Chapter 1: Starin' at these four walls
Nine years. Nine years sailing on pretty treacherous seas and somehow he'd ended up like this. The Ouroboros Cook frowned at the wall of his little cell, where he'd started marking the days. Three weeks he'd been in this stinkin' tub, but he'd yet to lose hope. His crew was either in pursuit, feverishly looking, or preparing an ambush. Lex might be good, but she wasn't that good, and the Truth wasn't built for speed. Yet. Jonas was probably gonna mod it out in the near future.
He could tell his stomach had started shrinking and the meager exercises he was trying to do to keep fit weren't nearly enough, especially while starving. You couldn't build muscle with nothing to build out of, after all. His (used to be) white coat was too big for him which was partly a good thing, considering the state of his back. The burn throbbed as if to remind him of what had been pressed there It was going to scar, he knew. That's what the branding iron was meant to do.
The loss of control... had been hard to deal with. But it was the isolation that was really doing it for him. He'd been a bit too much of a nuisance and had been put into this tiny room instead of the hold where the rest were. Then again, he was glad he couldn't hear the crying anymore, as callous as that sounded. Just as he thought that, he could hear it. Sobbing, whining, crying. Marcus closed his eyes in pain, burying his face in his forearm, trying to block it out. The 28-year-old just knew they were taking some kids to be marked. He didn't want to hear the screams.
For once, the cook was wrong.
The door to his cell opened enough for something to be tossed in, before the door once again slammed shut and was locked. Presumably. Marcus assumed that there was a sliding lock on the outside, if the sound of wood sliding against wood was anything to go by. Ignoring the door's mechanisms, he turned his head to the small moving pile of- fuck.
That- that was a crying kid with a straw hat, a blond with a top hat and a hatless kid. FUck . Al would not be pleased.
But at least he knew where they were now. If these bastards were turning around immediately to go to Sabaody, then there was a chance that they'd run into trouble. Either his crew... or another friendly one.
Plot convenience. Gotta love it.
If he considered this as part of ”Protagonist's luck” then he doubted they'd make it all the way to Sabaody. But that could take weeks, if not months. And until rescue came, he'd have to take care of the kids as best he could.
First order of business, make sure they didn't get taken away from him. This way they couldn't be harmed or branded. Second order of business, make sure the kids got just a little bit more food. He could at least sacrifice starch, even if he'd have to hog his own share of any protein, so that he's be somewhat useful if they managed to escape. But two of the kids were D's, which meant a D appetite. Not to mention the D by osmosis, he probably had a big appetite too. Big appetite plus skinny body equals fast metabolism. These kids would starve to death if he didn't do something.
Well, it looked like Marcus had to make sure the brats didn't die from the lack of food they were going to experience.
Marcus had been sitting with his face to the wall, his arm at eye-level against said wall as he leant his head against it, so as to not aggravate his back. It was only partly working, but it was something. This meant that when he stood up, he not only gained all three kids' attention, but also that it hurt. Real. Fuckin'. Much.
Ace immediately moved to shield the youngest of the three behind him, who still hadn't stopped crying. Which was precisely why Marcus needed to check the kid. Al had mentioned that Luffy was a crybaby when he was little, but on the off chance he was hurt, Marcus had to look at the kid.
Had the situation been less shitty, Marc would have laughed at the oldest brat's flailing when the cook hoisted him by the back of his shirt and held him out of the way while he crouched by the still crying straw hatted kid ”Hey, squirt,” he tried, his voice cracking due to the dryness of his throat ”you hurt?”
The boy who would one day be Pirate King shook his head, but continued crying. Knowing the monsters on this ship as well as he did, Marcus dropped the still flailing big brother and grabbed the littlest brother instead, pushing the kid's face into his shoulder to muffle the crying. Luffy only struggled for a moment or two before he started soaking up the comfort the older man was offering.
”Oy! Let go of Luffy!”
Marcus only glanced at the other boy before ignoring him and going to sit in a corner away from the door, so that he could see everything ”Quiet. If you make too much noise they'll come back to deal with you, it's the reason you were put here in the first place, I reckon.”
Top hat, Sabo, if the Ouroboros cook remembered correctly, fidgeted before asking ”What do you mean?”
Patting the probably 7-year-old's back and ignoring the pain in his back, Marcus explained ”This god forsaken room is where these guys put problematic merchandise in the hope that they'll break and stop fighting back... and if that doesn't work, they start with more heavy-handed methods.” his expression reflected his darkening mood, if the blond's face was anything to go by ”Do you really wanna see this kid come back with whip-marks or worse because you couldn't keep quiet?”
