Chapter 9: Need You Here
On the other side of the Grand Line, Shanks and the red haired pirates were making their way to fish man island so they could re-enter the new world. They'd originally planned to hang out in paradise for the next couple of years with Luffy on their ship but in light of the news Shanks couldn't just leave Ace to fend for himself. Luffy had felt the same and had been adamant that there was no way his brother would do something like that. When Garp had contacted him needing him to persuade Mihawk to check up on the boy, Shanks knew that not everything was as it seemed. It'd taken quite a bit of yelling, threatening and out right accusations to get the truth from the old Marine but he'd finally come clean about what the Navy had done. The yanko's suspicions were confirmed. Ace had been a slave. Garp wouldn't tell him why or how it had come to be but that fact alone was enough for the pirate to see red.
He'd gotten in contract with his old pal Mihawk and convinced him to go check up on Ace while he himself made their way through paradise. They needed to get to him as soon as possible. Luffy was all for the idea, not wanting to be kept away any longer. As understanding as he'd been over Ace's refusal to see him just yet, Shanks had known the younger boy wasn't happy about it.
Rayleigh had just finished coating their ship the day before and everything was stocked. They didn't waste anymore time hanging around Sabaody before heading on their way. Shank's just hoped Whitebeard wouldn't jump the gun before Hawkeye was able to reach their wayward boy.
After Marco had gone to fetch the bag from Ace's ship, the teen found himself in the Whitebeards' meeting room with the captain himself and two of the other division commanders. Haruta if he remembered correctly (their interrogation and information expert) and Thatch (the ships head chef). Ace hadn't been told why they were there aside from them not wanting to leave their captain alone with someone who'd admitted being sent to kill him. Well he could understand why Haruta was there. To collect information obviously though the teen had been assured they weren't going interrogate him. Ace was still weary regardless. Thinking on it that could be why Thatch was there. He seemed very un-intimidating. He was likely there to help calm the fire user. It did little tn the way of helping though.
Before the tension to become too much however, Marco returned with Ace's bag. He set it down on the table in front of the boy before going to take a seat himself. Apparently they were going to sit in on the conversation and fill the other commanders in later. Ace just looked nervously at the transponder snail they'd sat in front of him to use. Well he'd told them he could get a hold of Garp so there was no backing out now. He needed to let the man know he wasn't dead anyway, if Mihawk hadn't done so himself that was.
Ace reached forward, pulling his bag closer before opening it and digging though the contents for a slip of paper. Once he found the right one he slide the snail closer and began dialing the number for Makino's Party Bar. The teen found himself nervous as it rang. He hadn't spoken to Makino since he'd been taken. Did she even know his situation? Would she be the one to even answer?
"Makino's Party Bar, This is Makino speaking. What can I do you for?" the cheery voice came over the line. Well that answered one question. Ace swallowed down his emotions hard, ever aware of the eyes on him.
"Is he there?" The teen asked quietly.
"Ace? Is that really you?" the older women gasped, recognizing his voice even after so long. "Where are you?! Shanks came and took Luffy with him, said he was in danger! Garp wouldn't tell us anything and then I saw what the paper said and I just couldn't believe that you'd do such an awful thing!"
Ace felt horrible for worrying her, at least she believed he wouldn't do what the marines claimed though and that gave him a little bit of comfort. He didn't have time to get into that right now though, nor the did he want to explain such things in front of strangers.
"I can't really talk about it right now, I'm sorry… is ji-ji still there?"
The snail mirrored Makino's disapproving look. She clearly wanted to press the issue but let it go for Ace's sake or maybe because Garp was there glaring at her to hand the receiver to him.
"Ace," the usual booming voice was low for once. It wasn't that surprising. He'd been a lot more subdued when dealing with his eldest grandson than he once was, knowing how loud noises made him flinch now. Ace appreciated the effort and it was pretty clear that the pirates in the room knew his grandfather to some extent as they looked surprised at the man's tone as well. Ace had no doubt they'd eventually be able to piece together the truth about him. They weren't stupid pirates after all. He hoped he'd be long gone before that happened though. "How bad is it?"
The question was vague. Anyone besides Ace would assume he meant the teen's injuries or situation. Ace knew better. Garp wasn't asking about his physical well being right now.
