"Only the Fire of Life can melt the Chains of Death" ~Rick Riordan
Impel Down was a boring place.
That was the conclusion the Pirate King had drawn upon entering, and that was the judgment he’d come to once he left it. Not that he wasn’t grateful to be out and about (
or, well, as much out and about as one could be while in yet another prison cell), but the marine’s handling of his person was duller than he’d imagined. All bureaucracy and no play did not a happy Pirate King make. Letting out a quiet sigh, he supposed it couldn’t be helped.
They were on their way to Logue Town with him as their prisoner (With the higher-ups boasting that they’d arrested him. Hah, as if he’d be arrested that easily! If he hadn’t handed himself in, they wouldn’t have lain a hand on him, never mind cuffs-) and the journey went better (smoother) than the marines had expected. He guessed that was the most fun part that he’d be getting during the transport, watching as the marine ensigns and their superiors scurried around and developed nervous ticks because not one pirate had deigned to attack them yet (And his crew hadn’t come to rescue him as he’d ordered them to, fine, brave men that they were, heeding their captain’s last standing order despite their own brash natures).
(They’d be in the crowd at his execution, awaiting his final moments like the rest)
(He’d have to look for them there before he was a goner)
(He wanted to see them one last time)
He didn’t want to go)
The marines knew Roger had been on Baterilla in the year before he was executed. (They were right.)
They had found out that Roger had had a close acquaintance on Baterilla, a woman. (They were right.)
They knew that Roger had been behaving weirdly, almost like a father. (They were right.)
They had suspicions that he might have left behind a child. (They were right.)
They knew Roger’s child would be born soon. (They were right.)
They planned to find it through its mother. (
See, Roger wasn’t dumb. He was an idiot, a reckless nuisance of a pirate if there ever was one, but he wasn’t stupid. How else would he have gotten the title “Pirate King” and been accepted as the one holding that position world-wide? Sheer dumb luck and unwavering stubbornness did nothing in terms of achieving that goal at all. (and he’d never even known that could have been a goal in the first place before he’d gone and done it)
No, Roger had a good brain on his shoulders. He knew the marines would figure out the whereabouts of this “close acquaintance” of his, given time. Ambition they had in spades, he was certain of that – so all he needed was a distraction for the time period that was most sensitive… and, well, the execution of the First Pirate King did have that certain attention-grabbing flair that he’d come to crave at times. (No, he was not the King of Drama, don’t say that, Ray-)
A flame flickered (briefly, a feather was outlined in the fire before it disappeared again, before Garp could see it, could notice
could recognize), a destiny was coming and soon, soon, the world would see what he’d done. They would know of his successor. Of his offspring. They would search. But they’d be too late. They’d not have counted on him thinking things through for once-
“Take care of my child!” He hadn’t said those words in vain.
“Not yet. It’s still too soon.”
When the marines came to Baterilla, she’d had time to prepare for it. (They were abducting women left and right, and even married ones, oh dear, what on earth did they do with them, to them, where were they taking them-)
Portgas D. Rouge was a single woman, no ties to anyone, a spinster, really, beautiful though she was. She surrounded herself with pretty things, a hibiscus flower in her hair, fairytale books that spoke of stories from faraway lands and a rocking chair that creaked comfortingly whenever she sat on it.
She wasn’t the good housewife that had a clean, comfortable little home on top of a cliff, but because it was Roger who’d told her to settle there, she’d bear with it.
She wouldn’t usually buy with money what she could steal or hunt for herself, but to confuse the marines she’d go down to the market and shop for necessities.
She didn’t like dresses, that was not who she was, but to blend in, to hide, she’d wear some.
She didn’t normally do half the things she was doing right then, but she wouldn’t need to do it for long, anyways.
The marines were close and would only get closer before letting it go.
They forced their way into the homes of people who had nothing to do with Roger, who had never even been near the Grand Line or pirates or anything the like and who hadn’t even happenend to catch a glimpse of the Pirate King from afar when he had been on Baterilla. (They were wrong to do so.)
They abducted the pregnant wives of unsuspecting husbands, young or old didn’t matter to them so much as that the unborn could be Roger’s. (They were wrong.)
They took all the newborn babies away and rumor has it they killed them – whether the hair color matched Roger’s or not. (They were wrong.)
“You can’t be born yet.”
Her stomach ached.
