folders.

“Stop brooding, will you? We’ll get him out.”

“I know,” Luffy said. “I won’t let Ace die.”

Marco grinned, glad to hear the same conviction in Luffy’s voice than when he had announced they would save Robin. He had been worried, but Luffy was fine.

“Then why are you in a bad mood?”

Luffy turned around to look at him, one of his rare serious expressions on his face.

“Ace really cares about that old guy,” he said simply, and Marco understood.

“I think the old man also cares about Ace. He’s preparing an army to save him, after all. But nobody’s perfect.” Marco shrugged. “Who knows, maybe they don’t have any ships that can get into the Calm Belt.”

“What’s the Calm Belt got to do with anything?”

Marco snorted, unsurprised by Luffy’s lack of information.

“Impel Down is in the Calm Belt.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna check on it,” he explained, showing Luffy Shakky’s folders, “and see how things are before we decide on anything, okay? Try to stay calm for a couple days. The Whitebeard Pirates are the strongest pirate crew in the world, Ace’s chances will be much better with them on board.”

Luffy frowned, then tilted his head sideways on the pillow, his neck at such an odd angle that anyone not made of rubber would’ve snapped it.

“And if the old guy still wants to wait for the execution?”

“Then we take the Sunny. I think it can go into the Calm Belt with what Franky put on it.”

 


 

 

Despite his worry, Luffy had fallen asleep as easily as ever. Marco didn’t feel like sleeping yet, and he could go for long periods of time without sleep anyway, so he lit most of his body up and started reading.

Impel Down was… well, he understood why people called it Hell. And Spandam had wanted to send Franky there. The asshole had gotten off easy; Robin should have done more than break most of his bones. Officially, it had five levels, but Shakky’s underworld sources were reasonably certain that the rumor of a level six was true. If it was, then Ace was bound to be there. The prison had some impressive staff and security inside, plus standard marine security outside that had no doubt been increased for the occasion.

And yet, reading about the admirals and vice admirals that would be present at Marineford, Marco still saw the odds of freeing Ace at Impel Down as their best option.

The main problem, however, was that there was no way of infiltrating the prison undetected, at least none that Shakky had ever heard of, and none that Marco could think of with the information he had.

Marco glanced down at Luffy.

A rampage, maybe.

Draw everybody’s attention to the upper levels, but keep some cards up their sleeves. Keep the strongest people out of the battle until they had drawn out all of the main guards to fight. Then, if everybody joined the fight, there would be no one free to give the order to execute Ace once it became clear that the pirates would get through the prison’s security. From what Marco had read, the Impel Down guards were too scared of Magellan’s power to risk making such a decision on their own.

But they would need the Whitebeard Pirates and a considerable amount of luck to pull that off.

And if Whitebeard kept to his plan it would be only Marco and Luffy.

Being underestimated would be their best option in that case, and yet Marco knew the security would be very challenging for just the two of them.

Groaning, Marco pulled at his hair and dropped back on the blankets.

He was going to fry his brain at this rate.

Impenetrable prison indeed. He couldn’t think of a way to pull this off.

Sure, he was used to going into situations without any plan, and improvisation was their crew’s specialty, but the problem here was that they had to ensure the guards wouldn’t decide to execute Ace ahead of schedule if they thought they might manage to reach him.

Marco pushed the files to one side and turned around, burying his face into a pillow.

Luffy snored.

Well, that’s a good suggestion.

Sleep, disconnect, then think again.

He could wait and see if Whitebeard had changed his mind, or if he knew anything else about Impel Down that could be of use…

Disconnect, damn it. Go to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Impel Down?” Vista wondered. “Why do you ask about that?”

Everybody in the mess hall had come to lean around the table —or as close to it as they could get; this was dinner time after all— when Pops had called. After asking for the fleet’s current status, he had sprung that question on them out of nowhere.

“It’s just… we haven’t considered that option, have we? What do we know about that place?”