Both boys grew quiet and shaky, though it wasn't that obvious in Ace's case. But Marcus wasn't much of an expressive person either, so he could tell even if others might not notice.
This was how it started, the tentative bond between a Pirate Cook and three brothers in all but blood.
Chapter 2: I reach for you
ASL and Marcus become closer, which is what the oldest of the four was hoping for. Marcus is also glad that Alexia was very thorough in briefing the crew about the world and the people in it. You don't usually need to know how people laugh to be able to recognize them.
Marcus pulled off every trick he possibly could to keep all four of them alive. There were no words for the gratitude he felt for having a sheet of folded up tinfoil in his pocket, which was only there because after the time Jim used it all up without telling him, he too precautions. He used said tinfoil to gather rainwater trough the window, which would be impossible for anyone who didn't have inhuman grip strength in their fingers, but... well... ninja track. Enough said. This was the only reason they didn't all die from dehydration. He also used it to combine water and the lumps that couldn't really be called bread to make something akin to a porridge. It tasted only minimally better but at least it made the bread edible enough for the kids to soldier through.
With three kids to look after, it also meant Marcus took the brunt of their captors' ire when the situation called for it. The only good thing about that was that it had the added effect of convincing the bastards that they were breaking the kids, what with their expressions whenever Marcus was thrown back in a worse condition that he had left.
This, unfortunately, also meant they had seen his back. And the mark upon it. Which was how Marcus had ended up teaching them about the Tenryuubito. And started meddling. Al had better appreciate the shit he was pulling, because he had no idea if he was right or not.
”To stand against the Tenryuubito is to sign your own death warrant. There is nothing the Marines won't pull in order to make them disappear. Few people have tried and most of them died before their time. Like Fisher Tiger did... like Roger did.”
Ace twitched at the name, probably suspecting immediately that he was talking about that man, but surprisingly didn't react otherwise. He probably didn't have the energy for it, what with the small amount of food they were allowed. Luffy, on the other hand, lit up and bounced slightly as he scooted over, looking eager but keeping quiet, just like Marcus had taught them during the past month.
The man grinned at the kid and continued in a hushed voice so as to not attract attention from beyond the cell ”You wanna know more about the Pirate King?”
Luffy nodded, even as Sabo glanced worriedly at their eldest brother, who only glowered and looked elsewhere. Marcus paid neither no mind outwardly.
”Roger was a crazy son of a bitch, from what I've heard Al say about him and trust me, Al is usually right. That man could stand strong against anyone and he didn't even need a Devil Fruit to do it. He and Whitebeard, whose own fruit can create earthquakes and such, stood on even ground when he was still alive... but then...” Marcus' eyes became unfocused, remembering the way Alexia had talked about the man and his death.
”Al's good at noticing things... so when she realized that there was something fishy about the fact that Roger was the only one from is crew that was captured, she started digging... and she found her answers, alright.” his lips twisted in disgust ”The Marines didn't capture the Pirate King... the Pirate King gave himself up.”
He didn't need to look at Ace to know the boy was shocked. Of course he would be. After all, Marcus was intentionally dragging down the picture the world had painted of the boy's father. Not that the kids knew he knew. Or that that was what he was doing.
”The Roger Pirates officially disbanded a good while before Roger was 'captured' and what's more, Al's fairly certain he was already dying when they executed him.” the cook spoke idly, waving his hand half-heartedly as he explained ”Y'see, Al found out the Roger Pirates had two doctors, one who had been there from pretty far back and the other was recruited two years before the disbanding... the only reason you recruit a second full fledged doctor is if you need a specialist. Not to mention that they started spending less and less time on the sea.” Marcus sighed, leaning his head against the wall ”And then with what the guy pulled at his own execution, no one had time to look for his crew... since his death, not a single Roger Pirate has been caught or killed by the Marines.”
The silence that followed his statement wasn't the normal silence they shared. No, this was shocked silence, one Marcus had expected. But what he was hoping for, was...
”What if the Pirate King had a son?”
A tentative, hushed whisper. That question, one the crew knew the answer to. This was what Marcus had been waiting for ”Aa... I wonder. First of all I'd owe Lex twenty thousand Beli.” the cook said matter-of-factly, causing Sabo to giggle quietly ”'Cause you wouldn't believe how adamant she is that Roger totally had a kid which was why he sent the world into chaos, so that no one would look. Well, she thinks the Marines did anyway, since there's no real explanation given for the Baterilla Massacre...”
He completely avoided giving an actual answer, but the topic made him realize something and he turned his widening eyes to Ace, letting the kids think he'd put two and two together, even though that's not what caused his eyes to widen ”Shit. No one mention Roger to these bastards, they'll sell you to the Marines or use it to sell you for even more money than they'd normally get.”