"I'm a little unsteady but it's been worse. I'm not going to do anything dumb…" the fire user replied. "Mihawk said that Sengoku ordered that buster call because of-"
"This wasn't your fault," the old marine said immediately, cutting him off. Ace should have known that he'd say the same thing Whitebeard had. It didn't mean that the teen believed him anymore that he had the old pirate. "I should have known he was keeping tabs on you. This ones on me."
"How can you say that?" Ace asked, voice cracking just slightly.
"Because it's the truth. He found out about Shanks and where you were headed. He ordered that buster call because I wasn't smart enough not to use a marine line to keep in contact with you. You're not to blame for that and you've got worse things to worry about I'm afraid," Garp went on, not letting his grandson continue to agonize over it. "You're gonna have the marines and every bounty hunter in 100 miles after you soon."
"I saw… I'm not going back, ji-ji," Ace told him, his gray eyes turning steely and his voice sounding stronger than it had so far.
"No, you can't ask me to." He shook his head wildly, the action mirrored by the transponder snail on the other end. His voice dropped low then. "I'll never go back to that. I can't. I'd rather d-"
"I know. I'm not asking you to," he assured, cutting him off once more. "I made a call to that no good son of mine. He's sending someone who should be able to help you. In the mean time, Newgate's right there with you am I right?"
Ace nearly forgot that they were there once he got talking. "Yeah, him and a few other commanders… Can't you just…" Ace cut himself off before making the selfish request. He couldn't bring himself to ask his grandfather to come for him. It would be like turning his back on the Navy.
"Just say it, I'm not gonna get mad," Garp told him with an unnatural amount of gentleness. The silence dragged on, no one daring to say anything as they waited with baited breath to hear what the fire user might ask.
All of them felt like they were intruding on something private and in a way Marco supposed they were. This was clearly a private conversation between family. The unspoken understanding between the two said as much. Still they had a serious situation and none of them could just give them the privacy they clearly needed. They didn't know if they could trust Ace. He clearly had connections to the marines, warlords and even another of the yanko. For all they knew the whole thing could be a rouse to infiltrate their ranks. The thought had crossed Whitebeard and several of the other commanders' minds.
"I just need you here," the teen said, finally. Before Garp could reject him, he went on. "I know I'm being selfish. You can't just drop everything for me, I get that. I know the Navy's basically your life but I just… I need my grandfather here because I don't know what to do."
"Newgate!" Garp boomed causing Ace to flinch at the noise. Seeing it on his end Garp quieted back down, giving a apologetic look. "Would you mind taking care of my grandson until I can come for him?"
Whitebeard looked pleased at the news. He knew Garp was a good man, a little too firm in his belief of justice and when he had listened to Ace writing off his own needs so not to unconvinced the old marine he'd almost been worried but that was unnecessary because Garp clearly knew the importance of family and would put it before his work. He didn't fully know what was going on but it was pretty clear that something had happened to the boy, likely at the hands of the marines. Obviously someone higher up that Garp himself otherwise he'd have been able to stop it. The signs were starting to become clearer.
"Of course he can," Whitebeard replied. He'd already been planning to offer the boy a place on his crew and if he hadn't accepted they still planned to protect him until he decided where he was going to go from there. They weren't the type to just throw someone to the wolves without cause. "He'll be perfectly safe with us. There aren't many marines dumb enough to come sniffing around let alone challenge us."
"Good, I've got some things I need to take care of first but I will come for you, Ace. Just hold on till I get there."
Ace could only look on in disbelief. He hadn't expected Garp to agree so easily or at all. Ace just needed to get it off his chest. He wasn't going to complain though, he really did want his grandfather there. He was lost at what to even do and honestly scared of what might happen now. Garp was the only familiar face he had. There was Luffy of course but the majority of him was still too ashamed to face his little brother, as stupid as it might be.
"Y-yeah, I'll be waiting…" Ace finally responded after shaking himself from his stupor.
"Good, you take care of yourself, you hear me?"
"I hear ya," the teen assured.
"Marco, why don't you take your brothers and show our new guest around the ship, wouldn't want him getting lost while he's staying with us," Newgate said, giving his eldest a meaningful look. He wanted to talk to Garp in private. There were still so many questions left unanswered but it was clear that Ace wasn't going to be up for the conversation that needed to be had here.
"Sure thing, pops," Marco said, understanding immediately. "Come on you three," he added, Gesturing for Haruta, Thatch and Ace to follow him out of the meeting room as he stood up.