“I’m not sure,” Izo replied. “We’d have to look into it.”

“But what does it matter? We already have a plan,” Fossa added, absentmindedly spinning his fork.

They had debated on all the details, calculated how long it would take the ships to reach Marineford through the bottom of the sea, and given all the pertinent instructions to their allies. This sudden change made no sense.

“I had a conversation, and there were some very good points about how assaulting Impel Down might be safer for Ace than waiting for the execution.”

Vista raised his eyebrows. That was unexpected. While it had never been explicitly stated, they were going to war to remind the world that nobody messed with their crew. And also, as more than one person had muttered darkly, because the Shichibukai had been summoned and that meant they could get their hands on Teach and kill him once and for all.

“Who made these points? Rayleigh?” Jozu asked. Pops was staying at Rayleigh’s place, after all, and the guy could be sensible from time to time, as odd as it was to associate that concept with Roger’s right hand man.

Pops took a moment to answer.

“No,” he said, but didn’t elaborate.

“Who, then?”

“Marco.”

There was a pause before everybody started to talk at once. Vista grabbed the den den mushi’s speaker.

“You’ve met him?!” he asked, yelling to be heard over the din.

Everybody fell silent at his question.

“Just now, yes,” Pops said, and Vista couldn’t say what emotions tinged his voice. Probably the same mess Vista himself was feeling. “And Ace’s little brother, too.”

“Let me guess,” Izo said evenly, with the easy calm of someone who hadn’t had his world thrown off balance again just now, “the brat really is as reckless as Ace always says and he wants to save Ace himself.”

Pops laughed, though he didn’t sound very amused.

“That, and he thinks that waiting for the execution is not an option. Marco agrees with him.”

“Shit,” Vista said after a long silence. He took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair.

“You know,” someone started at the back, “right now I’m not sure if I’m glad to know Marco is as reckless as you guys always said or if I want to punch him.”

Vista had a flashback to that time Marco had charged through a marine base, alone, because the rest of them had managed to fall into a trap and got themselves captured.

Damn, he was glad to know his brother was at least in part the same, but he wanted to punch him too.

“We’ll look into it,” Jozu said finally. “Maybe he does have a point: the admirals, at the very least, are bound to be at Marineford until the execution.”

Chapter Text

“You don’t seem particularly surprised,” Kizaru said after a short pause in which Sengoku didn’t say a word.

Sengoku leaned back on his chair and sighed, running a hand down his face.

“That’s because I’m not. I didn’t expect Whitebeard to run off to Paradise, but other than that…” Sengoku waved a hand dismissively. When he had seen that picture, days before Portgas D. Ace’s capture, he had known it was just a matter of time before Whitebeard tracked down the Strawhat Pirates. His money had actually been on Whitebeard waiting for them at Fishman Island before the news of Ace’s capture had reached him.

Sengoku had hoped to be wrong when he first saw that picture, of course he had; the idea of having him with Monkey D. Luffy of all people was unsettling to say the least. Now it was clear that he hadn’t been mistaken.

“Oh?” Kizaru asked, bringing Sengoku back to the present. “May I ask why it isn’t a surprise that Whitebeard helped those rookies?”

“You mentioned Marco the Phoenix in your report,” Sengoku started, opening the bottom drawer of his desk. While he had decided to keep this wanted poster, just in case, he had hoped he would never have to bring it out.

“A very interesting power,” Kizaru said, nodding. “I wasn’t expecting any of those kids to take one of my attacks standing.”

Sengoku sighed.

“Had you not been a haki user, he wouldn’t have been fazed by it at all.”

“You’ve run into that devil fruit before, then?”

“More or less,” Sengoku confirmed, glancing down at the wanted poster in his hands. That smirk was the same in the new picture. “I know you weren’t a marine back then,” none of the current admirals had been, that was why they didn’t understand how dangerous this could turn out to be, “but have you ever heard about Whitebeard’s first mate?”

“Not much. He was supposed to be a terrifying pirate, if I recall correctly.”