Because, having the late Pirate King's child as a slave? Yeah, that would be an opportunity no one would want to miss. And the Marines would either execute an 11-year-old or throw the kid in Impel Down until he was at a more ”acceptable” age.
Either option was bad and Marcus was grateful that he'd watched FMA Brotherhood, otherwise he'd never be able to come up with this stuff. Watching shows with conspiracies and plots did wonders to your thought-process.
The boys learned a form of silent communication during the time in captivity and Marc was pretty sure it had something to do with the kids having been living in the woods for a while now and with Luffy... well, from what he'd gathered the kid was driven by emotion, instinct and his stomach. The four of them huddled for warmth more often than not, now, what with their bodies not being able to generate heat the way they should. Marcus had to tear a strip of cloth out of his jacket and use it as a belt. He had lost enough weight that he could stuff two of the kids into said coat and still be able to close it. But he refused to give up, which was why they were still in the isolation room.
Then, one day, the ship rocked. This wouldn't have been too out of the ordinary, except that the weather was calm outside. Which could only mean one thing. The ship was under attack. The maniacal grin on Marcus face was more suited a demon than a man, but he didn't care. It was time to get out of this place. Shrugging his coat off of one of his arms, he gestured for Sabo to climb on his back. Once the kid had done so, the cook put his hand through the sleeve again before closing the top two buttons and tying the rest so that Sabo was encased in a makeshift carrier. This left Marcus' arms free to carry the other two as soon as he used a Haki-encased foot to break the door.
And break the door he did, to the booming sound of very distinct laughter.
Not my crew, then.
Marcus didn't really mind. He was pretty sure he knew who this laughter belonged to. Lex had been very informational on that fact.
”I like Whitebeard's laugh. I don't really know why, but it's powerful yet soothing. It really fits the man well. Though I do wonder if he developed it before or after he ate the Gura Gura no Mi.”
Yeah, he definitely knew who this weird laugh of ”Gurararara” belonged to. He had no idea why the crew was in the first half of the Grand Line and he didn't much care. All he cared about was that with the ship under attack, he had more than enough of an opportunity to escape with the kids.
Hopefully, he could trust everything Lex had ever said about the man and his crew, otherwise, he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on.
First things first, escape off the ship, then look into feeding the kids... and himself. Then... he'd have to call Lex. Hopefully he still remembered the number.
Chapter 3: Say it for me, say it to me
Marcus confuses everyone. Except the kids, the kids are immune.
Alexia gets to terrify two Whitebeard Commanders without even trying.
Marco could not often say he was honestly surprised by something, but this guy took the cake. He was of course talking about the captive who'd apparently been kept in isolation for almost the entire time he'd been on the ship, which had been a surprising amount of time. Then again, if the three kids he'd been carrying were anything to go by, he hadn't been as isolated as was implied.
The man had burst out onto the deck and immediately attacked the slavers nearest to him, all while carrying what had at first appeared to be two kids. Even while suffering from starvation, the guy backed a punch. And that wasn't even mentioning what he did to get onto the Moby Dick once Vista had told the man to do that. Well, he'd actually told him to take cover so that the kids wouldn't get hurt but apparently the brunette took that to mean to get off the boat.
And that he did.
By scaling the Moby.
Marco had stopped and stared as the man scaled their ship by digging his fingers into almost nonexistent grooves and hauling his own weight plus three kids up by only said fingers.
Honestly, he'd almost joined Thatch in betting that he was the father of the kids. But he didn't, because he was better than that.
Now the probably chef, by the look of his pretty much ruined clothes at least, was smoking in a corner, surrounded by the three kids. Or well, it gave off the air of a corner, even though he was standing by the main mast. Marco had no idea where he'd gotten those cigarettes, because there was no way he'd had those and whatever he'd used to light them while in captivity. Catching sight of one of his brothers patting his pockets searching for his cigarettes and another searching for his lighter, the First Division Commander had his answer. Seemed like gripping the side of a ship wasn't the only thing those fingers were good for. The man was an adept pickpocket, if nothing else.
Marcus inhaled slowly and deeply as he kept his ears trained on everything going on around him, keeping his eyes closed for the illusion of not paying attention. The kids weren't fooled, he knew, they'd seen him do this often enough in their little piece of Hell. It seemed like most of the almost-slaves were staying with the Whitebeards, while the rest wanted to either go home or be left on a populated island. There was already talk about how to go about doing everything since the Moby couldn't possibly do all of the ferrying involved. The Ouroboros cook blew smoke from his nostrils, more for the kids entertainment than anything else as he thought things over. His lips twitched at the quiet giggles he got for the action. He'd quit smoking pretty fast after they'd ended up in this god-forsaken world, but goddamn if he didn't need it now. It would be hell to stop again, he knew, but right now he needed the death sticks to calm down.