Ace nodded and handed the snail receiver over to Newgate, knowing that he still wanted to continue the conversation with his grandfather. The older pirate gave him a smile and nod in appreciation.
Leaving the room, Ace trailed behind the three pirates. Haruta made some excuse about needing to do some paperwork before running off. Ace supposed he didn't need three guides anyway. It had just been an excuse to get them out of the room so Whitebeard could speak to Garp.
"Let's check out the kitchen first, we can grab a snack before looking around," Thatch suggested, still unhappy about how small the seventeen year old looked. Even though Ace had been eating better he still looked underweight. As a cook, Thatch was making it his personal mission to fix that.
"Fine by me, yoi," Marco agreed before turning to Ace.
"That's fine," the teen nodded because it wasn't like he had anywhere he wanted to start and even if he had, Ace doubted he'd of spoke up about it. He was kinda hungry anyway.
"Great, come on then," the pompadoured man cheered, leading the way. Marco gave a fond eye roll before following after the man. Ace was a little hesitant but not wanting to be caught without the two commanders, the teen hurried along after them.
Several members of crew glanced at them as they past or out right stared. It wasn't that surprising with a crew this large. Ace was a stranger here after all. The curiosity was normal though that didn't mean it made him any less anxious. It seemed all it took to deter their looks was a well placed glare from Marco however. Ace appreciated the gesture in silence. Of course there was nothing to say that the first division commander was doing it for his sake, maybe he just didn't liked being stared at himself. Something told the teen that wasn't really the case here however.
It didn't take long to reach the kitchen, apparently it wasn't really that far from the meeting room. Thatch told him that was because sometimes they had to bring meals to the meeting room if the commanders were in meetings that went on too long. It made sense Ace supposed. He'd never really heard of a pirate crew being run that way, with divisions and commanders but he guessed being a pirate in the New World was a lot harder to maintain than being a pirate in the first half of the Grand Line.
Inside the kitchen was warm and cooks were rushing around getting stuff made for supper. Thatch already seemed to know what he was planning to grab before they go there because he went straight to a cooling rack on the counter top and grabbed three of the pastries resting there.
"Made these chocolate turnovers for desert but we can snack on a few now, there's plenty," Thatch told them as he handed one to Marco who accepted it with a smirk and one to Ace who looked a bit unsure.
"Thank you," he said politely as he looked at the turn over. He'd never had one of course. They didn't live in a situation where things like this were available to them and then when he'd been taken away they of course didn't allow him things like deserts. Ace couldn't remember ever having chocolate of any kind either. The chef was giving him an encouraging look though so the teen took a small bite of the pastry.
The flavors exploded in his mouth all at once. Buttery, flaky crust and gooey chocolate rolled into one. Ace's eyes widened just a fraction in amazement at the food in his hand. Too enthralled in his meal, he didn't even notice the smug look of satisfaction on Thatch's face or the exasperated smile on Marco's. Before he knew it Ace had devoured the whole treat in several large bites reminiscent to whole his appetite used to be. Once it was gone the teen stared at his hands in mourning, wishing he'd savored it a little more.
Looking up at Thatch, for the first time since he's came to their ship, Ace asked for something. "Can I… have another one?"
Smiling wide in triumph the chef moved to grab another turnover off the cooling rack and handed it over to the teen. "Of course, no ones gonna deny you food on this ship so if you want something just ask okay?"
Ace nodded, feeling awkward but not unhappy over it. Marco just looked on with a fond smile as he slowly ate his own turnover. "Shall we get going then, yoi?"
The teen nodded in agreement, following the two older men out of the kitchen as he nibbled on his snack. Ace was going to extreme lengths to savor it this time around. Despite being lied to and the awful situation that was coming his way, the fire user couldn't help the feeling of contentment wash over him as he followed the pirates around the ship, taking in all the important rooms that he'd need to know how to find until his Grandfather or the revolutionary he'd sent; whichever came first, came for him. By the time the tour was over, Ace wasn't really in a hurry to leave anymore.
That thought didn't really set in until he was settled into the room Marco had shown him to that night. It really hit him just as he was about to drift off though. Since he'd spent time with Thatch and Marco, a few of the other commanders joining them shortly, he felt more at ease that he ever had in the last three years. For once he didn't feel the constant need to watch his back. With that thought in mind the teen drifted off into his first restful sleep in years.