Stubbornly, she gently placed her hand over it, a frown on her face as she looked down the cliff onto the marine warship that had been sent to Baterilla. Her pain was endurable. She’d bear it. Not with a smile, not like Roger, she had other things to worry about, too. (He could smile in the darkest of moments, find one tiny little thing to be optimistic about and then everything would be fine, everything would work out, they wouldn’t get caught-)
She stopped her train of thoughts forcefully, redirecting them towards more pressing matters. With another glance at the warship and the beach and the town and the sea – she turned around and headed back into the house.
“I’m sorry. Not yet.”
She had her left hand close to her stomach nearly constantly now. It hit her just how ironic the situation was; yes, it was Roger initially who had brought attention to the island by being there openly, but it was the marines – the ones the civilians ought to be able to go for help to – who were storming it and raiding it and searching it for treasure in the aftermath of his execution. Who were the demons now, in the eyes of the normal people?
Humming a lullaby, she wondered about the life she was helping to protect. Would the child resemble Roger? Would their childhood be happy? Would they lead a happy life, doing everything in their own way? She dearly hoped so.
Mayhap, Roger’s gamble had paid off. She wasn’t sure she’d get to see it, though. Her time was drawing near too, she felt, and those marines were tenacious…
Hissing a little bit in pain, she rubbed her left hand over her stomach gently, up and down. The rocking chair usually helped, but this time… hopefully it wouldn’t last long. Grimacing slightly through the throbbing pain, she started rocking the chair again in that slow rhythm that almost never failed to dull her senses. (It had been her mother’s, hadn’t it? And then Roger had seen it, heard the creaking and declared it a fun addition to her household and that was that. The little one would probably remember the creaking, she wagered.) The pain dulled soon enough, as well.
“Not yet. Not yet.”
The marines hit the women they took and were none too gentle with the husbands they encountered either. The numbers of injuries and missing spouses on the island had more than doubled. There weren’t a lot of pregnant women that had not yet been accounted for by the marines any more. They claimed they'd bring them back once they cleared the women, but reality differed severely in that aspect, she knew.
Rubbing her stomach, she knelt on the floor, groceries strewn about, lying where they’d landed when her body had collapsed in a moment of weakness. The flame in front of her was reassuring, almost comforting, in its intensity. The candle was strong and would hold out. Just like Ace or Ann would. Their life was in the balance, wasn’t it? The kid needed all the help they could get. But she’d done all she could – it all was now up to whatever powers there were that looked over them. (No, she’d never been of the religious sort, not when the sea was calling and the waves reflected the harsh sun and with the storms and the rain pouring down on them, back on their ship-)
(She just hoped she’d be able to hold out too, like that candle, her life force constantly flickering, but there when the little one would need her-)
(She could bear with her life dwindling and her own flame flickering if it meant the child’s candle stayed lit.)
“Not yet… Not yet… Not yet.“
Her dress was turquoise that day at the cliff. She was overlooking the town and the warship, again, the sea mirroring the heaven with the last (It’s a burgundy red, not orange, Ro-) rays of the sun illuminating the beach. Her throat had closed up on her, protesting the memories she held of a time where things had been easier, simpler. Seemed easier, at least on the surface. She’d been looking closely at everything for almost an era. Seen the cracks, noted the fissures in the mask that the world had donned.
Roger was bad, he was a demon.
Marines were the good guys, they helped the civilians and protected them.
Pirates were bad.
Marines were good.
Black and white like the Jolly Roger dripped down disgustingly from the mouths of the so-called representatives of Absolute Justice as they spouted their lies and pulled the world into seeing things their way.
Her hair had grown longer in the absence of the braids and knots that she’d used to don in a fight. It flowed around her body like an extra limb that she had no idea what to do with now that she had it. Cumbersome, that was what it was. But the illusion held strong. The townspeople who’d seen her walk through town unknowingly abetted her deception.
“Huh? Oh. Don’t bother with her, she’s waiting for a marine, I heard.”
“Ah, her? No worries, she’s single, lives in that house up by the cliff.”
“With her dresses you’d see if she were pregnant, no? Bwahaha, good joke, that!”
And when, finally, the marines left Baterilla, the island had changed.
Some of the young (so very young, much younger than her) women who had given birth in those hellish ten months had been brought back. (Not all of them though, just like she’d known.) Some of the children survived. (The ones that were different did. The ones that were truly small and tiny did. The barely-alive ones did. A lot of the newborn baby girls did. As if the marines had even a smidgen of a chance against them if they’d been his-)
Quelling her anger, she slowly climbed the hill leading to her house. The path led through a small forest before winding up a rather steep incline. Halfway up, she was panting and needed to stop.