He opened his eyes when there was a slight tug at his pantleg. Casting his gaze down he found that the three brats were hungry, if the silent communication of opening their mouths like baby birds was anything to go by. He snuffed the cigarette out and searched for someone to ask where the hell the kitchen was on the ship.
Thatch didn't have many times when he could say he was bewildered, but having just been threatened for the location of the galley, he could say this was one of those times. The guy who'd scaled the Moby with three kids clinging to him had passive-aggressively asked where the kitchen was because the kids needed food, then glared at him when he'd offered to make them something to eat. Thatch had reluctantly given him directions, then he'd been left to stare at the man's retreating back. He should probably go after them, now that he thought about it. Marco joined him half-way there, the bird being curious about the man and kids and wanting to ask if he wanted to become a Whitebeard or if he and the kids wanted to be dropped off somewhere in particular.
When they finally got to the kitchen, they found the man halfway through making a broth that would be easy on all their stomachs. Thatch had to hand it to the guy, he knew his way around a foreign kitchen. And apparently he could cook with three kids hanging off of him. Three kids that were quietly munching bread that Thatch had made yesterday. Ah well, they needed it. Before either of them could even open their mouths, the starved chef spoke up.
”Ya got a Den Den I c'n borrow? Also, c'n I smoke in yer kitchen?” the last bit was aimed at Thatch, while the former was generally to anyone.
Thatch sprung into action ”Yes to both.” and crouched down to pull out the Kitchen Den Den from under the sink. The bugger liked to sleep there for some ungodly reason. There were a handful of big Den Den on the ship and most of them were int he communications room, but Thatch had managed to convince the others that the kitchens needed a big Den Den and he was glad now. Evidently, the mysterious parental chef wasn't gonna be a Whitebeard. Shame.
The brunette had already pulled out another cigarette, even if it wasn't yet lit, by the time Thatch set the Mushi on the workbench. He then stepped aside so that the other could use the snail to call whoever it was he needed to call. It better not be Marines.
Thatch soon thought he would have preferred it be the Marines.
”Let's see if I remember the number...” the surly smoker muttered before the kitchen was filled with whirring sounds as he dialed.
”Puru puru puru puru puru puru- Gacha. This is The Informant Emergency Hotline, if it's not urgent, pray to your God for mercy for I have none.”
Marco and Thatch paled at the sound of the unimpressed voice of the World's Most Feared/Respected Information Broker. The one who dialed, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber as he began to light his cigarette, answering the woman who was apparently not a misdial as the two Whitebeards had feared.
Chick! Inhale. Exhale. ”This is the shitty restaurant, may I take your order?”
Silence. Utter silence if one didn't count the bubbling of the pot in the background, before a the Den Den, and the person on the other end, let out a shaky exhale.
”Marcus, you magnificent bastard. Status. Now.”
Ok. SO. Apparently the mysterious smoking chef knew the Informant. Great. Thatch was not squeaking mentally as he thought that.
Meanwhile, the newly identified 'Marcus' didn't bat an eyelash and continued his, what? Report?
”I went seriously black and got swallowed by a great whale. Currently feeding the kids.”
The Info-Den Den narrowed her eyes ”How many we talking?”
Marcus inhaled some more smoke before blowing it out, looking way too relaxed in Thatch's opinion ”Royal flush. In the company of a full house atm.”
There was another silence, before the Informant seemed to come to a decision and sighed aggressively ”Right. Stay there. Ouroboros en route, sit rep your hosts and for the love of all that is good and holy do not let anything else happen. Oh, and Marcus?”
Said man grunted in an alarmingly disrespectful way that made everyone in the vicinity aware of the Informant's reputation wince.
”It's good to hear your voice again.”
The woman hung up immediately afterwards, leaving only stunned silence. At least until Marcus leant his head backwards with a choked laugh.
”Yeah,” he said, voice cracking, even though the woman couldn't hear him ”you too.”
Thatch was left wallowing in his confusion while Marco just decided he didn't want to know and left it, and Thatch, at that.
Chapter 4: Show me what it's like
Slowly but surely the Whitebeards get the quartet to open up, they think.
Marcus approves of Marco as secondary caregiver. He just doesn't tell Marco that.
Thatch is a nuisance.
Marco wants to strangle someone. Possibly Thatch.