Sengoku snorted.

“That’s a way to put it,” he agreed, setting Marco the Phoenix’s last wanted poster as a member of the Whitebeard Pirates on the desk before Kizaru.

Kizaru’s eyebrows went up on his forehead.

“That’s… more than I expected. It was a very long time ago,” Kizaru admitted, his eyes fixed on the picture.

Sengoku wondered if Marco had directed that same smirk at Kizaru.

“The Whitebeard Pirates had been around a long time by then. Marco used to fight Silvers Rayleigh when they ran into the Roger Pirates, and I fought him a few times myself. He’s no joke.”

“I don’t doubt that, but isn’t he supposed to be dead?”

Sengoku snorted, looking down at the wanted poster. He wasn’t sure when he had been more shocked; the time he learned of Marco’s death or when he came across that old report on his devil fruit.

“That’s a long story. But the Strawhat Pirates are a problem for another day. Whitebeard is our priority now. Him being at Sabaody Archipelago means we can keep a better eye on his movements. Contact the base there, have them locate the ship he arrived on, but tell them they are not to engage him under any circumstances. The last thing we need now is to have our Sabaody outpost destroyed.”

Chapter Text

When Luffy woke up, his first impulse was to yell for Sanji and demand breakfast, but he remembered that Sanji wasn’t here before he even opened his mouth.

No, Sanji had been sent away by the bear guy with most of the others, and the only one left now was Marco.

Luffy turned to the side and found Marco asleep. There were a lot of papers thrown all over the floor, because Marco was trying to find the best way to save Ace, one that made more sense than the old guy’s plan of waiting until the day of the execution.

Contrary to his nature, Luffy tip-toed out of the room and closed the door carefully. He wanted to let Marco sleep. He walked downstairs, where he found everybody else already eating breakfast. Hachi was sitting on the bed now, and Luffy was happy to see he was doing better.

“Good morning, Luffy. Would you like some breakfast?” Shakky offered, and Luffy hurried over to the table. There wasn’t as much food as he would have liked. Shakky chuckled. “Sorry, but you guys have gone through all my food. I’ll go buy groceries later.”

“Is Marco still asleep?” the old guy, Whitebeard, asked. Luffy had his mouth too full to speak (but Nami wasn’t here to punch him for it if he spoke anyway; he didn’t speak), so he nodded.

“Makes sense. I gave him everything I have on the marines and Impel Down last night,” Shakky explained.

Whitebeard shook his head, but he laughed.

“I’m impressed he went to sleep at all then.”

Luffy frowned. He hadn’t missed the odd looks Whitebeard had been giving Marco yesterday. Luffy wasn’t worried, the looks didn’t seem bad and Whitebeard had protected them against the marines, but…

He shook his head. That had nothing to do with him.

And Whitebeard had an unattended plate of meat before him.

Whitebeard burst out laughing when Luffy stole it.

“You’re as bad as Ace,” he said, and Luffy took it as a compliment. “Also,” Whitebeard said after a moment, “I talked to my crew, and they’re looking into Impel Down. Marco had some good points.”

Luffy grinned.

“Yeah, he’s really smart!”

“That he is,” Whitebeard said, his voice a bit weird, but Luffy was too excited to care.

You just wait, Ace. We’re gonna save you.

Chapter Text

When Marco walked down the stairs, he found the bar more silent than he had expected. Camie, Hachi, and Pappug were there, but he couldn’t see anyone else.

“Good morning, Marco!” Camie greeted him with a wide smile. “Shakky left you some breakfast in the fridge.”

“Really? Thanks,” Marco said, walking straight to it. “Where is everyone?”

He opened the door and was surprised to find a plate of bacon with a label that read ‘cook me!’ on it. He hadn’t expected any meat to survive Luffy’s hunger. There were even a couple eggs and half a bottle of juice left.