He’d had a contingency plan, hadn’t he? Roger had thought ahead – when they'd been left with no exciting future to speak of, that had been the only thing that had held his attention for at least a little while – and contacted someone before he’d been arrested, no? Hadn’t he said something the like? He wouldn’t leave his offspring to fend for themselves. He wouldn’t. (And if she had small doubts entering that steadfast belief in him, it was only because it had been more than a year since his execution and more than two months since the marines left Baterilla already and his “help” had been less than forthcoming so far.)
Her eyes serious, she set off again. It wouldn’t be far, now. It couldn’t be long, now.
When a huge, dark silhouette appeared in the doctor’s office, asking gruffly if she was “Portgas D. Rouge, correct?” all she could do was briefly protect her eyes from the sharp glow of the flame and nod her head in an affirmative. She’d held out this long. She could do it for a little bit longer. The little one would be born soon.
That had been at night. The next morning, when Garp the Fist came back to see her, the little one had entered the world like a burst of flames.
She held him in her arms, enveloping him with her whole being. Her warm voice traveled through the air as she announced Roger’s Last Will, “If it’s a girl, her name will be Ann.” For the first time in over a year, her eyes shone brightly, with joy for what the world had in store for this little one.
“If it’s a boy, it’ll be Ace. That’s what he decided.”
Tears poured down her cheeks, silent though they were.
“This child’s name is Gol D. Ace.” She kissed the baby’s head, praying for him to be safe in all his travels. Rubbing her head against his tiny one in affection, she let her actions speak for themselves and hoped Ace would have a lot of love in his life. She knew she wouldn’t have much time left to give him that.
“It’s his child… and mine.”
She smiled and hoped he would get to live a life that was worth living.
She smiled and not all that much later, she died.
The brat was cute. He had to give him that. The ship was big enough to pass through the Calm Belt, so at least the journey to the East Blue would be a direct one. Smuggling the brat on board had been… adventurous. But the crew was used to his eccentricities, so there was that. They hadn’t looked twice at what basically amounted to a picnic basket being brought on board, along with a suitcase full of formula and other stuff needed to care for a baby. (He wasn’t cut out for this job but he’d do it if he had to. Hopefully not for long, though.)
The baby’s cries were easily hidden with a throwaway commentary about a possibly-injured or just rowdy seagull that had found its way into the hull of the ship. No, the crew wouldn’t have the time to look for it when all of these repairs and maintenance had to be done to the ship, “here, use this handy list for reference.” (He’d had time, while they had counted the hours that Rouge had left to live after Ace’s birth.) (
He’d have waited for far longer than that had it been possible to use that time in exchange for saving One. More. Life.)
And he had another list ready should the crew consist of overachievers. (The crew never does when he’s on board.)
He called in to report his route to Sengoku only once, while Ace was asleep, and ended the call when his old friend started getting vocal and drifting off topic. The kid slept through the ruckus.
The baby slept through anything, really, he found out when they were attacked by pirates. The fight was brutal, albeit a bit short. South Blue pirates were more vicious than East Blue ones, but way below the Grand Line level of violence. (It did wonders for his frustration at the morons on top of the world
who had ordered to kill a baby before it had even been born.)
His absence on deck was conspicuous, but his crew had long since gotten used to him doing whatever he wanted at any given moment. The fact that all a baby did was eat, poop and sleep proved surprisingly helpful in letting him show his face to the crew every now and again and reign in their curiosity. The most curious ones he discouraged with some training. (They were wimps, the whole lot of them. Nowhere near the level of people like Whitebeard.
Or him .)
Their arrival in East Blue couldn’t have been less spectacular if they’d tried.
Leaving the crew at a nearby island, he rowed a small boat to Foosha, Ace tucked in, fast asleep in that picnic basket of his. Once there, he made a beeline for the forest. He had a babysitter to appoint.
The Devil Fruit was blue. Or was it green?
Raising an eyebrow in disbelief at what the book showed him it ought to look like and what was sitting on the table in front of him, he contemplated the mystery in silence for a few moments. That was all the quiet he was given, before Thatch slid into the seat besides his without so much as a by-your-leave and with much more volume than was appreciated.
“So, what’s got your fruity little brain in a twist?” He did not have a headache. He did not. Nope, no headache here, not for him, no-
Ah, who was he kidding?