It wasn't often that Newgate was surprised anymore. But this was... well. His eldest had come to him, an unreadable expression on his face, and told him that one of the rescued victims was on friendly terms with The Informant. The woman had, according to Marco, arranged for the man to be picked up by his own crew, without asking for any payment, or even the Moby's route, or location. That, if anything, showed just how good their relationship was and exactly how fearsome and vast the woman's web was.
The young man, Marcus, had also apparently taken over part of the kitchens and was refusing to let anyone else provide him and the three children with food that had to be prepared in any way. Since he wasn't actually disrupting the 4th Division, Newgate let it be.
It became obvious very soon that the kids rarely if ever went anywhere without their adult caretaker. Marcus was often seen on deck for the sole reason of getting the kids outside into the sun. The trio followed him like ducklings, even when half-asleep. Even after three days, no one had heard the kids talk.
It also took longer than anyone would like to admit that no one knew where the four slept every night.
Marco would never tell that he'd found a few of the spots where he was sure the four had been sleeping, if only due to the fact that one of those places was under his bed. Or, well, he was pretty sure it was just the kids who napped there, because if Marcus had fit himself under there, the Zoan didn't know what he'd do.
Unknown to the phoenix, it was due to his silence that Marcus told the kids he was trustworthy and thus “safe”. Which meant that the trio of kids stated following him around like ducklings, giving the malnourished cook time for himself.
Which was what caused one of the defining moments for the Whitebeards, not that anyone would realize this for quite some time.
At first, Marco hadn't noticed the kids waddling behind him. When he did, however, he was secretly proud of the fact that he didn't visibly startle at the sight of them. Looking around, he didn't spot their keeper and turned back to them, lifting an eyebrow. He received no explanation from the three, just an innocent look from the blond, a deadpan stare from the older raven and sleepy blinks from the youngest. The phoenix turned away and started walking, which was when he noticed that, not only were they unsupervised, they were also following him like little ducklings.
Step step. Pause. Glance. Step step. Pause. Step step step.
Yup. They were practically glued to him.
It was good that Thatch wasn't present to witness this, or Marco would never hear the end of it.
Though speaking of Thatch, it would seem that the kids were hungry.
The 1st Division Commander sighed and turned towards the doors that led below deck, towards the galley. He had to feed the kids, lest their guardian decide to cook him.
“Come on, yoi. I'm sure Marcus commandeered the kitchen again.”
The kids perked up, even the youngest, whom was rubbing his eyes and clutching the back of the older ravenette's shirt so that he didn't get left behind. Or lost. It could be either.
Marcus looked up at the approach of three by now unmistakable presences, led by a presence he could take an accurate guess at whom it belonged to. As soon as the 1st Division Commander entered the galley, Marcus gave himself a mental pat on the back for being right. Looking at the kids, he immediately deduced why they were here. He was just surprised Marco had noticed, because he doubted the three had spoken up about their hunger and none of their stomachs made any noise anymore.
Then he remembered the indicator the three had learned and it made a lot more sense.
The Zoan jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the three ducklings “The kids are hungry, yoi. Thought I'd bring them over.”
Thatch immediately popped into the picture from the corner Marc had banished him to, which was actually kind of ridiculous since it was Thatch's kitchen, but the Ouroboros cook was too neurotic to care at the moment.
“What do you mean the kids told you they're hungry?! No one's heard them speak a word since they got here, so unfair!”
The blond glowered at his friend “I said they were hungry, not that they spoke, yoi.”
Marcus just smirked, guessing at where this was going as the trio slunk over to him and tugged at his pantlegs “A'right, a'right, I'll feed ya.” he said, not being able to suppress the fond tone even if he wanted to.
His voice caused both Commanders to turn to him, causing Thatch to see the gestures the kids were doing. First the man just stared, before he started laughing his head off while pointing at Marco.
This would be confusing if it weren't for the fact that the kids were opening their mouths as they tugged at his pants. Like baby birds.
“Hahahahahahaha! Mama Bird Marco! Oh, this is rich! Wait 'til I tell everyone!”
“Get back here, yoi!”
Marcus just hummed at the chaos the kids had inadvertently caused as he continued to cook the porridge he'd already started on before the kids had gotten there. He knew the kids appetites well enough by now to anticipate them.
On a positive note, their appetites were increasing by the day, telling Marc they were well on their way to recovery. By the time the others finally got there, the kids would also be ready to meet his crew. With Marco as an approved person, the kids would spend more time around “strangers” and get used to the thought of being around people other than him.
They'd be getting into some true mischief real soon, he could practically guarantee it.
But he was still not letting Thatch cook for any of them.