“Shakky went to buy food, she said that we don’t have enough for any more meals.” An understatement right there. Aside from Marco’s breakfast, the fridge had little more than booze in it. Marco took the food out and started to prepare his breakfast. “Rayleigh went out to check how things are. He said he thinks the marines have left, but he wants to be sure. Luffy was bored, so he went with him. Mister Whitebeard is outside, talking to his crew about Impel Down.”

‘Mister Whitebeard’. Something in that manner of address made Marco want to snort in amusement, but he had no idea why. He held it back.

Speaking of Whitebeard, though, Marco wanted to talk to him. Despite yesterday’s chaos, Marco had noticed some odd things. Like when he had argued Whitebeard’s plan: Marco had expected to be either ignored or told that this war was above him. He hadn’t expected… whatever the look that had crossed Whitebeard’s face had been. Marco couldn’t define it, but it had certainly been sad.

And he sure as hell hadn’t expected that Whitebeard would actually agree to consider his words.

 


 

 

Marco found Whitebeard outside, just as Camie had said he would, but he wasn’t on the den den mushi anymore.

Whitebeard turned, still sitting, to look at him.

“I see you woke up,” Whitebeard greeted him after a slightly too long pause. He sounded almost casual, and yet… not. “My crew is looking into your Impel Down idea.”

“I know. Camie told me.”

There was a long silence, but Whitebeard didn’t take his eyes away from Marco.

“What’s your problem with me?” Marco blurted out, and he almost winced right afterwards. This was Whitebeard he was talking to.

Way to go, genius.

Whitebeard blinked.

“I don’t have a problem with you.”

“No? Then why do you keep staring at me?” Marco didn’t bother to berate himself this time; he had never been the most tactful of people, and being part of the Strawhat Pirates certainly hadn’t improved that skill.

Whitebeard didn’t reply immediately. He stayed silent so long that Marco actually thought he wouldn’t reply at all before Whitebeard finally spoke.

“Do you remember how you ate your devil fruit?”

Marco blinked, caught off guard by the random question.

“No,” he answered finally.

Nobody does, he thought with some bitterness.

His parents liked to say that Marco had snuck into a merchant ship as a little kid and ate it without anybody noticing, but that was just a funny cover story for those who asked about his power. The truth was that nobody knew where that power had come from. As far as his parents knew, Marco had been able to regenerate since before he could even crawl, and that had made them wary of him, even if they had always tried their best to hide it from him. That was amongst the reasons Marco had decided to leave, even if it wasn’t the main one.

“That’s because you didn’t eat it,” Whitebeard said.

“…What?”

“It’s a peculiarity of that devil fruit. While in most cases when a user dies the fruit reappears somewhere nearby, yours is an exception. You’re a phoenix, after all, and thus are reborn with the fruit. Even if you don’t remember.”

Marco was rooted to the ground, too shocked to even pay attention to the fact that Whitebeard’s words had been recited as if from memory. Almost like a mantra.

What…? How—? That makes no sense! How would…? Oh!

“You knew the previous user!” Marco said in sudden realization.

Wait, wouldn’t that be the previous… me?

Whitebeard closed his eyes.

“More than that,” he said in barely a whisper. He then opened his eyes and reached into a pocket. “I asked Shakky if I could borrow this. Mine is back at the Moby Dick.” He offered Marco what looked like a wanted poster.

Marco took it and blinked. The man in the picture looked like him, if a few years older, but his eyes fell on the sum below the name.

What. The. Hell.

He blinked again. He could count with the fingers of a hand the active bounties he knew that were higher than this one.

“Is this why they gave me that bounty even though I didn’t fight anyone in the CP9?” Hell, they had even given him the same moniker.

“I guess so. Sengoku was certainly familiar enough with us back then to have figured it out.”

Marco nodded distractedly, his eyes still on the bounty (can I really become so strong?), then he registered Whitebeard’s words and his head snapped up.

Us?”

That expression was back on Whitebeard’s face again.

Grief, that is grief, Marco thought in sudden realization.

“You were my first son.”