Closing his eyes, he sighed.
“Ah, is that Teach’s book?” He had to open his eyes at that. Looking at the book that the brunet was pointing at, he nodded slowly. Slooooow did it. Good. The mission last night had not been an easy one and the paperwork hadn’t helped. He hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep either, so he reserved the right to be a little bit grumpy.
“Ya sure it’s that fruit? What does it say, the ‘Mera Mera no Mi’? The Fire Fruit?” The cook was right, unfortunately. Frowning, he considered the enigma in front of him. Admittedly, the fruit was the right shape and form, up to the swirls and the stick on top. What threw him for a loop was the color, however. The color and the small feather-like shape, almost tiny enough to escape notice of anyone but the closest observer, that adorned one of its sides.
As for the hue… that light greenish-blue color did not at all resemble the image of the Fire Fruit in the book.
“I haven’t found any other fruit that fits, yoi.”
“Have you looked through the whole book? Gimme that!” Quickly, he plucked the book out of the first mate’s hands and went through it with an intense focus that belied his impulsive nature.
On the upside, Marco now had free space on the table again; taking advantage of that, he moved the mystery fruit closer to the chef before he pulled his formerly abandoned plate closer and tucked in, enjoying a late dinner. Hopefully, he’d get some rest soon. His body would be grateful, he knew.
Thatch was being awfully quiet. Glancing at him, he saw that the other was immersed in finding a fruit that fit all criteria – shape, form and color – and silently wished him good luck with that. It wasn’t like that was the only book on Devil Fruits on the ship, but it certainly was one of the most comprehensive ones.
And he’d combed through that one alone around half a dozen times so far.
The door to the galley opened, drawing his attention. Jozu came in, waved at the two of them tiredly and moved to a spot to the right, where some of his division’s members had taken up seats. He acknowledged the wave with a nod. Not many of his nigh innumerable siblings were in here at this time of the night, which was why he had brought the fruit and the book with him. He’d hoped to figure out what it was and what he ought to do with it.
Seeing as he’d been the one to find said fruit on the mission the day before, it would be him who’d get to decide its fate. He could eat it – not having eaten a Devil Fruit so far gave him the opportunity to choose to eat one or leave it be – but he didn’t even know if it was the Mera Mera no Mi or any other Devil Fruit. Maybe he should gather more information before he did anything. Some sleep would be nice.
With newfound vigor, he attacked his food, letting the reading chef keep him company.
It was still green. Or was it blue?
The color scheme was annoying, in any case. It was mocking him, he thought. (No, he was not pouting, go away Thatch-)
A knock sounded on his door. Absentmindedly, he bid the knocker to enter, putting the fruit from its position in his hands on his desk again, not even pretending he’d been absorbed in the paperwork for once. Another person’s opinion on the matter of him eating it or not might help.
“Hey, Marco, have you seen Thatch today?”
Or it might not. He felt that headache returning already. Rubbing his temple in slight annoyance, he turned towards Izo and bluntly asked him, “What has he done this time?”
“It’s not so much what he’s done but rather what he neglected to do this time…” Grimacing, the crossdresser entered fully and closed the door behind him. “He hasn’t mentioned to you that we are in dire need of more hair gel, has he?”
Marco’s brow furrowed. “No, he hasn’t.”
“Well, you better put it on the list. We’ll be running out soon at the rate some idiots are going through it…” Noticing the matter of Marco’s focus ever since he’d picked it up at that island, he remarked upon the color (as if that hadn’t been the major headache-inducing thing that it’s proved so far to be) “Ah, a turquoise Devil Fruit?”
“Yeah, it resembles the Mera Mera no Mi most, but the coloring is off somehow…” Marco frowned in consternation.
“That is strange.”
Raising an eyebrow, the first mate looked up at his brother, halfway hoping that that couldn’t possibly have been all that the other had to say about the matter. Closing the door and letting out a sigh, the other entered the room proper, coming to stand beside him, regarding the fruit thoughtfully.
“What did you find out so far?”
“Other than its resemblance to that fire fruit? Nothing much, to be honest.” It wasn’t like it had come with a handy description or anyone able to tell them about its properties.
A raid was just that, a raid. When they’d found that chest and opened it, they hadn’t thought much more about it other than “money!” and taken it with them. That there’d been a Devil Fruit hidden within the Beli had been interesting, but that had been found out much, much later, when they’d been on their way back to the Moby. Whatever had been said or written about it in that town they’d gone through was long lost by now.
“Nothing else?” The impeccably dressed man inquired with a soft hum, “That is curious, indeed.”
A short pause followed, then “Are you going to eat it?” as he leaned in to get a better look at the object of their attention.
Leaning away from the fruit a bit, he said “I’m not all too keen on that, really.” ‘Incredibly leery’ wouldn’t be far from what he felt about eating a Devil Fruit that no one knew the first thing about.
“That’s sensible.”Straightening with a huff, the crossdresser turned to take his leave again.
“Don’t forget to put the hair gel on that shopping list, you hear me? And let me know if you find out what that fruit does.” Without much more than a wave of his hand, he was gone.
Alone with the fruit and his thoughts, he felt his face rivet back to it, not one step closer to figuring it out.
“Ah, well. I’d better put that hair gel on the shopping list now.” Thinking of Thatch, Marco made a mental note to talk to the pompadour about his gelling habits later. They were pirates. And in dire need of hair gel. After that fiasco with the chef costumes (No, it’s a chef’s honor we’re protecting here, Marco, you have to get the crew some-) he felt that he shouldn’t be this surprised by the cook’s shenanigans any more. But seriously, hair gel? They were on a Yonko ship! It was getting ridiculous.
In the end, it was about a month and incredibly unlikely albeit fairly probable circumstances involving a frankly unbelievable amount of hair gel, a staircase and Thatch and Marco and a shout from Izo later that Marco ended up slipping and falling straight into Thatch and accidentally biting into the cursed Devil Fruit he’d been carrying before he and Thatch landed in a heap on the floor.
(He felt perfectly justified in almost biting the chef’s head off as soon as he’d thrown him off him and letting out all his frustrations on the pompadoured culprit)
(Instead he’d ignited and the fire on his body had been green-blue blue-green like that thrice-cursed fruit)
(He'd ignited on a Yonko’s pirate ship made of Adam’s Wood in the middle of the freaking sea-)
“I’m not gonna die, Partner.” The shit-eating grin he’d sported back then was burned into Rayleigh’s mind – if he closed his eyes he could see the insufferable asshole from back then confidently throwing those words in the face of a plan that would be sure to end with a death sentence for the proudly proclaimed “Pirate King”.
His captain had had all of Rayleigh’s trust on his shoulders, he’d known that from the moment that the first mate had sworn his loyalty to him. And he’d never needed to trust in his captain more than in the moment where Roger had told him of his idea, his crazy scheme, his world-ending plan. (The world that had ended had been his, in the end. Roger had not dealt punches as harsh as that one in all of the time that he’d been with him and by the gods he still missed-)
The candle in front of him flickered slightly in a slight breeze that the boards across the broken window did nothing to keep out. Shakky had gone out to find someone to repair it, hadn’t she? Yeah, and old man as he was, she’d let him stay behind in the bar. Foolish of her to allow him. Reminiscing with a glass of sake in his hands (the good one, always the good one, the one reserved for meeting with the Whitebeards, for all that they didn’t know it was drunk without them there) did nothing to lift his mood. If anything, it made him plunge deeper into the spider webs of memories that surrounded him.
His idiot captain and his idiot captain’s plans… not even he had been able to keep the crew together, not after his idiot captain had gone and disbanded them, and especially not after he’d gotten himself executed, the rotten bastard.
The sight of the sake in his hands had gotten blurrier by the minute. Tears were flowing freely down his cheeks by now. But why was he crying again? It had been his captain’s Last Order, no? To stand down and not raise a hand against the marines to save him, when they could have. (when they would have, with all their might and power and destructiveness – and they’d have done it, they’d have braved Impel Down and all the monsters the marines could have thrown at them had he just given the word, allowed them to help-)
Closing his eyes, the image of a feather floating to the ground came to his mind. He had to have faith in his captain. He had to be strong, be brave, be there. He had to hold on, for his captain’s sake, if for no one else’s. (And if the captain was long gone by then, had long since abandoned them, disbanded them,
disposed of them-)
No. He couldn’t think that. Roger hadn’t done it in vain. His captain hadn’t been stupid. Roger hadn’t been dumb at all.
He had had a good brain on his shoulders. He had always known what potential words held and chosen them with the care of a spinster spinning a broad tapestry’s tiny single pieces together to a whole. As such, his first mate just knew nobody would expect what mad scheme his captain had cooked up before he’d left the world more than two decades ago.
(He just had to keep it together)
(Even on those days)